You land your first job in a corporate environment after a ton of rejected applications and near-misses at interviews. Finally, you escape the short-term, temporary and low-level jobs you take to survive after graduating. Your hard work and persistence are paying off as you look forward to an exciting new role. You arrive with a mix of excitement and apprehension about what to expect. A few weeks later and you start to question if your decision to accept is the right one. Your induction into the organisation is poor. What can you do?
In my experience, it’s not uncommon for a mismatch between what it says on the tin and what’s inside of organisational life. The values espoused on the website, the recruitment blurb, and at the job interview don’t match up to the initial reality. People are rushing around from meeting to meeting, too busy to give you the time they promise. The cynics and over-stayers look up briefly as you get the obligatory tour of the office and forget your name instantly. The colleagues delegated to brief you short change you for whatever reason.
Here is what you might expect from a positive experience and, if not, what to try:
Clarify expectations at induction
Outline what you want and expect in a great start to your new role. Ensure your boss does the same. Put a timescale on it including review points and measures of progress. What does a successful induction look and feel like?
This isn’t an easy conversation when it’s your first job. You can feel as if you are on the back foot because you’re new. You feel self-conscious, don’t know how things work and are done yet. You’re still on probation, want to make a good impression and don’t want to look or feel like an idiot. The key is to get on the front foot and clarify with your manager your mutual expectations.
Create your development path
The aims of induction are to settle in and get up to speed as quickly as possible so you are a fully-functioning employee in the role for which you were recruited. It can take anything up to a year in some cases. Induction is not just the transactional stuff in your first couple of weeks. It’s a transformational process with a clear development path, especially if it’s your first significant job after graduating.
You may find yourself being given minimal direction at the outset and then left to sink or swim. That’s why identifying your development needs and agreeing with your manager a realistic and achievable path is important. Good management involves coaching and support at the right time for the right situation.
Here is what a healthy development path looks like. There are some aspects that require clear direction at the outset. For example, your boss or colleagues should make you aware of the stuff you don’t know you don’t know. Also, you will become aware of things you don’t know. So, be proactive and discover the answers or ask the right questions to find out and know who to ask.
As you grow into the role, it will become apparent where coaching from your manager will help. They can give you an opportunity to try things out, give feedback and stretch you further to develop your confidence and competence. Over time, you begin to stand on your own two feet more and more, with support from your manager as and when you need it. Finally, you become self-reliant and don’t always need to check with your boss if you’re doing things right. Your ongoing development needs become more about longer-term growth and direction. Make your early development path explicit.
You might find your boss commits to weekly catch-ups in the first few weeks. Ensure you raise the issue if these don’t materialise. Dialogue is a two-way conversation about uncovering each other’s assumptions. Put in your diaries a regular meeting or call about how you are settling in, as well as progress on tasks.
In summary, the role of any manager of people is to enable you to do your job well. Questions you would expect your manager to discuss with you in the initial period include:
- How are you coping with your role and settling in?
- What is going well so far?
- What are your initial observations and opinions on the role/team/organisation etc?
- Do you have any immediate concerns? Is anything getting in the way? What would you like to be different?
- What would help to remove those concerns? How can you help yourself? What do you want from me to support you?
- How are we doing against our mutual expectations that we agreed?
Get a mentor or buddy
A sign of an organisation committed to its people is a formal mentoring or buddy scheme in place as part of the induction for new employees (and often for employees in general).
A mentor is someone who knows what you are going through, may have been in your role, shares their experiences without dictating, and helps you to read the unspoken language and behaviours of the existing culture. They are not your manager and are likely to be from elsewhere in the organisation, so can be more objective. Mentors listen, encourage and guide where necessary.
A buddy might be someone else in the same or similar role or a fellow team member. Their role is to be alongside you on hand for practical daily questions.
Don’t worry if nothing is in place because you can still seek an informal relationship or identify someone as you meet new people and get to know them.
Be assertive, be happy
Before you know it, your unhappiness will increase and become more difficult to shift if you don’t nip things in the bud. Assert yourself early on to clear up misunderstandings, neglect or simple oversights. You don’t know when you start a new job if this is teething trouble or something more deep-rooted and enduring. Your intuition can help and only you know if this job and employer are right for you. Is it a resilience issue or are your instincts flashing red? Do people care enough about you?
However, remember that the grass isn’t always greener. Think of the time, money and effort both you and your employer have spent to get you to this point. Both of you will have to go through it all again if things don’t get sorted early on. If, after your best efforts to change things, the situation is the same, cut your losses. Don’t let false feelings of letting people down or personally ‘failing’ cloud your judgement about the right thing to do for you.
What is your experience with starting your first job and induction?