The beautiful spring in Charlottesville provides a reward for surviving the dreary cold weather months. Making a career transition in today’s competitive environment can often seem like an endless winter. Employers are very cautious (and slow) with their decision these days and sometimes it feels that the new job is out of reach. Eventually, like spring, the offer for a job that fits you and your desires will come through, bringing a fresh start and… an end to your stress. Right?
The first days of a new job can set the stage for a career at a company. First impressions, expectations and even rituals are formed in that initial period. The nuances of global business and modern office arrangements can throw even an experienced saavy manager for a loop. After two years as an independent consultant, a mid-career alumnus recently took a job at a well known global communications firm. After 90 days on the job, here are the graduate’s reflections and tips on the process:
Tip #1: Put the first day in perspective: You have done it before!
“Starting with a new company after a long period out of the market, felt to me like my first day of school again. I did not have my ‘gig’ down -in terms of what to wear beyond my interview suit and how to plan my work-outs, travel to and from office…what to bring. The night before my first day, I got nervous and thought “that is ridiculous”. I determined all I had to do was just get there and that would be the worst part of the first day. Good thinking – I made it to the New York office on-time. “
Tip #2 Ask who you should call on before going into the office for the first time.
“I did not know who to announce myself to as my direct manager is located in Asia. So I just showed up and rang the bell. There was no reception area. The office administrator helped me with getting my laptop, badge, pass etc. To my surprise, I learned that morning that there are no assigned seats and that in fact, everybody is by default home-based. One can come into the office, but you have to be fast to get a seat since there are only 16 of them. The entire NYC office staff numbers close to 40. There is no desk scheduling system, so you do not know who is coming in or how many on any given day. As it turns out, it can be very empty or overfilled.”
Tip #3 Did you ask what the working environment is like during the interview process?
“I had spent many hours in my apartment home office job searching, networking, preparing interviews and completing projects. I was looking forward to working in a team with social interactions again. I was surprised that this topic had never come up during the three month interviewing process. I just assumed I would have a desk with my name on it where I can settle my keyboard, my phone etc…”
Tip #4 Have an elevator pitch ready for meeting many new people. The selling yourself has not ended with landing the job!
“As expected, my manager asked me for a 30-60-90 day plan and to set up introductory meetings with about 20 colleagues. Those introductions were hard because my team is new and we had not formulated objectives or a strategy – only a vision. Furthermore, in my mind, I was not clear yet how to best present myself. Part of my reluctance was also that the natural introduction question is “where are you joining from?” and I had been out of a full-time environment for two years. I wish I had thought about that aspect ahead of time and prepared for it. One new colleague asked me: “Why did you leave your former company?” – I was so perplexed, did not want to share that I was part of workforce reduction that I responded “Oh, I wanted to travel.”
Tip #5 Be prepared for ongoing conservative economic environment despite getting hired.
“I had several frustrations during my on-boarding time. A particularly difficult one for me was that I joined at the end of the fiscal year, the budget had been spent, the sales numbers were not where they would like them to be and there was no money left in the budget to be spent. I found myself with a pen and a desk in my own four wall environment that I had seen too much of and very restricted in my outreach capabilities. Two trip requests were declined – one included an annual forum of key customer contacts (a domestic trip).
What helped here is that I stayed in touch and personally wrote thank-you letters to anybody involved in my long job search. In response to that correspondence and the announcement of my new role, I received some immediate feedback and found further contacts to network with for my new role. The onboarding process reminded me that building relationships is a lifelong engagement. In the Darden community, I have experienced a great number of alumni willing to speak with me, give me feedback and share their networking contacts.”
I could write pages about other crazy beginnings that alumni have experienced. Many surprises could have been avoided by having critical conversations and asking the right questions during the recruiting process. Preparation and forethought can make starting a new job seem like a well-deserved honeymoon rather than a blind date gone bad.
The Career Management page of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services (ACS) website includes more resources on on-boarding and assimilating to a new job. ACS career coaches are also available to assist you in the process. Happy Spring!
Connie English, Director of Alumni Career Services, Darden School of Business