So You’re Starting a New Job: A Guide

beautiful hills and cliffs


For whatever reason, you decided to leave your last job and venture into the great unknown in search of something better. A better salary. Decent hours. Coworkers that don’t make you want to punch yourself in the face every day. A boss that doesn’t keep calling you “Jerry-boy” and stares down your female co-workers as they walk by.

You’ve done all the heavy lifting. You cleaned up your resume with action words and numbers that quantified your true worth. You researched other companies read reviews left by others. You networked on LinkedIn and asked all the right questions. You went on interviews during “doctor’s appointments” and apparently did well enough to convince someone new to give you a bunch of money and take a gamble on you.

So yes—congratulations. You have found a new job and you couldn’t be more thrilled.

Reality Bites

Let’s get some things out of the way: is it going to be awesome? Maybe. Is it going to be much better than the last gig? I sure hope so. Is the pay going to be better? That one you can probably bank on, since you knew that going in.

But the one thing you need to answer all other questions is time.

Time to get to know your new boss and make sure you’re on the same page.

Time to get comfortable with your new coworkers and quickly decide who’s a long talker and who always gets too drunk at work events.

Time to navigate the nasty games of office politics going on all around you. 

In short,  you need time to figure out all the shit you already had figured out at your last job. The shit that, after you figured out, you decided it was time to get out of dodge.

And so here you are.

Again, congratulations.

I’ve been there a few times myself, and in the process I’ve learned a few things I’d like to share with you.

My goal? To help. To help you “ramp up” and adjust to all the new stuff. To hold your proverbial hand so you don’t lose your mind or get too down on yourself. Because it can be a bit of a mindfuck. I’m not exaggerating. I’ve gone through it three times since 2012 and here’s what I want to share with you:

It Will Take Some Time

It takes time to figure things out. Not just the people and how to approach them. How to get them to do what you want them to do without explicitly saying “please do this, it’s your job, and I shouldn’t have to play games to get you to do your job please.”

Yes, you’re awesome and better than everyone else so it won’t take you very long at all to adjust. Everyone else is going to have to adjust to how awesome you are—ha ha!

But seriously, just keep this in mind: it takes time. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to be an all star on day one or month one or even quarter one.

For some very specific type of jobs, the transition will be easier. But most of us will face a period of time where we don’t appear to be as awesome as we really are.

And that’s OK.

You May Need to Artificially Inflate Your Self Esteem

Some call it “fake it ’till you make it,” but essentially you need to just march ahead and project the same confidence and sense of “I got this” as you did when you left your last job (which you likely had all figured out) and during your interview (where you showed all your positive qualities and fantastic previous work).

People don’t know you. They don’t know what you can do. They haven’t seen you at your very best. You have no history to fall back on to get others to trust you or believe in you.

All you have is what you have in front of you. You’ll have to build all this stuff up from scratch. And until you do, you’ll have to fake it ’til you make it.

Talk About It

When you encounter these bumps in the road or moments of self doubt, talk about them.

To your spouse, your friends, your relatives, your parents—it doesn’t matter. And the only reason you need to do it is because it’ll help make it not as bad. If you feel shitty because you messed something up because it was your first time, talk about it.

If you feel like it’s taking you longer than you thought to “get” something, talk about it.

If you feel like someone was a jerk to you but don’t know if maybe it was your fault, talk about it.

Starting a new job is going to be rocky. But it’s never as bad as you think it is in your head. And by getting an outside perspective, you’ll likely have an easier time seeing that and accepting it.

Friends are there to say, “That doesnt’ sound like such a big deal. Chill out and eat your burger.” 

I would stay away from talking to someone you work with about it. Like I said, you still want to project the best parts of yourself right now. Unless you follow through on the next one…

Find a Friend

Austin Kleon was in SXSW and he talked about finding other knuckleballers. What he meant by that is that there are other weirdos like us out there. Maybe you really are a weirdo. You like to drink tomato juice through a coffee straw and can’t sit in a booth for fear of bad feng shui.

The point is we’re all weirdos in one way or another.

But Kleon’s point is that we aren’t alone. There are others like us. So make it a priority to look for the people at this new job that you’ll wind up becoming close with. Confiding in. Being all like “Can you believe Mike? What a jerk! I can’t believe he said that… Pass the tomato juice and straw will you?”

It isn’t going to happen right away (don’t start complaining to anyone about the new job PLEASE! It’s too soon!). But just find them. Identify them. When you’re swimming in shit and don’t have any friends, it’s a really good feeling to know that someone else you work with is a fellow traveler on this weird path called “a career.”

Work Hard and be Smart

Some of you are dumb. I’m sorry—we can’t all be smart. But work hard. If you’re dumb, don’t worry about it! They already hired you, so someone over there thinks you’re smart (or smart enough). So you already passed that test, now you just have to show the effort.

Doesn’t matter how badly you think you messed up, nobody is going to blow a gasket over someone that tried really hard to do a job for the first time and didn’t have the best results.

Most (sane) people will simply say, “Hey, it happens. You’ll figure it out, but you sure as hell tried your damn best!”

Of course, a year later they won’t give you as much leeway, but that’s a different story.

Anxiety and Stress

This is probably the worst part of a lot of people’s jobs. It isn’t the hours or the pay or the coworkers. It’s that feeling in the pit of our stomachs that feels like it’s taking over our whole life. The feeling on Sunday afternoon when you realize that you have to go back to that place the next day and WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN!!!???

Are we going to get the thing done in time?

Am I going to get yelled at?

Are my coworkers going to think I’m stupid and a waste of space and I can’t believe we hired him/her?

Is my boss going home at night and taking off his/her glasses and rubbing his/her temples going, “I need a drink. I can’t believe I hired this person. I’m so stupid!”

Are people talking behind my back about what a slacker I am? About how I didn’t say anything smart in that last meeting? About how I said too much in the other meeting?

Are people wondering about why I wear the same clothes week after week?

Do they think I’m ugly?

90% of this shit is all mental and fabricated and not real. But it doesn’t matter, because the feelings it creates are real. And they suck and can lead to real physical and mental issues. Sleep depravation. High blood pressure. Brain explosions.

This applies to new jobs and to old jobs, but I feel like starting a new job is an especially sensitive time. You’re trying to start on the right foot. To impress. In some cases, to justify the hire. The salary. The everything.

Pro athletes go through this all the time after signing a big contract. It’s hard for us mere mortals to understand, but it’s true. They are on the top of the world and everyone wants to have them on their team: the fans, the other players, and the GMs.

So they have all these offers to choose from and eventually they go with the highest one. They sign contracts for $150 million. For $200 million.

After all the hoopla dies down and it’s time to play actual games, some of them underperform. They just can’t get into a groove. Some of them will actually admit to what’s bothering them: they are putting too much pressure on themselves to “earn” their contract. In baseball, it’s guaranteed money, so they shouldn’t be worried about it.

But they’re humans too, and they do. So they press. They try too hard. They move away from playing the way they did to earn the contract, thinking they need to be even better than before to justify the massive paychecks they’re suddenly getting.

We go through the same thing, only at a slightly different scale. The combination of earning more money (which is likely if you’re at a new job) and going from being a top performer at your old place to starting over from scratch can create an environment where you press. Where you put pressure on yourself.

You say, “I know it will take some time to adjust.”

Time passes.

You still aren’t one of the top performers because—guess what?—it always takes more time than you think to adjust.

Just hang in there, it will come.

Get a Small, Quick Win

Here is a great piece of advice to help with all these swirling feelings. Sometimes during my early days at a job, I’d come home and my wife would ask me how work was.

And I’d say, “Fine. Good.”

Which was code for “Oh my god I don’t know about this place…I ran out of stuff to do at noon and it feels like I’m not getting anything else to do because my other project took me so long to get through because I was learning everything…maybe they regret hiring me already! Ahhhh!”

Not every single day, but a lot of the time. And I should’ve actually talked about it, because when I did it helped to frame how crazy it sounded.

And there’s one thing that will help nail this type of feeling in the butt: wins.

Find a small project you can do or take over that will get you a quick win. Maybe it’s re-doing a powerpoint presentation for your boss so it looks better. Maybe it’s taking over a project that’s easy but has been sitting untouched for months because no one had the time to drive it through. Grab that sucker and work hard to make it happen.

Don’t try to take on the big, bad project that you think will make you a superstar right away. It’s too frought with peril. It will take a LONG time and the amount of potential stumbles could actually have the opposite result: you could end up feeling worse about yourself.

Just pick something small.

Here are some things I’ve done in the past:

  • Created a checklist for a new way to import data into our layout software, saving hours of time for everyone on the team. I was a hero to everyone after that.
  • When I was a writer, I’d write one more story than I was supposed to every day.
  • Analyzed our web analytics and discovered a major issue that explained our terrible bounce rate (bots were hitting our site and we weren’t filtering them).
  • Took over the filling out of documents when we sent code to a vendor (tedious work that nobody wanted to do…I was the hero for taking it and owning it).
  • Pestered editors at Wikipedia to get our company page accurately updated. 

These are all minor things, but they did three things:

  1. Gave me a boost of confidence that I could work within this new system and get things done. It creates momentum for the bigger projects.
  2. Showed others that I could handle something on my own, small as it may be. It creates a small measure of trust, which you need to establish and earn.
  3. It gives you a tour of the new apparatus you work in. The people, the process, and all the bumps in the road to keep in mind for future projects.

Confidence and Self Esteem

Some of you out there were born with more confidence than you know what to do with. If something goes wrong, you never even consider the possibility that it was your fault. You are a perfect snowflake and no one will ever convince you otherwise.

You’re basically an asshole. 

The majority of us aren’t wired that way. We doubt ourselves, we question ourselves, and we look back constantly asking if we could’ve done better. We suffer from impostor syndrome and guess what?—people that question themselves this way typically have a higher IQ.

So there.

Anyway, this is for the rest of us: hang in there. It’ll take time (probably longer than you suspect) to get comfortable and during that adjustment time you’ll need to just bear down and get through it.

Did you know smiling can make you happy? Keep that in mind during this transition. You just have to have faith in all those qualities that they saw in you during the interview process. And all the nice things people (probably) said about you when you left your old job.

I was lucky. When I left my last job I got a lot of “we’re going to miss you” and “what are we going to do without you?” and “but you’re awesome” from some VERY smart, very talented people.

That went a LONG way.

My old boss also sat me down and said something to the extent of: “I hope it goes well for you. You’ve got everything you need in that brain of yours to do whatever you want. Anything. There isn’t anything you can’t do. So it was an honor to work with you and maybe our paths will cross again.”

The way he said these kind words struck a chord. I believed him. I walked out of his office feeling indestructable. Omnipotent. Like a God.

I thought of those words often during my new job and it helped me get through some self doubt when I needed it.

Go Gett’em!

That’s what I want to leave you with. You found a new job that looked good to you and they found someone that looked good to them.

Congratulations. Now hang in there and remember: you’ll get the hang of it soon enough, just like you did every other time before. Just work hard and remember how good you became at your last job. It will come.

Good luck.

Image by Luis Ascenso Photography

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