Starting a New Job: Before, During, and After

Recently, a good friend who is starting a new job soon asked me for my best piece of advice so she can start off on the right foot. After thinking it over, I went online to see experts recommend...and the advice out there is overwhelming. So I decided to make my own guide!

This list is a compilation of great resources I found online, my own knowledge as a social worker, and my experiences as a nonprofit professional. Feel free to add your input in the comments!


Give yourself a break
If you have a little room (even a couple of days) between leaving your old job and starting a new one, take some time to mentally prepare yourself for your new role. You’ll feel refreshed and excited for what’s to come (instead of totally burned out). Start this conversation when the Hiring or HR Manager calls with the verbal offer.

michaelscott.jpgBreathe. Then talk to your boss
You may be feeling a little nervous about telling your boss you’re leaving. That’s totally natural. But chances are, this is not the first resignation she has ever heard. If your boss is good, she will want the best for your professional growth and will be happy for your new opportunity—even if that means you’re changing companies. Whatever the case, give your boss the professional courtesy of telling her first. Do not tell your colleagues first; save your excitement until you find out how your boss wants to handle the announcement. Depending on your situation, she may want to tell your team in order to stop the rumor mill or to explain how transitional activities will work.

Paper. Work. Paperwork.
Once you give your notice, there may be a lot of paperwork coming your way. Take the initiative and prepare an official letter of resignation. If you’re going to be staying on your employer’s health insurance plan through COBRA, schedule a meeting with your HR department to understand the laws surrounding your policy. You may even be able to select your plan and leave a check for the full amount with your HR Dept. Lastly, you may want to check out the transition steps needed to roll over your 401(k) or other retirement fund to your new employer. The State of California requires married individuals to have their spouse sign this paperwork AND get it notarized, to prevent people from moving around money without their spouses’ knowledge.

Finish strong
Your boss has enough on her plate without having to worry about how your duties will be taken care of once you’re gone. Ensure that you leave on great terms by being proactive and give her more specifics on how exactly you will transition your day-to-day responsibilities. Set up a meeting and discuss your ideas on who would best be suited to take over in the interim, and then give a specific schedule on what and who you will train. This lets him or her know that you have a plan, and that everything from the most important tasks to the most mundane (but necessary) ones are covered.


Make the most of your time off
If you’re able to take a little break time before starting your new job, even if it’s just a day, make the most that time. For you, maybe that’s organizing your life (get your oil changed, go to the dentist, get your car washed). Maybe it’s self-care (a day at the beach, a massage). Maybe it’s self-growth (like reading that book on leadership you’ve been putting off). A new job means new stresses (physical, emotional, intellectual), so give yourself the best chance at a strong start.

Make a list
Start your planning by making a “to do” list. What do you need to get done before you start work? Take care of any appointments you need to schedule ahead of time. That way you won’t need to be asking for time off right away. If you need to figure out transportation, child care, elder care, or anything else you need in place prior to starting work, don’t wait to get it lined up. The more organized you are, the smoother the transition will be.

Dig into the org
Do even more research on the organization. Know their website forwards and backwards. Do a Google News search of the organization (full name and acronym) to learn what’s been happening recently. This will also help you know about any public news the org has been involved in (including positive and negative news)

Treat yourself...on a budget
If you’re taking a step “up,” prepare for professionalism. Your wardrobe may need to shift for your new role, especially if you’ve been skating by in polo shirts or flats. Outlet stores of major brands are great places to stock up. The nearest outlet stores to LA are:

The Citadel Outlets (Commerce)
Camarillo Premium Outlets (Camarillo)
Outlets at Orange (Orange)
Ontario Mills (Ontario)



Get up early
Eat a good breakfast
Brush and floss before you leave
Wear something confident and classy (err on the conservative side)
Leave early #becausetraffic
Leave the phone on silent and out of sight
Be extra-professional

Be yourself in the midst of a new culture
For a lot of us, the urge when joining a new group is to immediately try to fit in, such as mimicking the “native” attitudes and behaviors. While good for fitting in, doing so also runs the risk of losing your own personality in the process. Be yourself, be curious, and do your best to withhold judgement. When you see something new or surprising -- like in a new country -- act with respect and attentiveness. Do your best to observe, observe, observe, and at all costs, avoid the phrase, “At my last job…”

Set yourself up for success and professionalism
You’ll be spending 40 (or 50, or 60) hours a week in your new office or cube. Make it your own (maybe not all at once)! Position your computer (or dock), monitor (if separate), phone, headphones, stapler, tape, etc. just how you like it. Set up your email signature. Make sure you have tissues, pens, highlighters, etc. Over the next week or so, bring in those personal touches that will help you feel comfortable and prepared for a great start.

Most importantly, don’t presume you know anything
Being humble is worth a lot when you’re starting a new job. Nobody likes a know it all, especially someone who doesn’t really know anything about the job or the organization. Take the time to listen and learn before you start giving advice. This includes keeping any conversations short and sweet. It shows that for you, listening is more important than speaking.

End your first day strong
Even if your workday ends at 5, linger a little longer. Finish up any paperwork from HR, take notes about what you learned (including all those names that you’re bound to forget come tomorrow), and write down questions you have for the next day. Not being the first one out the door shows your coworkers that you’re there to learn, not just to collect a paycheck.


when-you-start-a-new-job-and-they-try-to-23563821.pngGet to know your office and your organization
Know where the basics are: bathrooms, coffee, water, office supply room, privacy rooms/conference space. If you’re not a spatial person, try to remember cues or clues to where things are (to get to the coffee, I need to pass the red potted plant).If possible, get your hands on an organizational chart. This will help you know who is in the major departments you’ll be working with, as well as key support functions like IT, Finance, and HR.

Learn how to work with your new manager
Communication with your new manager will be the bulk of your life during the next month, so getting things straight early is important. Does she prefer dropping by the office? A quick email? Instant-message? Phone call? Every manager is different and every office culture is different, and the chance that your new boss is exactly like your old boss is slim to none.

Ask questions!
Check in with your manager and coworkers to get to know the company. Can they share any company reading material, past department strategic plans, or frequently used documents that will help you get up to speed? Taking the initiative and asking for help shows that you want to learn and aren’t afraid to not know things. That said, try to be specific. “What should I do now?” is a hard question to answer, since your manager may not know exactly what you’ve already learned and what you still need to tackle.

Learn your coworkers’ names -- for good
Names are important. They carry with them cultural and personal significant for their owner, and forgetting them isn’t just a faux pas, it can be perceived as disrespectful at best and privileged at worst. Our favorite way of learning coworkers’ names is simply repeating them during that first introduction. If names are difficult for you to pronounce, or have non-native sounds in them, be up-front about it: ask how they’re pronounced. Pay attention and make the effort. Here are some more tricks we like.

Fine-tune your elevator pitch
As you meet and begin to work with your new coworkers, the first question many will ask is, “So what will you be doing here?” Beneath the surface, they’re asking where you came from, what you’re doing at their company, and why your manager hired you over everyone else. It’s also very likely they may not have known about your job opening. So fine-tune a “pitch” that introduces your role, what makes you a fit for it, and shows your excitement about it.

Note the dress code
Your first-day outfit is rarely the one you’ll be wearing a year down the line. Given the sometimes-fuzzy definitions of “business professional,” “business casual,” “Casual Friday,” etc., it’s important to take note of how your coworkers present themselves. Work attire is sort of like driving: regardless of the posted speed limit, keep up with traffic, but never be the fastest or slowest. Either way, you’re likely to get pulled over.


Check in with your manager frequently
Until your manager puts standing meetings on your calendar, check in after you finish medium-to-large assignments so you can get immediate feedback to make any necessary adjustments for future tasks. Check in at least weekly to give your manager the opportunity to course-correct any issues early. This shows your manager that you are open and willing to improve.

Ask your manager for more (or less) work
During your first weeks, your manager will be assessing the pace of your work, but she can’t read your mind. She may give you assignments that are too easy, or may give you too much work or too tight a deadline. Frequent check-ins provide real-time feedback, allowing your manager to gauge how quickly and effectively you work.

Gel with your group
If you can have lunch or coffee with your new colleagues, that’s a great way to get to know people in a relaxed environment. Your peers will help get you assimilated, provide institutional history, offer insight into your manager or others. Warning: never devolve into gossip – stay positive at all times.

684bac9b2f67fe0a125d364d7d8606c1.jpgBefriend a veteran who can help you navigate politics (and find the pencils)
Every office or team has a few folks who have been around forever. These are important people. They hold institutional knowledge, know what works and doesn’t, and can help you navigate office politics. Get to know them and give them space. They have probably seen a lot, and may be wary of shining new faces. Even if you hope they become your next mentor, remember that relationships and trust are built over time. Again: avoid gossip.


Start demonstrating and documenting what you sold the company on
Whatever you sold them on in the interview, make it your mission to demonstrate that you're going to do it. Once you’ve surveyed the landscape and have the green light to start taking action, dive into your work and prove your worth. This is also the time to start a brag sheet, where you’ll keep track of your accomplishments, major contributions, and when you get positive feedback. You want to get in the habit early and have the information at the ready for future performance reviews and salary negotiations.

Don’t try to be someone you’re not
Your company wouldn’t have brought you on if you weren’t the best candidate. So be true to who you are, be comfortable being who you are, and share the expertise you bring to your office. With everything so new when you start, it’s easy to lose your sea legs and not feel like yourself. It’s vital that you lean in and re-invest in who you are. Have faith that you are at your new job for a reason, and that your new employer wants you to be you.

Accept help and advice...even if you don’t need it
If your boss or coworkers give advice or offer to help you with a task or project, take them up on it! Even if you’re totally capable of handling things yourself, studies have shown that asking for and accepting favors or help is a great way to build relationships. Plus, the more facetime you can get with your office mates, the better. You’ll gain valuable insights into their work style, the company’s expectations, or more efficient ways to work in this new environment.

Caught in the elevator with the CEO?
At some point, this will happen! Here are three approaches to get you up to the 12th floor in one piece:

  • Talk shop and show your enthusiasm (“Just working on [whatever you’re working on] and getting some air. I don’t think we’ve met—I’m [first name, last name]. I work in [this department] with [your boss’ name].”)

  • Tactfully show your admiration (“Hi [Name], I just watched the video from your keynote speech at the annual conference—I really enjoyed it.”)

  • Travel is the universal language ("Hi [Name], it's great to see you in the office. Where was your last business trip?")


Start sharing (and building) your social capital
Once you start getting into a routine, it’s time to share the wealth. If your org is constantly growing, new folks will be showing up and needing a friend, advice, or mentorship. At the same time, your more value-adds and skillset should now be fully visible to your veteran coworkers. For either group, you have something to offer. Start offering to help someone out who is working late, or cover for a colleague who needs to leave early.

Stay in touch with your old boss/department leadership
Your last boss is your best reference. Don’t lose that relationship, the connections, and their trust. Whether it’s their birthday, the holidays, a personal life event (marriage, baby), professional life event (promotion, new job), or even just an article you read -- a simply note or greeting card is an investment in your relationship.

Stay in touch with everyone else, too
If your former colleagues were also friends, it can be hard to maintain those relationships now that you don’t see each other every weekday. Aside from taking the initiative to plan get-togethers, drinks, or coffee, our best advice is to start sending semiannual newsletters to those people who are important to you. Start a new Group in your email contacts and keep those people up to speed on your life (don’t forget to ask for them to share what’s new in their lives, too!). They’ll appreciate hearing from you, and hopefully real plans can come out of it.


What is your best advice for starting a new job? Add your input in the comments!


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