School of Psychology & Counseling

First Year Job Success Strategies

(Adapted from the Regent University School of Psychology & Counselor Student Career Services Handbook, 1st Edition, 2000 & the article of Ed Holton, Ed.D., Professor in MBA Program, University of Virginia)

Since your first year on the job is so critical, let's look at some basic first-year success strategies.

Slow Down

The crux of the problem for new hire lies in how they try to make a positive impression. Conventional wisdom says that you need to show your new organization how smart and talented you are by using what I call the "big splash" approach. Your natural tendency is charge ahead, trying to make big contributions and dream up great ideas for new initiatives or changes to impress your colleagues. The problem is that if you do that before you have earned acceptance and before you understand your new organization well, you will most likely only stick your foot in your mouth and embarrass yourself.

What makes the most positive impression is not in showing how much you know, but rather in demonstrating the maturity to know how much you don't know. That means eyes and ears open and mouth shut at first to learn as much as you can about the company and the people in it. You need to learn the ropes, to understand the nuances of how things are done before you can have any hope of making intelligent suggestions for change or getting new ideas accepted. You might have an idea for the best new design of a product the company has ever seen or a great idea like so many new people, but you can't sell it until you understand the way the company works. Managers know that college has only given you part of what you need to be successful, so don't make the mistake of believing that you are ready when you first walk through the door. [Be willing to learn via on-the-job training]. Always remember that there is a time to be quiet and a time to speak (see Ecclesiastes 3:7, NLT).

Learn the Organizational, School, or Agency Culture

Every agency, school or organization has its own unique personality and culture. That in turn, translates into unique sets of rules and norms often unspoken and informal about how you should behave in the organization. Organizations want employees who "fit" the culture and who enthusiastically embrace it. It is critically important that you take the time to understand the culture and politics of the organization. If you don't, you are almost assured of making many dumb and embarrassing mistakes that will hurt your career. For example, one new hire I know of was quick to criticize a project only to find out that it was originally started by one of his senior managers who still believed in it. He blew it because he didn't understand how important being a team player was to "the way things are done around here."

Watch your colleagues, paying attention to the things they spend their time on. Learn what the norms and values of the organization are by watching how others behave. Find out what the basic mission and philosophy of the organization is. Understand what people expect of you, particularly the accepted work ethic and social norms, and what the limits are. Pay attention to the political climate and how people communicate and work together. All of this and more are part of the organization's culture that may affect your success.

While employees want someone who "fits" the culture, many people often interpret that as hiring people who are compliant with all types of practices, including unethical ones. Given the recent reports of fraud, deceit and misuse of clients' funds among organizations (e.g. Enron, American Red Cross), you must be a part of the culture, but not passively adjusted to it (see John 15:19). In other words, we participate in the culture, but we do not allow it to dictate our behaviors or beliefs. Be an excellent team member like Daniel, who was competent at his job, but also had the character to stand up for his beliefs and face the consequences that came with his decision (see John 17:14-18 NIV and Daniel 6:3 KJV).

Manage a Good Impression

You must place a premium on impression management in your first year. As one person explained at a training session, “You're really in a fish bowl right now. Whenever you start any job I don't care what it is there are a lot of people watching you and trying to assess your ability to succeed.” Those people will include your peers, subordinates and bosses. Everything you do early on will be magnified in its impact. As you progress your career and build a good professional reputation, your track record will give you a safety net to cushion you against mistakes and interpersonal gaffes. But in the first year you have no track record, so it's the impressions that count. “Choose a good reputation over great riches; being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold,” (Proverbs 22:1, NLT).

Manage Your Expectations

A major frustration of many new graduates after being on the job for a short time is that their expectations are not met. Frustration is nothing more than the difference between expectations and reality. Expect to be surprised: the reality is that many things about your job will not be what you first expect them to be.

It's important to remember that the image the recruiter painted of the company is probably a bit rosy. Nor will you necessarily receive the same special attention from others in the company that you did while being recruited. So “work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (Colossians 3:23 NLT).

Become a Savvy Employee

The single most important person in your first year is your new boss. It's likely that working for a boss is unlike any other relationship you have had in the past. You have to be sure that what you do supports your boss. It is your boss who sets the agenda. Learn what your boss wants, needs and expects and then do it. Bring your boss solutions, not problems.

Most of all, remember that it takes skill to be a good employee; you can't become a good leader until you've become a good follower. In the words of Christ, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,” (Matthew 20:26 NIV). Remember too, that a bad boss is not a legitimate excuse for poor performance; nonetheless, leave a 'toxic' environment at God's leading.

Work in a manner that gains you acceptance within your organization and respect among your colleagues. When you are productive and sincere, your voice is more likely to be heard and addressed in an organization. Be humble. “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall,” (Proverbs 16:18). Humility is the art of servant leadership.

Regent University