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How to succeed in a new job
Scott Reeves, Forbes | April 18, 2006
At the time, higher pay, increased responsibility, a corner office and an easier commute added up to a dream job and a great career move.
Six months and many sleepless nights later, it appears that your values don't mesh with your new company's way of doing business, and that you've made the worst decision of your career. Now what?
"Don't be dazzled by higher pay and a chance to move up the corporate ladder when sizing up a job offer," says Barbara Callan-Bogia, founder and principal of Callan Consulting in Framingham, Mass. "I've tracked many executives in new jobs, and the key to success is 'fit'-not competence. You wouldn't have gotten an interview, let alone the job, if the company didn't think you could do the job."
Adjusting to life at a new company may be as difficult for some as learning a foreign language. Total immersion works for many people-jump in with both feet, thrash around and learn new things. Even small details count.
In your new job, start with the basics. Learn how information is exchanged and find the best path for getting your ideas heard. Some companies may emphasize face-to-face conferences between those involved, while others stress full-blown staff meetings with department heads and spreadsheet presentations.
Sit down with your boss to learn the company's working style. If it's new, be aware of the differences and don't ignore them. Then meet with your subordinates so they can get to know you.
You'll reveal a good deal about yourself when learning about other employees. Remember: You're always on display, and you're always being sized up. So, early on, it's wise to keep your opinions and wry observations to yourself, because you can bet the office grapevine will be throbbing with every little detail about the new employee-you.
Just about every office has a few key players who either make things happen or just get in the way, even if they don't appear on the organizational chart as a grand pooh-bah. Learn who these people are. Make a point of understanding their strengths and weaknesses.
For starters, you need to know if they're confident gunslingers or off-the-shelf wusses who are more interested in protecting their turf than getting the job done.
Don't lock horns with anyone immediately, especially over trivial matters-even if your mandate is to shake things up. You need to get others on your side if you're going to ask them to pull in your direction in the future.
Some workers like feedback; others abhor it. The difference may help define their value to the team. Those who welcome comments probably want to improve and advance, while those who see any discussion of their performance as a personal affront may not be much help now or in the future.
Learn how feedback is handled at the new company, and balance the new style with your preferred methods.
If you plan to make changes, move slowly. Explain why changes are necessary, then tell your employees how the changes will be made. If you don't have them on your side, you're in trouble. If you're one of the grunts, remember that you don't determine the company's direction, and refusal to sign on to the new direction is likely to result in your demotion or even a quick exit.
"Early on, you've got to ask if your core beliefs go against the concepts of honesty, accountability and teamwork at your new company," Callan-Bogia says. "If the new corporate culture doesn't value what you hold dear, you're going to be swimming upstream all the time."
Build on what you've learned at prior jobs, but don't try to impose an old template on a new job. If the first weeks in a new job don't go well, all may not be lost, despite your apparent difficulties fitting into the new corporate culture.
Adapting to a new set of assumptions about how things are done doesn't necessarily mean compromising your core values.
Establishing yourself in a new corporate culture will take time. Set goals defining where you want to be and what you want to accomplish in three, six and nine months.
"If things aren't working out, ask yourself if the gap is insurmountable or if it can be overcome," Callan-Bogia says. "If the gap is small, it can be bridged little by little. If it's insurmountable and you want out, keep your performance sharp, because it will take you six months to a year to find a new job."
You won't find yourself chewing on the office furniture if you do your homework before accepting a new job. Start by talking to friends who work at the company or have worked there in the past. Make a list of differences between your present company and your prospective employer. Determine how important the differences are and if they can be bridged.
Think about what's important to you in a new job. Is it more important to make big bucks or to make a difference-in short, money or job satisfaction? How do you want your efforts to be recognized? Before you accept a job, ask yourself if there's anything that would get in the way of your performance and achieving your goals. After you've penciled everything out, follow your gut.
These basic techniques will serve you well at small privately held companies or at major corporations such as Apple Computer, Bank of America, or Chevron.
"People don't leave companies-they leave managers," Callan-Bogia says. "Corporate culture starts with the managers."
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