By Allison McWilliams
The first few months of any new job can be equally exciting and unsettling. You may be learning a new industry, finding your way around a new community, and getting to know new people. At the same time, you don’t yet have your routines down, aren’t entirely clear on expectations, and may feel slightly out of your element as you look to your supervisor and co-workers to guide you on appropriate behavior and all of those “unwritten rules” of any workplace. As author William Bridges noted in his work on change, any transition, no matter how big or small, involves three stages. Endings require us to let go of what has become familiar and comfortable. The neutral zone, in between endings and beginnings, can be both freeing but also a little scary, as we are no longer tied down to anything. Finally, we reach a new beginning and must adapt to a new place. Our process through these stages is deeply personal; while I may race through to get to a new beginning, you may hang out for a bit in the neutral zone, resisting the urge to adopt and conform to new rules, while someone else is clinging for dear life to that ending, not wanting to let go.
No matter how you feel about a new beginning, there are several key things that you should do before you get there. Paying attention to these details will make you more prepared when you show up on day one, and will help to ease some of those unsettled feelings when you are floating through that neutral zone.
Study public information. Nobody expects you to show up as an expert on day one. There is always going to be a learning curve with any new position. That being said, there is always a body of information that is publicly available. There is no excuse for showing up and asking questions that can be answered with a simple Google search. Study the website, learn the vision, mission, and stated values, explore programs and strategies and think about what you see as challenges and successes by what you can read there. Make a list of questions to bring with you on day one.
Reach out to new colleagues. After you have studied the public information, identify a few of your new colleagues to reach out to for an informational coffee. The purpose of these conversations are two-fold. First, and most importantly, you want to set the stage for a great relationship moving forward. Be prepared to share a little about yourself and to learn about them. Second, this is a great way to build upon what you have learned from your research. What do they see as the opportunities and challenges for your new role? How can you be most successful? Remember, you already have the job, this isn’t an interview. It’s just a casual conversation between two (new) colleagues, but a conversation with a purpose.
Take care of personal details. If you have moved to a new city, be sure to build in time in your move to take care of any personal details that need attention before you start work. You should never start your first weeks of work asking for time off to meet the cable guy, or to go to doctors’ appointments (unless that’s an emergency, of course), or the DMV, or other routine items that could be, and should be, taken care of on your own time. Remember that you have no institutional history when you start a new position, and it takes time to build that up. You want your new colleagues thinking of you as a hard worker who is committed to the team, not as a flake who’s never around.
Plan to be off-balance. Finally, I think it’s always important to be prepared that for at least three months you will be out of your normal routine. If you’ve moved to a new place, you will need to find your routes to work, your favorite grocery, maybe a gym and a church or other things that feed your body and soul. Your time most likely won’t be your own (see the previous point, above). You won’t yet have a circle of friends and socializing outlets. This is ok. A young alum who has moved several times since graduation recently said to me, “I’ve realized that it takes about nine months to a year to really feel like you live in a place.” It may not take that long, but if you plan for it, you will be much better equipped to handle it if it does. And don’t forget that some of this stuff – discovering new restaurants, new activities, new people – is the fun part of being in a new place. Embrace it!