How to Navigate a New Job

I remember my first day of high school like it was yesterday. My outfit was carefully selected to match one of the two pairs of shoes I had, I blow-dried my hair – which was a rarity for my 14-year-old self – and I braced myself for the worst. Being the new kid on the block was, and still is, both exciting and very scary. Feeling nervous about the unknown is something we can all relate to.

Starting a new job is a bit like walking into high school for the first time – you want to act and look your best, and you’re not quite sure what the future holds.

Fast forward 21 years, and I experienced all those first-day nerves over my new job as I walked through the doors of my new office for the first time this month. So many questions were running through my head. What will the work be like? Will I like the work? Where will I sit? Who will my friends be? Will I make any friends? What will the work culture be like? Will my new co-workers be as nice as my old co-workers? What will I wear? Will I like my boss? Will I work late? Can I take that vacation I’ve already booked airline tickets for?

I had so many questions on that first day, and not a ton of answers.

In my 20s, starting a new job was routine. When I first moved to the Washington area, my first few jobs each lasted for less than two years. If I didn’t like a job, I just left it – it was as easy as that. So starting a new job every few years became routine, and I became flexible and used to it. The nerves were still there when I began each job, but the excitement I felt about it usually silenced my nervousness.

After landing a position with a government contracting company that worked for the Military Health System, I grew to love the work and stayed with the company for nearly seven years, taking on different positions over the years. It was the longest I had ever been with one company.

I became an expert at navigating the winding roads of my organization, building and office. I knew the security guards, how to get a parking pass, who to call if I needed a conference room immediately and who else to contact depending on the favor I needed. I was well-networked and very comfortable.

So when I decided to leave my company and job in March, I was scared. I was about to leave behind people and a place that was comfortable and familiar – which is often times what prevents so many of us from embarking on a new job journey. The fear of change and the unknown can be paralyzing and keep you in a position you may be ready to leave. While I’m not saying that was the case for me, I do think fear is a powerful thing and can prevent you from taking a leap of faith into a new job.

Now, as I start a new chapter in my career with a different company, different responsibilities and a different commute, I’m trying to navigate the road to ensure success in my new position and not let fear drive me.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about how to leave your job gracefully and provided some tips on doing so. Now I want to provide some tips, from what I’ve learned thus far, on how to successfully navigate the sometimes scary road of starting a new job.

  • Be patient. My career manager gave me this advice on my first day, and I remind myself of it on an hourly basis. Often times, companies hire employees because they’re so busy and desperately need someone to take on some of their work. However, the people responsible for training you are often so busy with their own work that it’s difficult for them to train you in a timely fashion. So be patient with that process. Try to schedule a meeting time for training and know that the transition of work will eventually happen – it just may not happen within your preferred time table.

  • Take copious notes. When you’re absorbing a lot of information, it’s easy to forget things. Taking notes is a great way to imprint your duties and responsibilities into your memory. Additionally, I met 20 to 30 people in my first few days of my current new job. I’m absolutely horrible with names, so I wrote down the name and position of everyone I met and a note next to each name to help jog my memory – for example, “girl who gave me coffee” or “guy from Oregon.”

  • Don’t be annoying. Easier said than done, right? When you start a new job, you might want to jump in and start working on something right away, but avoid pestering your boss too much. Ask them when they have time to meet with you to discuss your duties (if a meeting hasn’t already been set to discuss this).

  • Be a few minutes early. Schedule extra time for traffic and any hiccups that could occur with a new commute. There’s nothing worse than being late in your first few weeks of a new job (this has happened to me, by the way).

  • Avoid making after-work plans during your first week of work. Starting a new job is mentally exhausting, and you need to make sure you’re fresh each day. I made the mistake of scheduling a root canal, two physical therapy appointments and a happy hour during my first week of work. By the time Friday night rolled around, I was so exhausted I slept for 11 hours. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

If you’re starting a new job, good luck to you!

A version of this article originally appeared in the Credit Union Times.