You never get a second chance to make a first impression, as the saying goes. And while a misstep on the first day is understandable and surmountable, it's the first few months in a new role that tend to matter most. "First impressions are important in most situations in life," says Charley Betzig, managing director at technology executive search firm Heller Search Associates, "and this is no different when you start a new job."
Those first 90 days are when you demonstrate your priorities, establish that you understand why your employer hired you, and lay the foundation for the relationships you will need to success. Most importantly, this is your time to "subtly and directly impress upon your subordinates, peers and managers that you are the right person for the job," says Lisa Rangel, former recruiter and managing director of Chameleon Resumes.
It can be a time for skilled adaptation and negotiation. "Ideally, the first 90 days are important for two reasons: Building human relationships and negotiating between new employee skill sets and the needs of the organization," says Dr. James Stanger, chief technology evangelist for CompTIA. "That negotiation is critical and involves adjustments on both sides."
[ Want advice on how to onboard in today's hybrid work environment? Read Remote and hybrid work: 4 tips to ease onboarding. ]
A new wrinkle: The hybrid work model
That can be challenging when physical face-to-face time is minimal or non-existent in the remote or hybrid work environment. "With colleagues or yourself or both out of the office in a remote/hybrid setting, getting spontaneous time with colleagues at all levels is tough, witnessing behavior among co-workers is near impossible, and understanding the power dynamic that you can't witness is challenging at best," Rangel says.
What's more, most IT hires are in such high demand that the compulsion to hit the ground running can be intense. "Not only are you learning your new company's culture, values, and overall structure in the first 90 days, you also carry the weight of holding a role that generally comes with a sense of urgency. IT professionals feel extreme pressure to get 'up to speed' in their roles faster than ever before," says Maddie Harris, talent acquisition recruiter at security and privacy compliance assessor Schellman & Company.
8 tips to make the most of the first 90 days
Following are eight tips for creating the space to understand your new environment while also producing some early wins to wow your new employer.
1. Build your intra-network
"Avoid being a wallflower," Rangel says. "Don't wait for people to come to you or to learn you were hired." Instead, make yourself diplomatically and humbly known. One of the best ways to expand your network is by asking for suggestions or introductions. "After every conversation at the beginning of your tenure, ask your colleague who else you should be speaking to within the organization," says Rangel. "Ask who they find most helpful and resourceful and network purposefully within your company."
2. Take advantage of newbie status
"When walking into a new job you have a fresh perspective that you will never be able to replicate," say Tony Zorc, author of Iconoclasm: A Survival Guide in the Post-Pandemic Economy. Use that power for good: finding out how the organization operates and why.
"Immerse yourself in the company, culture, and operations," says Harris of Schellman & Company. "Ask questions to make sure you're understanding the broader picture before diving deeply into the area that you will be managing or leading." Keep an eye out for particularly unusual processes. "For anything that seems weird or dysfunctional it is the perfect time to say: 'I'm sorry, I'm new. Can you tell me why we do things this way?'" says Zorc. "When someone responds, 'I don't know,' then it is on your list to challenge."
3. Be a good listener
Often, we put the emphasis on "doing" when proving ourselves. "But the most important thing to establish initially," says Betzig, "is that you are a listener and a good business partner. Try to listen to colleagues about the challenges they face, and the value that you can add for them in your new role."
Sometimes the listening period available may be shorter than ideal – say, if you are being thrust into a burning issue that needs to be immediately addressed. "But try to take the time to listen and then respond with solutions," Betzig advises. (Need some pointers? Check out How to be a better listener: 5 steps.)
4. Connect with your crew
"The first 90 days you learn a lot about the company, culture, and people you will be working with, and being able to navigate that seamlessly will bring any employer a sense of relief," Harris says. To that end, one of the most valuable things you can do is to connect with your team.
"If you really get to know the people that will be working under you, what they do, how they operate, and how best to manage them, it will help the overall working relationship," says Harris. "Set time aside to really connect with them – as a team or individually, if possible – to show them that you want to understand them and be a value add."
5. Harvest some low-hanging fruit
When you are planning your roadmap, make sure to include some issues you can tackle early. Score some quick wins with business partners "to make their lives easier and build the trust that you'll need to execute on bigger initiatives down the road," says Betzig.
Zorc likes laying out early goals in two-week sprints. "This is self-management, and your boss will be thrilled and impressed," he says.
6. Save those big ideas for later
"The biggest mistake you can make is trying to impose your will right away in a new job. Don't come in on your first day and talk about all of the big changes you have in store," says Betzig. Nobody likes a dictator, even a benevolent one. "That is the recipe for a short tenure in almost any organization," Betzig says.
7. Understand the organization's approach to communication
Stanger of CompTIA suggests that new hires should do their best to read the tea leaves about how their new employer communicates its desires. "The first challenge is making sure that the organization can express its needs coherently to the new hire. The second challenge is the new hire's ability to respond to how an organization communicates its needs," says Stanger. "Sometimes organizations express needs implicitly, or even in 'throw-away' conversations. New hires need to adjust their perceptions to understand these needs."
8. Join peer groups
If the organization offers peer groups that include experienced people, newer employees, and fresh hires, join them. These opportunities foster inclusion of new hires (versus ingestion), says Stanger. "I know of one organization that creates peer groups, then shifts workers between each group on a regular basis over the first 90 days or so," Stanger says. "This helps organizations include people more. Using these peer groups, new employees can find quick, relevant ways to contribute meaningfully to the organization."
[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]
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