Starting a new job as a mid-career professional


If it’s been a while since you started a new job, you can experience a range of emotions once you start in your new position. But in those first weeks in a new job, you make your first impression, and it’s hard to change people’s perceptions once they’re developed. The author provides five tips on how to transition to a new job, especially if it’s been a long time since you moved. Focus on building relationships first. Second, research the company and its culture. Third, get a sense of how other people at the company see your role. Fourth, understand dependencies and cross-functional workflows to determine who needs something from you and what you depend on to provide it. Finally, give yourself time to adjust to the new role.

Bill thought he would never leave the comfortable job he’d enjoyed for the past ten years. But when another company made him an offer, it was so intriguing that he took the job. Then fear kicked in because he hadn’t started a new job in 10 years. He read The First 90 Days and learned that he needed to make an impact quickly, so he immediately started problem solving.

Two weeks into his new job, Bill had already solved a problem: his first win. But he noticed that his colleagues were distant. His boss causally told him to slow down, but he didn’t tell him there were complaints about his way of working and style. Bill didn’t realize that his first win wasn’t really about achieving a goal – it was about how he accomplished his job.

In those first weeks in a new job, you make your first impression, and it’s hard to change people’s perceptions once they’re developed. Here are five tips for transitioning to a new job, especially if it’s been a long time since you moved.

Build relationships.

This is the number one priority when hiring a new company. If you’ve been in a job for a long time, you may not realize how your relationships had a direct impact on your success. When you build relationships, you build trust and you can act faster when people trust your decision-making.

How do you quickly build relationships? First, be as curious about others and their work as they are about you as the ‘newbie’. Understand their role and how you can bring them value before proposing changes. Understanding the needs of your colleagues starts the relationship-building process, because your interest alone makes you feel good about participating.

Second, respect history when having these conversations. When people have been with a company for a long time, they have laid the foundations and can keep outdated systems or processes together with a paper clip and band-aid due to a lack of funding, people or capabilities. Show respect for what is currently by recognizing the years of hard work it took to get there. Then, in subsequent conversations, take your colleagues on the journey of the vision for the future. Don’t rush with step one! It can take weeks, months, or even a year to build relationships (depending in part on whether you’re in person or remote).

Dive deep into the business.

When you step into a new company, you probably don’t know much about it other than what you’ve read to prepare for interviews. Your new colleagues will see you as someone who knows nothing about the trade. Spend time learning about the company and culture.

Most corporate websites have a newsroom link to all of their press releases. If you work for a publicly traded company in the US, check out their SEC 10-K report and investor information, which usually includes their annual report. Discover: How does the company make revenue? What products does it sell? How do the products work? What are the quarterly and annual targets? What metrics are used to measure company success and support growth? Where is the company headed in the next three to five years? Answers to these questions will help you understand how your work is connected to the larger organization.

Dive deep into learning the culture, too. How do people work cross-functional here? Is the company agile and moving quickly, or is it more cautious and slow? What affects the speed of the company? How do people communicate? Via email or chat, or do they pick up the phone and just call whenever they want? Can all levels communicate with all levels, or is it more hierarchical? No matter what position you’re in – entry-level or senior executive – the more you know about the company and its culture, the more effectively you can align your work with the company’s goals and behave in a manner consistent with the culture.

Understand how others see your work.

As you build relationships and learn about the company, you can also ask questions about how others experience your job to understand their expectations of you, your role, and your overall position. Just because you have the same title or functional job that you had at your last company, the job itself can be very different, and how you add value to the role can be different.

When I joined one company, I found that all my stakeholders had different expectations of my role, and one leader had no idea how he saw my role or how I could use my skills to add value to his organization. I realized I would have to spend time aligning everyone with what my role was and wasn’t so I could meet their expectations.

Learn dependencies.

Understand dependencies and cross-functional workflows to determine who needs something from you and what you depend on to provide it. Who do you provide work output to and how do your cross-functional stakeholders use it? Ask your manager who are the top 10 multifunctional people your team interacts with. Then spend time understanding how they see the workflows between the functions and what they need from your role to be successful. Understand the timing of workflows so you can meet deadlines and get the most out of your work.

Give yourself time.

People take jobs and want to feel instantly connected, but that doesn’t always happen. It’s hard to board a new company and can be even harder to board remotely. Give yourself the grace to go through the Kübler-Ross change curve – first you’ll be excited, then shocked at what could be different or harder in the new job, then in denial that it’s so different, which could change quickly in frustration. You may even enter the lowest mood, a depression-like state, before you begin to experiment and engage in a way that makes you feel good about your new job.

Ultimately, you integrate into the new company and feel comfortable. Each person moves at a different pace, so be patient, breathe and try to find one person to connect with if you’re not already paired with a mentor. Know that change is difficult for almost everyone, so embrace it and know that it is all part of your growth.

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The best way to go through all these steps is to listen more than speak and formulate each thought in the form of a question. For example, if you’re in a meeting and you have a great idea, you might say, “I think we should do this.” Everyone in the room will either a) shoot you because it’s been tried before and failed, b) fire you because you’re new and don’t know the trade, or c) find it interesting but fire you anyway because you’re new.

Instead, phrase your input in the form of a question, such as, “I’m curious, have we tried this?” If you’re wrong because it failed in the past, you’ll be taught history and seen as someone trying to learn. If it has never been tried before and could work, your curiosity makes you a hero.

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