Acing your First Weeks in a New Job
How putting in the effort early can help you stand out down the line.
I recently started a new job after spending 3.75 years at my last one. When you start a new job, you get a clean slate and have the opportunity to present yourself in whatever light you choose. Before my first day, I wanted to think about what I would do differently to help me hit the ground running and make the most impact on my team. After some careful contemplation, I managed to put together what I believe are some of the handiest tips & tricks for nailing your first weeks in a new job:
1. Sit Back, Observe, and Take Notes
It can be tempting to chime in with your thoughts at every chance you can and get heavily involved early, but remember that at this stage of your onboarding, you likely lack a lot of context. The best way to gain that perspective is to take a back seat for a bit, pay attention and absorb as much information as possible. Once you fully understand the nuances of how your team operates and the portfolio of products they own, you’ll be able to make suggestions and expose any potential areas of improvement with a fresh set of eyes. As a wise Mr. Miyagi once said: “First learn stand, then learn fly.”
2. Find a Buddy to Teach you the Ropes
It’s dangerous to go alone so find someone to guide you in the early days of your new adventure. I was incredibly thankful that my manager was already one step ahead of me. On my second day, I already had an engineer on my team assigned to be my onboarding buddy. For a full month, my mentor and I would meet for 30 minutes to an hour a day and discuss team processes, various parts of the codebase, and how to succeed in the role in general. It’s not just what you know, but also who you know. Having a mentor in the early weeks of your new job can also help you network with folks outside of your main team. Take advantage of this.
Having connections across your organization can help to drive cross-team collaboration and can increase your overall name recognition when it comes to future promotion cycles. The more people you can have in your corner, the better off you’ll be. Don’t be afraid to ask your manager for an onboarding buddy. If you’re told that there isn’t the capacity to have a dedicated person, then try reaching out to each of your teammates. People are usually more than happy to help you out if they’re not too busy. Ask to shadow them on a ticket, shadow a team process like a release, or explain a part of the codebase that isn’t quite clear. Just make sure you’re being courteous and respectful of their time!
3. Get Organized Early
Spend the time to create a folder structure for your email, bookmarks, google drive, local files, etc. If you’re unsure what that structure might look like, pay attention to the patterns that start to emerge after your first couple of days. Do you get daily emails about a project’s status? Maybe make a “projects” folder with another folder for that specific project. Getting a lot of new documentation thrown your way? Make a folder called “documentation”. You can always start out pretty generic and get more specific as more patterns emerge.
I really wish this was something I had done from the start at my last job. After 3.5 years there, I had accumulated so many bookmarks that whenever I needed to find something important it would take me 15-30 minutes to do so. That’s a lot of wasted time overall. Not to mention all the frustration of not being able to find what I needed! This also doubles as a way to be the “go-to” person when it comes to onboarding new folks and sharing information with others and helps you build rapport.
4. Track any Potential Gaps in Onboarding Documentation
As a new hire, you’ll be on the front lines having to set up your development environment, installing the necessary software, etc. A lot may have changed since the last new hire had to go through the motions so any missing documentation you can note will help your team in the long run. If you really want to impress, go one step further to fill in those gaps by adding the missing documentation or updating existing ones to be clearer/have more information.
5. Set up your Favorite Efficiencies for Repetitive Tasks
This is one of my favorite things to do during my first week at a new job. I could write a whole blog post on this alone, but at a minimum, I would look into setting up any git aliases, custom search engines, startup shell scripts, etc. The amount of time you’ll save in the long run will be well worth the upfront effort to set everything up.
6. Keep Track of your Early Achievements
Your manager will likely work with you to create a 30/60/90 day plan to track your onboarding progress so having your achievements handy helps your manager check those boxes later on. It will also help you during your first performance review. I recommend keeping track of links to tickets you’ve worked on, code reviews you’ve done, the documentation you’ve written, etc. I also recommend creating another document to start keeping track of feedback for your teammates. This can be as simple as a table of the list of names of your teammates and some bullet points containing both positive and constructive feedback (with examples) to share with them through the methodology of Radical Candor, but that’s another blog post.
7. Set up Coffee Chats/1:1s
Take some time to schedule coffee chats/1:1s with everyone on your team throughout the first month to create early connections. Try to get to know each person personally and share some personal things with them as well (while of course refraining from the usual taboo topics of politics, religion, etc.). I often find talking about your upbringing, hobbies, movies, food, video games, outdoor activities, etc. are all pretty safe and easy topics. By building rapport with your teammates early, you’ll have a cohort of familiar faces to go to for help, getting code reviews, and shadowing for technical topics or team processes you may not be familiar with yet.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. This is mostly based on my own personal experiences, but if even one of these tips helped you out, or if you have any other suggestions, I would love to hear about it! You can find me on Twitter or feel free to leave a comment here. If there’s something you’d like to hear me write about, let me know. I’m always looking for more early-career advice to write about!