5 Ways to Make a Good Impression in Your New (Civilian) Job

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A client of mine is excited to begin his third post-military civilian job. He left the Army six years ago, struggled a bit at first, then started in a career path to project management. As we ready him for this new opportunity, his biggest fear seems to be, "How do I make a good impression in the first few weeks on the new job?"

All of us have started new jobs; some do it a lot! The first day and weeks are filled with apprehension -- Will they like me? Will I like them? Where's the coffee pot? And excitement -- I have a chance to do great work here!

Here are five ways to make a good impression in your first weeks:

1. You will be introduced to a lot of people. Trust me, you won't remember all of their names, what department they work in, or the names of their kids (if discussed). But you can build rapport by looking them in the eyes when meeting them, shaking hands with confidence and warmth, and thanking them for taking time to meet you.

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If they are on your team, or someone whose name you'll need to remember, associate their name with something memorable for you. For instance, if you meet "Chris" and that's the name of your brother, mentally stamp the association in your brain. Or try mental word association such as "Chris reminds me of Christmas. ..." Say it to yourself a few times to create a mental path for recall.

2. You'll be tempted to bond quickly. While it might be enticing to align yourself with the very friendly colleague who wants to plan social outings, join you for lunch, or get to know your life story right away, keep appropriate work boundaries. Forming friendships (especially those outside of work) with the wrong people too early can brand you as trouble. Since you won't have a clear picture of the office environment or company culture yet, consider how your friendship can be perceived and proceed slowly.

3. If it feels right, contribute to the conversation. Your manager may invite you to meetings to help you get oriented to the team, projects and company. While you may not have background on the topic, or understand the power dynamics in the room, if you can participate, do so. Contribute your ideas, insights, thoughts and perspective, and ask questions in meetings if you are unsure of what is being discussed. Everyone will give the "new guy" a break if your question isn't spot on, or your contribution is off track. This break won't last long, so don't abuse their patience.

4. Take good notes. It is perfectly acceptable that a new hire carry a notebook or tablet with them to capture notes and ideas as they progress through the first few weeks. Feel free to write down people's names, key functions and priorities as they share them. Ensure your notes look crisp and professional and don't become messy and dirty. Each night, review your notes and start the next day on a clean page.

5. Ask questions. The first few weeks on a new job, it's expected that you'll ask questions -- this is all new to you! After the first few weeks, and particularly once you are working full time in the new role, it could be perceived as uncertainty to ask about something that should have been clarified during onboarding. For instance, if part of your job is entertaining clients over lunch, clarify how expense reports are generated and submitted. If you saw this during your first few weeks, it might feel awkward to ask about the process in month three.

While the first few weeks in a new role will be filled with learning and growing for you, the colleagues, managers, customers and vendors you'll interact with will also have perceptions about you. For instance, they may feel:

  • Excited to meet you -- you bring new ideas, thoughts, history and stories to share.
  • Hesitant to warm up to you for fear that you could threaten their job security or position.
  • Hopeful about your willingness to learn and succeed at the company.

Take a deep breath, square up your shoulders, smile, shake hands and learn. You never get the advantages of a "first day" again! Use them!

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