Experience Life Magazine

New-Job Jitters

Starting a new job is both exciting and anxiety producing. Debra Wheatman, founder and president of Careers Done Write, shows you how to settle in with minimal stress.

New-Job Jitters

Expert Source: New York City-based career coach and résumé expert Debra Wheatman, CPRW, CPPC, founder and president of Careers Done Write (www.careersdonewrite.com).

You’ve been hired. In this economy, that’s even more of a reason for celebration than it would be in normal times. You’re grateful and relieved. But you’re anxious, too: Moving into a new position, with different bosses and coworkers, is a recipe for stress. What will your colleagues think of you? (First impressions are important.) How will you handle all the unknown elements of the culture, corporate or otherwise? How long will it take you to find your feet? And how will you survive the learning curve without looking totally clueless?

These big unknowns — and the occasional accompanying bouts of dread that can kick in before your first day — threaten to zap the happiness and self-confidence you felt when you got the job in the first place. Career coach Debra Wheatman offers some advice for dialing down the angst and getting on with business.

Barriers to Overcome

  • Worrying about fitting in. It’s typical to be self-conscious about whether your new colleagues like you or accept you, let alone make you feel welcome.
  • Learning the job. Absorbing all the details of a new occupation can feel overwhelming. What’s more, says Wheatman, your job description rarely describes what will be expected of you day to day.
  • Unfamiliarity with small details. “When you’re new to a job, you may not even know where you’re supposed to hang your coat or who has the key to the ladies’ room,” says Wheatman. “These details may seem minor, but they’re not; learning them takes time and effort that you’d probably rather spend getting to know your colleagues and the job.”
  • Angst about the new culture. Every workplace is full of unwritten rules: Nobody leaves the office before the boss does; the boss is to be treated like “one of us” or deferred to formally; casual conversation among coworkers is encouraged or taboo. You can’t know these quirks without practical experience, but it’s unnerving to discover them only when you wind up breaking them.
  • Doubts about your competence. The awkwardness, simple errors, and inevitable confusions that accompany a new job can add up and make you doubt your ability to do the work you’ve been hired, and are supposedly qualified, to do.
  • The temptation to impress. It’s natural to want to do well from the moment you walk in the door, but trying to be too sharp and competent right away can keep you self-conscious, make it harder for you to ask questions, and actually turn off your new colleagues.
  • Concern about office politics. What are the power dynamics in your new company (spoken and unspoken)? Is a crisis straining relationships or placing unusual attention on certain aspects of office life? Have recent layoffs created resentment? Are big changes in policy imminent in your department? Questions like these add stress to the mix.

Strategies for Success

  • Ask questions during your interview. Even before you are hired — and as part of deciding whether you want to take the job if it’s offered — you should ask your interviewers questions about corporate style and culture. Find out if the office is informal or formal, or if there are special traditions or practices that set it apart from other workplaces. You can also ask for a tour of the office to see if you’ll be comfortable with its layout, noise level, and general atmosphere.
  • Get help from your referrer. “More and more companies these days are hiring through referrals,” says Wheatman. “If you have been referred, then the person who referred you can be a key source of information. Ask him or her things like ‘Is there anything crucial I really need to know?’ ‘What do you know about my boss?’ or ‘What’s going on in my department?’”
  • Be observant. It may seem obvious, says Wheatman, but simply paying careful attention to what’s going on in the new work environment can give you a lot of necessary information. Who seem to be the influential people in the office? Is the boss treated with deference or informality in casual conversations? Though this kind of close watching can feel like wasted time when you’re inundated with new tasks, it can be invaluable in helping you learn the lay of the land.
  • Cultivate connections. “There are plenty of people who can fill you in on what’s going on in the workplace if you cultivate a relationship with them,” says Wheatman. “One such person is the receptionist or administrative assistant — that person has his or her ears to the ground. He or she knows who’s coming and going, and usually knows everything that’s going on.” Polite and discreet questioning — not angling for gossip — can help you learn a lot.
  • Know that the company wants you to succeed. The company that’s hired you has invested a good deal of time, effort, and money in bringing you on board, and, as Wheatman puts it, “they’re going to want you to be productive and happy, and get as quickly as possible to the point where you are going to be a return on their investment. So they will be more than willing to give you some latitude and help you find your way.”
  • Remember that you’re qualified. Early-term job jitters can shake your confidence in your ability to actually do the job, but Wheatman points out that “you’ve been vetted in the interview process and you’ve been successful in articulating the value that you add to the company.” Your past performance should give everyone confidence that you’ll perform well in a new environment.
  • Be humble. Humility and openness, says Wheatman, work a lot better than pretending you know it all already or you “get it” immediately. Show your willingness to learn and be a team member by asking questions and being honest about what you don’t know. You’ll not only garner valuable information, but you’ll bond with your colleagues.
  • Be realistic about mistakes. “You will likely blow any faux pas that you make in your first few weeks on the job out of proportion because you’re feeling self-conscious,” says Wheatman. “But remember that everybody in the workplace was new once, and many of them made the same mistakes. It’s not likely to be as big a deal for them as it is for you.”
  • Accept that you’re on a learning curve. “It will take a few weeks, not a few days, for you to get acclimated to the new workplace and comfortable enough to be really productive,” says Wheatman. “Be patient and remember that nobody is expecting you to know it all — or even most of it — for quite a while.”
  • Enjoy what’s new. When you’re dealing with the anxieties of a new job, it’s easy to forget that newness also brings rejuvenation and energy. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude for the fact that you’re out of your old job ruts and that you are learning valuable new skills, making new contacts, and meeting unforeseen challenges — all of which testify to the fact that you are living, growing, and trying.

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Jon Spayde is the author of How to Believe: Teachers and Seekers Show the Way to a Modern, Life-Changing Faith (Random House, 2008).

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