Well, it's arrived. My first week in my new job.
After working for myself out of my home for five years, it's been really strange -- and exciting -- to re-immerse myself in an office culture. New people! A new building! New snack options!
I've spent most of the week in an almost out-of-body state, aided in no small measure by my husband's business trip on my very first day, one visit to the emergency room at 10 p.m. on my second night and -- oh yeah, did I mention that we're moving in 12 days -- (and don't yet have an address)? But I digress.
So while this is all very fresh, I thought I'd offer a bit of advice on some of the strategies that are helping me ease into this major life transition:
1. Take time to learn your email software. There's a tendency when you start any new job to learn the basics of whatever software program your company uses so that you can plunge directly into your job. That's fine, if you already know said system. But if you aren't familiar with how your email (or any other communication systems) work, learn them now and learn them well. It will save you tons of time from having to go back later and figure out how you actually reserve a conference room or schedule a meeting electronically with a colleague. Plus, knowing a system -- as opposed to faking it and hoping that you don't accidentally hit the wrong key -- will actually make you feel more confident and like you belong. Which is why -- on my very first day -- I sat down and took an online tutorial in Outlook 2010. I'd used Outlook before, but it was two versions ago and a lot has changed. After a couple of days, that "recurring task" command was like an old friend who was dropping in for tea.
2. Take time to study your benefit plan. In a similar vein -- if you haven't done so already -- spend some time poring over your benefits plan and any other perks that your company has on offer. Much like office software, we all tend to ignore the initial mound of material HR invariably bombards us with, figuring that we'll sit down at some later point in time and review this stuff. But we won't. As a result, you might forget to register for your pension plan (a friend of mine once realized this error two years into his job). You might also fail to realize all the hidden benefits that come with your job. When I actually took the time to read the Online guidance for new employees at my company, I discovered loads of things I'm eligible for, ranging from health club memberships and cycling schemes to fairly substantial discounts on any number of clothing, entertainment and travel purchases. (Teeth whitening is included in the dental plan? Seriously?) So review that stuff now, when you still have a bit of time to yourself and can get away with it.
3. Ask questions. There's a limited period of time in a new job where you can get away with asking dumb questions. So take advantage of it. Ask people their names. Ask again. Make people tell you what obscure acronyms stand for. Don't be afraid to have someone walk you to the cafeteria... several times. On substantive work issues, asking questions also makes you appear interested and curious -- as if you really do want to learn on the job, rather than coming off as an arrogant know-it-all. But there's another reason to be honest about what you don't know in your new job. People get into routines when they've been working in the same environment for a long time. It's only when an outsider comes in -- who doesn't know the system -- that they are forced to question their own assumptions or at the very least to justify them out loud in explicit terms. And that's useful for everyone. Recent research suggests that asking good questions is a crucial life skill. Try it!
4. Make lists. I'm a big fan of lists. If you don't want to bombard your colleagues with questions, make lists for yourself: questions about office supplies... questions about travel reimbursement... questions about policy documents. Most people would rather get an email with ten questions than be interrupted ten different times in an hour to answer basic questions about how to install a printer. So be polite and organized, but be inquisitive. Remember: your colleagues were new once too!
5. Allow yourself to feel uncomfortable. The hardest part of starting a new job is feeling OK about the fact that you have no idea what you're doing. You don't know where the bathroom is. You can't remember the name of the head of the research division. You have no earthly idea what you're meant to be doing at an upcoming meeting or what your boss means when he tells you that you'll be in charge of a given project. But you do know one thing, unless this is your very first job: in a few months time, this will all be second nature. So write with the wrong hand for awhile. It's exciting. It's challenging. And it's the only way to learn.