Tips for starting a new job

This post is part of my mentoring conversation series which includes relatively short posts on topics that have come from a mentoring session. Often, these conversations produce insights which could benefit a wider audience.
Any identifying information is removed and I always inform participants before posting anything we talked about.
Photo by Matt Hudson on Unsplash

In today’s mentoring session we’re helping someone who’s about to start a new job and is worried about onboarding. There is an infinite amount of content on how to start a new job and how to onboard well, so I’m going to focus on 3 tips:

No use crying over spilled milk

You are not perfect. You made a few mistakes in your interviews. Maybe stupid mistakes. Now you feel unworthy, as if you’re being let in as a favor or someone might deem you unworthy because you didn’t ace all the interviews.

Nobody cares.

Assuming your interviewer remembers you (it’s quite likely after interviewing dozens of people, they don’t), and they work with you (if it’s a big company – you may never see them again), you’re in. You got an offer, passed the bar. What happened before is no longer relevant. Blank slate.

So let it go and move on. No use dragging that stuff with you into work.

Just to add a bit of credibility to this tip, you should know that I did not do well on one of my technical interviews at Dropbox and then worked closely with the interviewer who had a very vague memory of the whole thing, it didn’t hurt our working relationship.

Great expectations

There is no way you can pack everything you need to know into your brain during onboarding. Unreasonable. Can’t. Won’t happen. Even if the onboarding materials are well planned and well written and/or recorded (which is quite a stretch), it’s just too much information all at once.

I suggest writing everything down, even if you don’t understand much (including all the links you happen to come across) and revisit them after a few weeks. You might understand a bit more the second time around.

In any case, don’t feel bad or stupid about not being able to absorb knowledge which may have taken years to create within a few short weeks.

Who you gonna call?

One of the toughest internal debates during this time is when to give up trying yourself and ask someone. You want to give a good impression and don’t want to appear dumb. To overcome this I suggest the zero-ducks approach: Prepare before asking by gathering background and relevant information and listing what you’ve already tried.

This strategy makes you look proactive and professional, helps you feel more confident about having done everything you can before asking and actually helps the person you’re asking to focus on what you actually need from them and get to an answer faster, win-win.

If by some chance it does turn out to be a question you could have found the answer to yourself (there are no “stupid” questions, not really) – it’s OK. You’re new. No one expects you to know everything. Also, people’s memory is short – they will forget. Don’t worry about it.

Note to employers

I think that by now we should know the “all you can cram” approach doesn’t work. I read somewhere that the purpose of a good onboarding program is to create an experience of success and a feeling of belonging. Sending your new hires to read or watch a whole lot of materials creates neither. It probably creates the exact opposite – an overwhelming feeling of loneliness and failure.

I think a better approach is to give them something small to work on, together with a training program for the most basic and essential things they need to know which should be presented personally by people they will be working with. They should leave this process knowing where to look for answers, who to ask for help, and a feeling they did something productive and useful, however small.

In any case, if you’re feeling lonely and overwhelmed – you should know it’s not you, it’s the process. Almost no one gets it right, and it will get better.