Starting a new job can be incredibly stressful: You're in an unfamiliar environment, and finding your place in it will be the difference between excelling at your job or crashing and burning. Could the stakes be higher?
Here are nine ways to help ease the transition and set yourself up for a successful stay at your new company.
1. Don't get overwhelmed. You're going to be taking in an enormous amount of new information during your first few weeks on the job, from whom to talk to about the health care plan to how to actually do your job. You will not retain all of this information in the beginning, and that's normal. Remember that it's normal to feel overwhelmed in the beginning; it's not a sign that you're going to fail. Similarly…
2. Expect your adjustment to take a while. In most jobs, it takes anywhere from three to six months to feel like you know what you're doing, and in some especially complicated jobs, even longer. Don't panic if you still feel in over your head by your third week, or like you'll never fit into this new workplace culture. That feeling nearly always goes away, but it takes time.
3. Make an effort to get to know people. Even if you're shy or an introvert who would rather keep to yourself, make an effort in your first few weeks to get to know your co-workers. These are the people who will be able to tell you where to go to lunch, or what things matter most to your boss, and who's the best person in accounting to help you with payroll issues. They're going to be a far better resource than the personnel manual; don't squander that advantage. That said…
4. Don't join cliques. Be friendly to people, but don't get drawn into an office clique. At this stage, you don't know enough to take sides in office politics, and you could be aligning yourself with the office complainers or slackers without realizing it. Be friendly to everyone, and stay neutral when it comes to any office factions.
5. Talk to your new boss about your goals for your first month and first six months. Unless you talk about this explicitly, you won't know what a successful first month or six months would look like – and you shouldn't guess. After talking it through, you might discover that while you'd assumed you'd need to become an expert on all your accounts in the next two months, your manager only expects you to gain basic familiarity with them and start working on a fraction of them. Or the reverse could be true, which would also be crucial to know.
6. Don't be afraid to ask for the help you need. Some managers are better at training people than others. If yours isn't thorough, don't be shy about asking for what you need. It's OK to ask things like: "What can I read to get a better understanding of ___?" Or, "Are there samples of how this has been done in the past that I can look at?"
7. Pay attention to the culture. Observe how others in your new office act and you'll absorb a ton of information about cultural expectations. Are people compulsively on time for meetings? Do they take a real lunch break or eat at their desks? What hours do most people work? Is there a lot of socializing during the day, or do people stay focused on their work? Do people primarily use email to communicate or meet in person? While you don't need to become someone you're not, you do want to try to fit in with the way people generally do things in your new office, or you can come across as tone-deaf.
8. Don't compare things to "how we did it at my old job." You might genuinely have a better way of doing things, but if you jump in with comparisons before getting to know why your new workplace does things differently, you risk missing reasons why those ideas wouldn't work there, or even learning that they'd already been tried previously. And most new co-workers will get annoyed at hearing about "how we did it at my old company" more quickly than you might think.
9. Ask for feedback. At the end of your first few weeks, ask your manager if there's anything she'd like you to do differently and where you could focus more. Yes, managers should tell you this proactively, but you'll often get earlier guidance by asking – and you might get the peace of mind of hearing that you're doing great.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.