One of the many wise things my dad told me when I started my first job was to never forget that as the new hire, you are constantly being assessed.
In fact, according to bestselling author Michael D. Watkins, the first 90 days at a new job means everything. So if you're the new kid in the boardroom, don't even think about hitting cruise control before the 3-month mark. (In general, don't hit cruise control ever unless you're on vacation.) To paraphrase Watkins in his book The First 90 Days:
Research shows that what you do early on during a job transition is what matters most. Your colleagues and your boss form opinions about you based on limited information, and those opinions are sticky—it’s hard to change their minds. So shape their impressions of you to the best of your ability.
So, what exactly should you do to make your first 90 days count?
1. ALWAYS PUT IT DOWN IN WRITING.
Because I have been on both sides of the equation—I have quite a few people working for me in addition to clients that I report to—I've found that making sure all parties understand what is wanted/needed from each other is key to favorable first impressions. The best way to achieve this? Put everything in writing. This could mean deciphering your boss' rambling emails into 3 bullet points of things that you need to achieve by end of this week, sharing a Google spreadsheet with everyone clarifying individual responsibilities or acknowledging a client's email with a "I read your email below, and will get back to you by next Tuesday" response. Putting things down in writing not only helps eliminate any misunderstandings or vagueness, but it also creates the impression that you have it together. Both things are crucial when forming a great first impression.
2. BE EARLY AND LEAVE LATE
I know this sounds like a cliche but just like most cliches, it does have some basis in truth. Besides, since you're a newbie, there's a lot you need to catch up on when starting out. Perhaps you're an ambidextrous speed-reader blessed with photographic memory who can do the job of 3 people. Clock out at 5 sharp later. For now, arrive early and stay back at least until your boss leaves. Use the time to either complete work way before its due date, come up with ideas that will benefit the company (see No. 4 below) or read up on work-related materials that will impress your boss/colleagues when appropriate. Because a "Last week, WSJ did a piece on how a chat-based customer service system is about 40% more efficient and twice as user-friendly compared to a phone-based system. I'll send you the article if you like" is a million times better than a "Yeah, um, improving our phone customer service sucks. Hope you can figure it out" sympathetic yet empty response.
3. GET TO KNOW YOUR COWORKERS
When it comes to getting to know the people you work with, put in an honest effort to create a strong relationship with your team. You don't have to make everyone your work BFF, but do remember everyone's names and listen when they talk about themselves. Getting to know your team members helps you see things from their point of view. When I was first promoted to lead a diverse group of junior investment bankers years ago, knowing my team's personalities and understanding office politics helped me immensely when I started to delegate tasks. Getting to know your colleagues can be as easy as going out to lunch with them 2-3 times a week or sending a friend request on Facebook.
4. TAKE THE INITIATIVE
Be proactive at work. Just completing the tasks you are assigned on time is fine, but it won't get you anywhere. To really shine, you need to adopt the mindset of "What can I do to help the company/my boss/the team/the client?" For example, a few months ago, I was hired as a fashion copywriter. It was supposed to be temporary and was a great little side gig where I was paid a good hourly rate to do something I really love and I secretly wanted to do it on a more permanent basis. Immediately after starting the job, I noticed that the company did not have a manual that would explain the Do's and Don'ts that would help everyone on the team create uniform copy. So I created one without being asked and on my own time. It was 10 pages long and took me about 5 hours. Once I presented this to the client, she was quite pleased and offered me a permanent role as their main copywriter. Constantly think of ways to do things better/easier/cheaper and you'll soon be considered an asset to the company.
5. ALWAYS EXPAND YOUR SKILLSET.
To get promoted/get paid more/evolve you need to constantly improve by trying new things and accepting new challenges. As a fashion blogger, I find that more and more, I'm being asked to host fashion events. At first, I was deathly afraid of public speaking, but I knew I had to conquer this fear if I wanted my blog to evolve. So I joined the local Toastmasters and started inviting 8-10 blogger friends to my apartment to talk about what we do. This was more than a year ago. Since then, I've gotten the chance to speak in front of a crowd of 200 people and host high-profile events with dozens of cameras pointed right at me. If I had let my fear of public speaking get the better of me, I'd still be hiding behind my Miu Miu purse.
PS: I still get a bit nervous right before speaking in public.
Photo by Umberto Barone for Vogue