When you start a new job, human nature is to focus on the surface of things: the photocopied vision statement included in your orientation package, how your peers dress and the date HR designates for your first performance appraisal.
But if you're going to use this job to further your career goals -- or even if you just want to last long enough to begin vesting your profit-sharing -- you can't afford to wait until your number's up to find out how you're doing.
"Most companies do have formal appraisal processes, but they're scheduled, and they may not coincide with your need for feedback," says Linda Taylor, director of the Career Resource Center at North Carolina State University's College of Management.
Given that inconvenient reality, here's how to go about getting an early, meaningful and multidimensional reading on how good you're doing at your new job.
When Should You Start Asking for Feedback?
There's no reliable rule of thumb about when you should begin looking into how you're doing on a new job; it's a function of the corporate culture that you're stepping into.
"We give our own new hires feedback after a couple of days," says Ann Houlihan, CEO of coach and HR consulting firm Golden Key Leadership. "Most companies I deal with are starting to offer a quick review at 30 days. If you wait 90 days, you're just in suspense."
Other managers say you should concentrate on excelling in your daily performance and not worry much about the bigger picture for a while. "You should wait two to three months and then do your mini-360-degree review," says Michael Watkins, author of The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels.
No doubt, asking about your performance too often is a turn-off. "Don't be needy," says Alan Weiss, principal of Summit Consulting Group. "Managers usually can't stand people who are always trying to find out how much they are appreciated."
Carefully Frame Your Request for Feedback
Coming off as a professional rather than a neurotic is largely a matter of attitude. "The presentation is a big piece of this," says Watkins. "To make it matter-of-fact and relaxed, you frame your inquiry as, 'asking is my standard practice.'"
It often makes sense to focus your self-inquiry on the specifics of your work product. "Don't ask, 'How am I doing?' but try to articulate what's required," says Taylor.
Do You Measure Up to What's Required for Success?
The key to a meaningful early evaluation is to ask whether you've met your internal and external clients' objectives on time and on budget. "You need self-mastery," says Weiss. "Find out the objectives for any assignment at the outset, then measure whether you've met them and to what degree."
Another helpful tactic is to investigate how the winners in your organization got where they are. "When management is talking up other people, what are the characteristics that set them apart?" says Taylor.
Don't Just Ask Your Boss, Ask Around
Don't end your quest for early feedback with your immediate manager, but don't depend on the guy in the next cube either. "Peers may see you as a competitor," says Weiss. "It's better to get feedback from someone who started in your job and has since been promoted."
If you're establishing a relationship with a mentor in your organization, she can help you understand how key people perceive you.
In the end, "you can't beat just being honest and asking the question, no matter what type of manager you have," says Houlihan.
One last word of advice: "Get feedback in person," says Weiss. "With email, you miss information that comes through inflection."