You’re starting a new job soon. Congratulations on making it through the interview process!
While you deserve a pat on the back for sure, I wouldn’t celebrate just yet. In fact, I wouldn’t celebrate until after you make it past the first 90 days.
Scary Fact: 46 percent of new hires fail within the first 18 months on the job, and only 19 percent are deemed an “unequivocal success.”
The actions you take during your first three months in a new job will largely determine whether you succeed or fail.
Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of companies (88 percent) do a poor job of onboarding new employees. Out of those that do have a program in place, 50 percent report onboarding lasts a week or less.
So if you want to succeed at your new job, you need to start preparing for your new job immediately upon accepting the job offer.
This post will help you create a plan to succeed in your first 90 days. Think of it as your “starting a new job checklist.”
How to Start a New Job
Prepare for your new job before you start
“You’re on the edge of your seat all the time. It feels like you have no knowledge base whatsoever. You have to learn the product, the people, and the problems. You’re trying like hell to learn about the organization and the people awfully fast and that’s the trickiest thing. At first you’re afraid to do anything for fear of upsetting the apple cart. The problem is you have to keep the business running while you’re learning about it.”
I don’t want to give you the new job jitters, but I do want you to realize how important the beginning of a new job is for the success of your career.
There’s always a gap between the time you accept your new job and the time you actually get to work. The question then is: What will you do during this gap?
Research finds that the more you prepare, the more successful your transition will be, and the more successful your transition, the faster you’ll get promoted. Here’s some research to back this up.
While the graph above is focused on new job transitions for leaders, it’s relevant for all professionals starting a new job, so pay attention.
The vertical axis measures the new leader’s performance on a scale from zero to 100 percent while the horizontal axis tracks their progress by months, as they go through their transitions.
That gray line you see toward the top is at 70 percent, which marks the “breakeven point” for most companies.
When you start a new job, you’re a cost to the company because you have so much to learn before you become a productive employee who contributes value to the organization.
Organizations of all sizes expect you to get to that point as quickly as possible, and many will track your performance over time to see when you reach this point and become a value to the company.
The black line in the chart above follows “normal” professionals—60 percent of those going through job transitions.
These people start at 20 percent because they have transferable skills that proved valuable in their new jobs. It takes about 21 months for this group to reach 70 percent efficiency.
What about the above average, or excellent, employees though?
As you can see in the above graph, 26 to 28 percent of professionals start at a much higher level (see the orange line), starting around 45 percent.
What’s their secret?
Essentially, this group has prepared for their job before they started. What the first group accomplished in months one through three on the job, they’ve already completed before they even started getting paid. TLDR: They hit the ground running.
Hitting the ground running allows them to basically accelerate their career, as they hit the 70 percent mark in as little as 12 months.
The difference between 12 months and 21 months is massive to the company because it translates to dollars, and they now have a net contributor to the company as opposed to a cost.
Moving ahead faster is also important for you because it helps build your confidence and makes you feel positive about your job. The cherry on the sundae is that, as you accelerate toward 100 percent competency, you become eligible for a promotion sooner.
To make sure this happens to you, you’re going to develop a comprehensive plan before you start your new job, which will consist of “How you work with others,” “What you know,” and “Who you are.”
Get Ready: Conduct a personal SWOT analysis
“A small investment of time and effort planning up front can make the difference between simply getting by and truly excelling, between a dead-end move and a stepping stone to bigger and better things.” (source)
Think about how your new coworkers will experience you that first day. What kind of questions might they have for you? How will you respond?
People are constantly observing your behavior and forming theories about your competence, character, and commitment—which will rapidly disseminate through your workplace.
If you properly prepare for this, they’ll experience and judge you the way you’d like.
The first step is to list your strengths. Not only will this boost your confidence on day one, but it also helps you prepare to answer questions people will have on the first day, like “What were you doing before this job?”
To jumpstart this quadrant, ask yourself:
What professional qualifications/certifications do you have that make you stand out*?
How can your expertise and experience in one area make a difference to the organization?
What projects/campaigns have you successfully completed?
Do you have powerful industry contacts?
What soft skills do you have? How well do you collaborate with others? How would past teammates describe you? How emotionally intelligent are you?
I starred “stand out” in the first bullet point because it’s important. To stand out, the skill(s) must be relevant to your new job.
For example, an engineering degree probably wouldn’t make you stand out in the engineering department because everyone has one, but a master’s degree in mathematics might be another story.
To discover your weaknesses, ask yourself:
Looking back at the original job description, what skills or responsibilities are you lacking or which ones need improvement?
What are some of your professional bad habits? For example, arriving late, poor communication skills, bad time management skills, etc.
What other soft skills could you improve?
What do others think you could improve at work? List it even if you don’t think you’re weak in that area.
How could your strengths be hurting you? Or, what strengths may actually be weaknesses in your new job?
What do you not like doing but you have to do?
You can’t seize an opportunity that you don’t recognize, so you must be on the lookout for them all the time.
Ask yourself the following questions to find them faster:
Has there been any dramatic changes or advancements in your industry that you can capitalize on? For example, algorithms change constantly in marketing. Being aware of these changes can allow me to exploit the opportunity before my competitors.
What skills can you acquire that will give you a leg up in your new job? Look for the “nice-to-have” skills/responsibilities listed in the job description.
What organizations, meetups, or clubs could you join that will further increase your network and benefit you in your new position?
What do others (new coworkers, your boss, etc) see as opportunities?
While the best opportunities match your strengths, don’t write off great opportunities that require you to develop new skills or further develop current ones. Considering the pros and cons can help you decide what to seize and what to let go.
Identify potential threats early on so you can attack them before they attack you. Here are some questions to ask yourself when identifying threats in your new job:
In your new role, you’ll have supporters, opponents, and neutrals. Who are your potential opponents? Why would they oppose you?
Did you land this job over someone else in the company who wanted it? They may naturally oppose you because of it.
Are there new technologies replacing old ones that could threaten your career? For example, it’s common for software engineers to have to learn new languages as old ones become obsolete.
How is the company run? Who do you need to be “in” with because of internal politics in the company?
Do you foresee any obstacles preventing you from achieving your boss’s goals and targets for you?
Were there any red flags in the job description that could be potential threats?
Low-hanging threats you can address straight away are the things you can change—such as negative personality traits or weaknesses. Maybe you’re bad at time management. Hire a productivity coach to address the problem before it becomes a major issue.
Accelerate learning as soon as you start
The faster you learn, the faster you decrease the time you’re vulnerable in your new job.
You’ll want to learn different things based on your new role but, regardless of positions, you should have a good understanding of the organization and potential business opportunities.
Whatever you do, don’t be too busy to learn. That will be the death of you. If you don’t learn enough, you’ll make bad decisions which will lead to poor credibility, which will lead to people sharing less information with you, which will lead to more bad decisions.
This is why you should take the time to make a learning plan, including a list of things you must know and then how (and when) you will learn it.
Your Learning Agenda in the First 90 Days
How does my boss like to communicate?
What are my key projects/goals within the first 30-60-90 days?
How does my department support the other areas of the organization?
How is my department positioned to contribute to the company’s goals and strategy?
What are the key successes that my department has made to the organization?
How does my role specifically support my department/organization’s short/long-term strategy?
What is the low hanging fruit that will enable me to quickly demonstrate my value to the organization?
How did the company get to where it is today? Understand the company’s history.
What are the biggest challenges facing this organization, now or in the future?
Why is the organization facing, or going to face, these challenges?
What are the most promising unexploited opportunities for growth?
What would need to happen for the organization to exploit the potential of these opportunities?
If you were me, what would you focus your attention on? What questions would you ask that I haven’t?
Do your due diligence
Before you ask the above questions to your boss or coworkers, do your own research, and try to answer them yourself.
Below is a list of actions to take during your research:
Review business/department goals/objectives
Review your job description and company org charts
Schedule one-on-one meetings with key colleagues
Learn departmental processes, tools, and systems
Setup consistent check-in meetings with your manager
Actively seek feedback
By the end of the learning phase, you should know the following:
Performance expectations (how and when you will be evaluated)
Company and department strategy, mission, goals, and key projects
How you’ll add value
Key team members and how you’ll interact with them
Short term/long-term goals
Strategic priorities for your specific position
Your manager’s assessment of your performance thus far
How your organization informally operates (company politics and culture)
Any potential problems or obstacles that could derail your success in the future
How power flows through your organization; i.e., who can legitimately exercise authority and make decisions? What does it take to “earn your stripes?” What actions are valued by the organization?
Secure early wins
By the end of your new job transition you want your boss and your peers to feel that something new—something good—is happening.
Early wins excite and energize people, and build your professional credibility. Done well, early wins help you create value for your new organization faster, and therefore, establish your personal reputation sooner.
Be sure to find out what your boss defines as a win—don’t create these wins by yourself.
What does she expect you to learn and accomplish in your first 90 days? How quickly does she expect to see results? The more clarity you build around these issues, the easier your transition will be.