How to find your way (and the bathroom) at a new job

May 3, 2009 by

So I have a new job. I started a couple of weeks ago and…I’m totally under water. Overwhelmed. In the weeds. Whatever euphemism you want to use to indicate “struggling.”

Starting a new job is never easy. No matter how much you prepare, you can’t truly get ready for what faces you when you arrive on site. Every work place has different policies, practices, norms of behavior that you have to adjust to; you need to meet and get to know your new coworkers and figure out your role in relation to theirs; you may even have to get a copy of the bathroom key.

What do I do when I have some questions and need guidance? I turn to my friends. I put out the ask to some of my wonderful friends who also recently started new jobs to give me some tips. And because they’re awesome, they responded.

I now present a guest post from my fabulous friend Julia Rocchi, who blogs over at Italian Mother Syndrome. Go ahead and sit back, relax and get ready for the insight…

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Where’s the bathroom? And where’s the cafeteria?

These are the first things I ask when I start a new job. Why? Because I drink a lot of water and prefer to eat away from my desk. So the answers determine my immediate comfort — and lessen the chances I’ll wet my pants or spill food on my keyboard.

Of course, there’s a bigger significance to these questions. The fact I’m even asking them means I’m onto a fresh adventure and one step further along my career path. I’m broadening my circle of friends and mentors, picking up different skills, reinventing my role … not to mention receiving a paycheck, health benefits, and assorted perks.

But for all these good things, starting a new gig has its fair share of attendant stress, even in calm and controlled circumstances. And given our shaky economy, ‘calm and controlled’ transitions have become quaint luxuries.

Believe me, I know. The last year alone took me through a move from Philadelphia to DC, my first layoff 10 months later, three months of unemployment, and another job shortly after my first anniversary of arriving. I’ve been through contracts, unemployment benefits, networking, interviews, new hire paperwork … basically, soup to nuts and back to soup again.

The good news is, I walked away with some tested-in-fire tactics for keeping heart and mind together while adjusting to significant career changes. Here goes:

Make a pros and cons list before you accept the job. Yes, your first step in adjustment comes before you sign the contract. First, write out a list of all the elements that appeal to you about the position and the offer. Then, counterbalance it with a rundown on what’s making you less-than-pleased. Weigh each item according to your top priorities (ex. I want to eventually move into a management position, I want to continue living in my apartment, I want to maintain a 40-hour workweek, etc.). When you’re done, you’ll see the list has morphed into a sign post about whether the position is a good fit for you at this stage in your life and career. Heed it accordingly.

Take some time off between jobs to reflect and recharge. In our fast-charging society, we rarely stop to absorb and accept our evolving situations. If possible, negotiate for a few free days between your last and first days (though 1 to 4 weeks would be ideal). Use this time to rest, think about what you learned from your last job, plan out what you hope to achieve in your new role, and all-around just breathe. After all, you just expended a lot of time and energy on a thorough and fruitful job search—you at least deserve to take a nap.

Dress the part. I’m no fashionista, but my work clothes do endow me with a certain confidence when I’m wearing the right things. Evaluate your work wardrobe in light of your new office culture, and make sure you have clothes that line up with those expectations. Doesn’t matter if it’s jeans or corporate suits – just make sure your outfits are clean, classic, well-tailored, and suited to the occasion. You’ll look and feel better before you even walk out the door.

Maintain a healthy sleeping/eating/exercise routine. Starting a new job sometimes disrupts the routine you had at your previous company—your commute changes, you have to switch gyms, etc. The result: less sleep, missed workouts, fast food meals, and other bad habits that take the spring out of your step. But now more than ever, you should keep your health and wellbeing intact. Take a week or two to see how your new hours pan out. Then, slowly start building your routine back up again. For example, when should you go to bed to get 6-7-8 hours of sleep? What’s the most convenient time to go the gym? What do you want to pack for lunch this week? By taking it slow and figuring out exactly what you need and what you can handle, you’ll arrive at a healthy, reasonable schedule that you’re much more likely to stick to.

Introduce yourself to one new face a day. Your coworkers are about to become your work family – and you wouldn’t ignore your family at the dinner table, right? Both introverts and extroverts will find it manageable to meet just one new person a day in the office. It doesn’t have to be a soul-searching conversation –a simple hi/handshake/I sit in cubicle X should do the trick. And remember, everyone you’re saying hi to has been in your shoes before, so they’ll probably be more than willing to make you feel welcome and answer any questions. Plus, you’ll make friends—and that makes work double the fun.

Give it time. I am a horribly impatient person. If something is not immediately 100% my ideal, I’m liable to pitch fits and set new changes in motion right away. But starting my latest job has taught me a valuable lesson: Give the job, and your coworkers, and yourself some much-needed time. You need to learn the ropes of the organization, receive training, show your managers what you’re capable of, find your place on the teams, and more. As a result of all this adjustment and learning, your job on day one will not (and should not) match your job on day 100. So give yourself a breather. Allow space to grow. And reevaluate along the way to see how the role is fitting you. If after six months you see it’s not moving in the direction you thought it would, then maybe it’s time to revisit Elisa’s job-search tips. But if you’re feeling challenged and satisfied, then you’ve likely found the right spot for you right now. So enjoy it!!

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  • jennasauber

    fabulous post, Julia!!! Very professional yet a good read. Glad you’re adjusting well – and glad you’re part of the UNF family now. :)