how to adjust to a new job

Starting a new job can be incredibly stressful: You’re in an unfamiliar environment, and finding your place in it can be the difference between excelling at your job or crashing and burning, so the stakes rightly feel high.

Here are nine ways to help ease the transition and set yourself up for a successful stay at the 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 who 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 feels 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 coworkers. 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 as through as you need, don’t be shy about asking for what you need. It’s okay 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 into 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 coworkers 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 be doing differently and where you could be focusing 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.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 18 comments… read them below }

  1. Meg*

    This is a great article! I totally used to be guilty of the “this is how we did it at my old company” statements. I eventually figured out that it was irritating people more than helping them, but it took some time. Thanks for writing this!

    1. Hooptie*

      Ah, this reminds me of a pet peeve that I hope I’ve gotten over.

      After I was promoted into my current position, the person who used to have my job (she had also been promoted into a different position at the same company) would always come back at me and say, “Well, when I had your job, it was this way blah blah blah blah.” Things had changed in a hurry, as the department was now a merger of three smaller teams instead of the one area she had managed, so it was a lot different than ‘when she did my job’. This used to irritate me so much until I learned to just let it go.

      Just wanted to say that this one can work both ways!

      Great article, AAM. We tell our new hires to expect to be overwhelmed and to not feel fully comfortable for at least a year. There’s a lot of anxiety involved with having so much to learn, and it’s important to recognize and validate it.

      1. Jessa*

        Exactly. Not to mention when you’ve been brought on because the person who used to have your job wasn’t doing that well at it.

  2. Sali*

    Great article, and one I will reference in a couple of months once I have started my new job! I’ve only been in my current job for 7 months and in hindsight can see the warning signs that I now know to look out for thanks to this post. My manager never explicitly outline my objectives or targets expected of me in my first few months. She works remotely and the only time I ever worked with her in person was only for 5 days, and she didn’t even arrange to have a 1-to-1 meeting with me. I now know I should have brought it up myself. I thought I was going to be learning loads, but they failed to mention they like to handover tasks at a snail-like speed, so I ultimately became thoroughly bored and felt unchallenged by my job – hence the new job I will be starting in 3 weeks!

  3. TRB*

    I liked this article. Just wondering when you stop considering a new job a “new job.” A year? I still feel very new and I’ve been in my job for 7 months as well and I still feel lost. I definitely need to ask my manager for a one-on-one where we map out goals for my next 6 months (or 5) so I don’t end up actually crashing and burning a year into my job.

    1. Jazzy Red*

      It’s not uncommon to feel “new” for a year or so, in a new job. I’ve had employers who didn’t understand that the learning curve can take a long time, and those were places where I had difficulty in my job.

      Talking to your manager is a good plan. You might be further along than you think, or your manager may have helpful feedback for you. Getting on the same page with your manager will definitely help you conquer your new job.

  4. T-riffic*

    This is timely for me as well! I’m starting a new job at the beginning of August. I love that Alison’s advice is always so clear and level-headed. No gimmicky crap like “bring donuts the first day so everyone will like you!” The distinction between getting to know people but not joining cliques is an important one and not something that I would have immediately thought of.

  5. Jen in RO*

    Very timely for me too! I’m interviewing right now, but I’m still not 100% convinced I want to leave my current job… and I think the one big reason is that I’m just scared of having to deal with new *everything*. I mean, OK, my company’s culture leaves a lot to be desired and I my coworkers can drive me nuts – but at the end of the day it’s not bad, and I might be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, right? *cue panic, and I don’t even have an offer yet*

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I noticed that! When I turned it in, it said eight, but apparently I misnumbered. (Speaking of NOT being a perfectionist, per yesterday’s discussion.)

  6. Anonymous Accountant*

    How timely, as my firm is merging with another firm in August and I’m concerned about blending into a new culture.

    Great points, especially with the “we did XYZ this way at my old company”.

  7. Glennis*

    Very timely! I am in my second week at a new job – it’s a tranfer within an organization, but “new” enough!!

    Funny thing about “how we do it at my old job” – when I joined my previous department, I was appalled at how behind the times they were regarding use of paper vs. electronic files, and at how they didn’t use the computer resources they had. No one understood how to file electronic files, so all correspondence was stored in a single folder, thousands of single documents in a huge list sorted only by randomly created file name! They would, literally, print out a document from Microsoft Word that had blank lines on it, and then fill in the blanks by hand!!

    Seven years and several retirements later, I managed to clean up my old department. In my new new position, I am replacing a recent retiree. Imagine my amusement as she was training me, we began a new project by her reaching into a file drawer and pulling out a printed Microsoft Word document with blank lines on it, and filling in the blanks by hand!

    Oh, yes, and the shared directory is one folder filled with single Word files, saved by file name, without a subfolders. It’s the equivalent of opening an actual file drawer and tossing loose documents inside!

    Needless to say, I will be gently making some changes here.

  8. Kit M.*

    I’ve actually been doing a lot of these things in my new job, and I know a lot of it is thanks to being a regular reader of AAM. Even though this is my first full-time job and should be the scariest, I’ve been handling the newness a lot better than previous jobs — I’m quicker to ask questions rather than stewing in uncertainty, I have a sense of what’s appropriate in the workplace and what things I shouldn’t feel weird about asking and doing, and I have a better sense of what sort of workplace-culture issues to watch out for. In general, I feel less awkward and more in control of what’s happening than I would have thought possible. And, yeah, part of it is just that I’m getting older and better at my work, but a BIG part of it is reading AAM all the time. Thanks so much for this blog, Alison.

  9. Limon*

    This article made me sad to think of my last full time job a year ago. At the interview I didn’t feel good about it but thought: hey! the money is really great.

    But I never had support from my manager, no one would help me with supplies or with getting my computer hooked up, when I asked for help I was told to ‘figure it out for yourself.’ I never had a desk or anything that locked, just a table like the students had. (I am a teacher.) It was a horrible experience and felt degrading.

    What a big difference now with my lovely part-time job, they have supported me and would tell me often: don’t worry if you feel overwhelmed, it takes at least a semester to feel comfortable. I feel respected and welcome and my co-workers are cordial and friendly. All the suggestions in the article are great – and work in a good environment. I am slowly losing my job-related ptsd from the last position and am glad to remember what ‘normal’ feels like.

    AAM has really helped me to re-focus and work on job-related issues and how to handle all kinds of things that come up. I feel alot more confident and comfortable at work and even in interviews. Yeah ! and thank you. : )

    1. Original Dan*

      “…job-related ptsd…”

      I love it!!

      AAM has also helped me a great deal in that regard.

  10. Ellie H.*

    This is great! I wish I had read it when I started the job I’m currently in.

    One converse I’ve been thinking about lately is how to adjust to the idea of someone else having your job after you leave it. I’m hoping to go to graduate school in a year and I am already panicking about what if my replacement is better than I am, does things differently in a way people like more, implements innovative things I haven’t thought of, etc. I know these are ideal qualities for an employee and I love the place I work and want things to go great for them, but it’s still anxiety producing to contemplate!

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