how to earn respect as the new hire

It can be tough to start a new job: No one knows much about you, the reputation that you spent time building in your old company might not have followed you, and to most of your coworkers you’re still an unknown quantity who might or might not turn out to be great. But with the right moves, you can quickly begin earning respect and establishing yourself as a valued member of your new team. Here’s how.

1. Look for an immediate win, even if it’s small. It takes a while to truly master most jobs, so you’re not likely to get big results right away. But look around for spots where you might be able to quick get a win – such as a process you can make easier, a needed role you can fill, a client you can please, or work you can move forward that was languishing before you arrived. Even small ways of demonstrating skill and value can go a long way toward establishing credibility and respect in your new workplace.

2. Pay close attention to the culture. In addition to all the information you’re absorbing about how to do your new job, you’ll need to pay nearly as much attention to how the office you’re working in operates. Fitting into office culture can matter enormously, and you risk coming across as tone-deaf if you don’t pay attention the load of signals that will be coming your way about everything from what hours people work to how long they take for lunch to how they communicate during the day (and how often).

3. Pay attention to how your boss operates. It can be tough to adjust to a new boss when you’re used to your old manager’s ways of doing things. Be sure that you’re not simply falling into the patterns your old boss preferred for things like frequency of communication, method of communication (email vs. phone vs. in-person meetings, as well as scheduled meetings vs. talking ad hoc), and what she does and doesn’t want to have input in. You’ll pick up a lot of information about your new manager’s preferences simply by watching, but you should also feel free to ask directly about how she prefers to work.

4. Ask your new manager what a successful first month and first six months would look like. Most new hires don’t bother to explicitly ask this, and too many managers forget to elaborate on it. But talking these questions through will give you valuable information about what you need to achieve in order to be performing at the level your new boss expects. (And the answers can be a huge relief, if you’re feeling frazzled and discover that she’s assuming it will take you several months just to get oriented.) And on the topic of questions more generally…

5. Ask questions! Don’t be shy about asking your boss directly about the things that will help you settle in and understand what’s expected of you and what you can expect of others. Useful questions to discuss include:

  • What can I read to get a better understanding of ___?
  • Are there samples of how this has been done in the past that I could look at?
  • What recent history of the department or upcoming plans should I be aware of?
  • Do you like to talk about things as they come up, or do you prefer that I save things up for a weekly meeting?
  • Are there any pitfalls that you’ve seen people fall into when they’re learning this job? Anything else that I should be especially aware of?

 6. Don’t bring in cookies or other treats on your first day. New hires sometimes think that bringing in candy or baked goods will make a good impression and win over their new colleagues. But in many offices, it will come across as over-eager – and after all, you don’t yet know the food-sharing norms of your new workplace. You don’t want to show up with a tray of chocolate nut brownies and discover that there’s a ban on nuts because of an employee with a life-threatening allergy, or learn that most of the office is dieting, or that half of them are vegan. Learn a little about your new coworkers first, before bringing in food for the group.

7. Don’t get involved in office drama. Even if you think you’re forming clear opinions about workplace disagreements or cliques, resist the urge to take sides or otherwise insert yourself. You don’t yet have the perspective to truly know the issues or the players, and even if you’re right, people will generally respect you more for hanging back until you gain more familiarity.

8. After your first two weeks, ask for feedback. Ideally, your manager would be checking in with your regularly and letting you know where you’re doing well and where you should be focusing on improving. In practice, though, managers are often too busy to think to do this, even with new hires. You can often get incredibly useful information – and will come across as both conscientious and easy to manage – by simply asking, “Now that I’ve been here two weeks, what’s your sense of how things are going? Is there anything you’d like me to be focusing more on or doing differently?”

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

{ 21 comments… read them below }

  1. Noelle

    Thank you so much for this. I am about to start a new position, so the advice was timely. I especially like #8.

  2. Tax Nerd

    Several incarnations ago, our office had a new hire who quickly put all of us off by her constant unfavorable comparisons of how we did things, the benefits offered (which were great, by the way), the way we dressed (professional in our office), and on and on. I learned a valuable lesson from that–shut up about what the old place was like, or how/why the new one is inferior/different.

    1. BRR

      Ugh we have someone who has been doing that since they started 9 months ago. Not to mention their previous employer, while in a similar field, is much different in size.

    2. Artemesia

      The trick here is to use the knowledge you learned at place Y to improve function at place X without talking about the fun you had at band camp. It isn’t ‘we organized the TPS reports this way at Y and it was so much better’ but ‘I’d like to try organizing the TPS report deadlines this way; I think it would work better for me, what do you think?’

  3. Kai

    Watching and learning about the culture is so important. It’s okay not to understand something at first, and you may be completely in the right that something doesn’t make sense or could be vastly improved. It may just be a cultural quirk that you don’t like and never will, but you’ll need to be around for a while before you can start making recommendations or changing things at your own will.

  4. Whippers

    In my current job, asking questions was positively frowned on by the manager when I started.
    Anytime I asked a question I was treated like I was stupid or dismissed without getting an answer, even on what was literally my first day. I still don’t know if that manager had a personal issue with me or was just a dick because everyone else seemed to like her (she has since left).

    1. Maggie

      I’ve had that happen to me too. THAT was seen as over eager. They expected us to just ‘get’ it somehow. I did not stay there long.

    2. Joey

      Smart questions is the key. I’ve hired folks who’ve asked some questions and I’ve thought to myself “uh oh. Is this the same person who I interviewed?.”

      1. Kai

        Absolutely. And there’s a massive difference between asking a question that will help you be self-reliant, as in “where can I find that info, do we have it on file somewhere?” and “could you make me a list of the important points from that meeting so I can learn?” The first one, sure, glad to help you. The second, absolutely not.

      2. Whippers

        Well, I felt that most of my questions were smart and just attempting to get to know the organisation. However, I think they were taken as being smart-alecky or attempting to undermine the manager in some way.

        1. Militant Intelligent

          It could be how you framed them, and not what you said. Just a tip: generally, I’d avoid asking questions about “getting to know the organisation” as you’ve quoted. You get to know a company in an interview, (and on the job, don’t ask about what a company is about, no one is saying you should know everything, but just learn though observation).

          1. Whippers

            OK by “Get to the know the organisation”, I meant questions about who is responsible for what, and who I need to go to in order to get specific information. I didn’t mean asking questions like “So, what do you guys do?”
            And it’s all very well saying just learn through observation but I am the only person in my office who does my job so the only way for me to learn anything was by asking questions. Otherwise I would just have been sitting there observing the walls.
            Sorry, I don’t mean to leap down your throat here but I just wanted to clarify.

  5. Cath in Canada

    One of the best “immediate wins” I’ve seen was from a new colleague who made a list of all the acronyms and jargon she encountered – every single one, and there are a lot – found out what they all meant, and saved the definitions list in the new employee orientation file. Even those of us who’ve been here for a while use it, and subsequent hires have said how useful it is.

  6. Joey

    The key for me is to get out of interview mode. You have the job. You no longer have to look for every opportunity to talk about your accomplishments at your previous jobs.

    Now its time to be patient and wait for opportunities to apply your ksa’s.

    1. Mallory+Janis+Ian

      Hear, hear! A few of us once invited a new employee to have lunch with us, and she spent the whole time giving us an hour-long infomercial about all her accomplishments. No one else could get a word in edgewise, and we were all simply exhausted afterward.

  7. Graciosa

    I think that one overlooked aspect of paying attention to the culture is paying attention to feedback from people other than your direct manager.

    If a colleague or manager from another function pulls you aside to tell you something, either 1) they are kindly reaching out to help the new person who doesn’t realize that they screwed up / misunderstood something / whatever the new person needs to know, or 2) they are lobbying to get you to modify your behavior for their own protection.

    You can usually figure out which pretty quickly – but I have seen new people blow off well-intentioned offers of help that were clearly in the first category and burn some bridges that they could really have used later. Even if you don’t take the advice, there’s a lot of value in responding politely and leaving the bridge intact.

  8. Artemesia

    #1 is super important. I don’t want to be too specific for privacy reasons, but I remember a new position where we had a particular function that they hoped I would be an asset to. I made this job 1 and immediately scheduled lots of meetings with the clients related to this and left my door open so that any time people came by my office, they saw me engaged with this time consuming but not favorite task. After a couple of months my reputation was of someone indispensable on this function. I probably could have slacked off on it for the rest of the year and coasted on that if I had chosen. It created a reputation I had for the rest of the time I worked there as someone really great with important function X.

    The cliche for this is ‘low hanging fruit.’ What is the thing you can do that will immediately have payoff and if it is measurable payoff e.g. more web hits, more applications, more sales, all the better.

  9. fluffy

    I would add: Don’t deny a request for sick leave just because YOU think a dr’s appointment should be that long.

  10. justin

    I just started a new job in sales two weeks ago. I think im making a great impression because I am listening more than I am talking. I am being enthusiastic and friendly. I am incorporating the veterans suggestions and I am under promising and over delivering. My boss asked me to promise how many deals I would write up in a month. I said 2. He said ok. Do 2. Ive written up 4 in 2 weeks. He is stunned and I can tell that ive made him feel great about hiring me.

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