Transition into a New Job

As the number of job changes in the average career increases, so do the number of new beginnings individuals will experience in each new organization or department. And yet I come across very few individuals who really understand how to leverage this honeymoon period – a narrow window to establish credibility, form connections and create a foundation for long-term success. My 25 years in the trenches coaching and observing individuals during this phase has given me the opportunity to identify and describe many of the habits and qualities associated with successful entry. I hope you find this useful next time you are the new guy or gal on the block.

Laying the groundwork through relationship-building

The most leverage you will ever have in your career is during the first 30 days in a new job — the phase referred to as “entry.” I would love to see it renamed “engagement” so that people understood immediately that it represents the beginning of a relationship rather than a territorial intrusion. I have seen way too many qualified people get tripped up during entry because they try to do too much too soon, without the benefit of a solid connection with the world they are attempting to impact.

Entry represents a narrow window of opportunity to lay the groundwork for future success. Starting off in “discovery” mode sends a very respectful message that goes a long way to gaining the trust of your new colleagues as well.

For Drivers and Energizers the stress of entry may make you more impulsive and action-oriented, putting you at risk for unknowingly confusing, intimidating or offending people. Resist the temptation to act, remind yourself that much of what you think you know is probably wrong, and instead, access your ignorance to jump-start the process of soaking up everything around you like a sponge. The more you can empty your mind of all presumed knowledge and assumptions based on past successes (“the fog of success”), the more your brain will want to fill itself back up again with new information. Jimmy Cliff’s song, “The harder they come (the harder they fall, one and all),” might be a good reminder for you.

While Analyticals and Supportives are more careful to gather information before making a decision, for these styles, they often know a lot more than they give themselves credit for and can be too reluctant to press forward with their ideas. When you feel overwhelmed by how little you know in comparison to others, you need to ask, “What are all the things I do know about the challenges facing me?” You might be surprised at all the valuable insights you’ve gained simply by all the quiet listening and observing you do.

What you see is not always what you get

First impressions can be as revealing as they are deceiving. Keep in mind that your initial presence will provoke “stranger anxiety” in the existing population. Stranger anxiety is defensive reaction that temporarily heightens people’s awareness of and cautiousness around strangers. Even though you don’t feel like a stranger, to new people that’s what you are. Nothing personal.

Stranger anxiety manifests itself differently according to style. Supportives and Energizers may become uncharacteristically welcoming, attentive and protective in response to an unknown newcomer. They genuinely want to help, but this approach also protects them by building a bond with the newcomer and adding them to their list of allies, thereby increasing their probability of survival.

Analyticals and Drivers respond to strangers by being uncharacteristically guarded and reluctant to engage until the new person proves their worthiness. This behavior can be experienced as rejecting or insulting and can form longstanding resentment from the new person if they take it personally. If you can accept that the initial response you get from others when you step foot in their territory is not directed toward you, but toward their survival, you stand a good chance of taking it all in with patience, tolerance and acceptance. 

It might make it easier to tolerate this initial testing of your patience if you put yourself in their shoes. You made a decision to enter this new community. Most of the people you meet will have had no input into your joining their world. This makes them more skeptical and less motivated to make you successful. You also had lots of time to prepare mentally for your arrival. They have not. And finally, any change in an organization will be perceived as increasing the chances of success and survival for some, while a threat to survival for others. And you have no idea who fits into which category.

The rules for successful entry are universal and timeless.

  1. Enter with humility, respect and admiration. 
  2. Enter as an anthropologist, whose purpose is to understand the culture and people, not a missionary whose purpose is to “convert” and “civilize” others based on your values and point of view. 
  3. When you notice that the “emperor has no clothes”, chances are, everybody already knows it, so there is no need to say it.
  4. Demonstrate that you are willing to play any role asked of you (within reason) without complaint. 
  5. Show others that you are willing to learn and play by the rules. 
  6. Be very careful not to criticize, lecture, complain or badmouth others. Find a good sounding board outside the organization for the first few months.
  7. Stay neutral in social situations. There are many people who feel victimized and are eager to share their negativity with new people. “Hey Steve, don’t expect any appreciation from Sally (boss).”
  8. Don’t talk about how much better your former organization was.
  9. Rather than assume that people automatically want your help, ask permission.
By Steven Lurie, Ph.D. ‘75