4 Questions to Ask Yourself When Starting a New Job

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By Arnie Fertig

This is prime time for college graduates and families of all types to relocate, often seeking or beginning new jobs in different locations. Whether you are entering the workforce for the first time or beginning a new mid-career job, this can be a summertime cocktail of great opportunity mixed with angst and a twist of risk.

You likely feel great, having passed through the gauntlet of the hiring process. And who doesn't feel enthused when a manager says: "I want you to be on my team"? It is a well-deserved ego boost!

Problems can arise, however, when you let that sense of elation go to your head and overinflate your sense of self-worth into an aura of self-importance.

For example, when you enter a new job convinced you'll show everyone "how it's done" based solely on the way you are accustomed to doing things at your former employer, you are liable to be branded as inflexible rather than as an expert. Efforts to show your value to a new team can be misread, and you run the risk of seeming uninterested in fitting in to your new environment.

It's time to ask yourself a few important questions to help your own onboarding success:1. What's the "real" job you've been hired to do? There is the obvious job title you've accepted, along with its stated responsibilities. And, of course, you need to fulfill those duties. But more often than not, there are the other unspoken jobs critical to your success.

Failure to diagnose and understand your unspoken role within your new organization can be a major impediment to your larger success at the job you think you were hired to do. You might be a:
  • Heat shield, expected to take the pressure off your boss. This can include taking the call your boss doesn't want to answer, facing the public in a difficult situation or even taking the blame for things when they go wrong. Long-term job security can be hard to come by if you are a heat shield, so watch out!
  • Worker bee, expected to do any number of tasks and keep the work of your group or department on task. People who go well above and beyond their own stated job responsibilities are often viewed as invaluable to other people's success. Sometimes they are the unsung heroes of a department, but they can often build up enough political capital to withstand winds of change in times of business difficulty.
  • Small "d" director, expected to gently (or not so gently) prod to keep your boss or others in the department on task. Unfair or not, if this is your unstated responsibility and you neglect it, you may wind up being blamed by others for their own failures.
  • Intelligence officer, expected to keep your eyes and ears open and to let your boss know what's really going on around him or her, so that he or she can not be trapped unaware in an insular cocoon. Bosses are always in need of others to understand the landscape in which they operate.

2. Who can show you the ropes? Even if the job is similar to one you've had before, the environment is different. You need to know not only the path to the restroom and how to file an expense reimbursement form, but more: how does the department, office or company "really" operate?

Who holds the power behind the scenes, and how do they exercise it? Carefully look around in your first days on the job for a Sherpa who will take you under his or her wing, and don't forget to demonstrate your appreciation. A simple gesture like treating for a lunch in the corporate dining hall can go a long way to building a great relationship.

3. Whose cooperation do you need to succeed? Of course, you need to please your boss and meet his or her needs. But you likely operate in a complex environment where many people can either help or hinder your success.

When you begin a new job, it's of paramount importance to figure out how you fit into the work of others at all levels of the organization chart. Take the time to figure out how what you do impacts them and what you need to do to be perceived as a valuable member of the team, rather than an interloper.

Remember that you are starting at ground zero. All the "cred" you have built up at your last job stays behind, and now you need to build it from the ground up.

4. Who can serve as your coach or mentor? Actively seeking out a relationship with someone who knows your organization and your role in it can be of tremendous short- and long-term benefit. It's key to get insight into how you are doing and how you can operate ever more effectively in your job. And when you have this help at the beginning, you can avoid many of the pitfalls you didn't even know existed.

Happy hunting!

Arnie Fertig, MPA, is passionate about helping his Jobhuntercoach clients advance their careers by transforming frantic "I'll apply to anything" searches into focused hunts for "great fit" opportunities. He brings to each client the extensive knowledge he gained when working in HR staffing and managing his boutique recruiting firm.
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