Starting a New Job

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Most of the articles on this site are about how to find a job, apply for it and do well in the interview so that you are the one selected from the pool of potential applicants.

However, accepting a job offer is not the end of the challenging part of your life. Actually starting the new job can be very traumatic and exciting as you get used to new ways of working. This article offers some advice on how to make the most of your first few weeks in a new job and how to make sure that you settle in well to your new position.

Meeting your colleagues

Probably the most important part of a new job is to ensure that you meet your new work mates and begin a positive working relationship with them. This will also help you to learn the employment structure of your new environment (i.e. who works for who) and help you to put names to faces.

Although you are now in your job, you still have to make an effort to sell yourself. Try hard to fit into the team and show you are enthusiastic and people will be more open and welcoming to you.

If you are coming in to an academic department, meet those colleagues who work closest to your area of expertise, identify who will be your mentor if one has been appointed and make regular meetings with him or her. Learn which members of staff hold administrative appointments (such as the admissions tutorship).

In a large department of at least forty people this could take some time. Don't forget to get to know the postgraduate students and part-time lecturers too, especially those working closely in your subject area. They will be able to offer you advice on your new institution and may also be able to help you out in practical ways, by providing teaching support, for example.

If there are social occasions, such as drinks after work or group lunches, try to attend as it's a great way to feel part of the team.

Secretaries and administrative staff will also be vital to you, so introduce yourself as early as possible. People appreciate it when you make an effort so hopefully these sorts of early contacts will establish a positive relationship for years to come.

Taking it slowly versus throwing you in at the deep end

Different institutions and companies have different ideas about how to introduce a new member of staff to their tasks. You will have some idea of your role because of the work you put in to your application and getting through the interview.

Your employers may decide to ease you into your new role gently, allowing several days just to familiarise yourself with the office buildings, computer system, handbooks or protocols. Or they may think that you will learn better by doing things and so give you a challenging task to get your teeth into immediately. You have to be prepared to adapt to whichever approach your line manager takes. If he or she decides on the latter, for the first few weeks in the job you may have to spend your evenings or weekends learning about the procedures. Whichever approach is taken, the key thing here is to communicate: ask questions if you are unsure about anything (and make sure you remember the answers given).

You should identify friendly colleagues who will help you if you need advice; this will either be a formal mentor or simply other members of staff. Be wary of directing all queries through your line manager (who in an academic scenario is your head of department). After all, he or she will probably be extremely busy.

Getting used to new daily rhythms

One of the most challenging things about starting a new job is adapting to new ‘daily rhythms' as I call them.

This involves getting into a new routine that fits your new position - you should aim to do this as soon as possible after starting. Depending on whether you have come from another job or from doing a qualification, chances are that your daily routine will be considerably different in your new job. Perhaps you will be getting up earlier, having to travel a different route and using a different method, perhaps over a longer distance. You will also have to judge when to fit in coffee and lunch breaks (take advice from your new colleagues on this: do what they do, at least for the first week or so). You might need to provide a packed lunch or take money for a canteen.

The length of the working day is something else you will have to adapt to. Many academics choose when to leave the office at the end of the day, depending on how much work they have to do and time pressure they are under, but you may not be in that position. Check your official contractual requirements but also see what other members of staff do. In some places there is a culture of working longer hours that those officially set, while elsewhere everyone leaves the office at the stroke of 5pm. It is also important to find out whether working from home is an accepted practice.

Doing things differently

Related to the point above, it takes a while to familiarise yourself with the way that your new institution does things, even if you have moved from a similar job elsewhere.

As an example, if you are a lecturer, your working pattern will be determined in part by how centralised your institutional structures are. If everything is run at departmental level you will be largely responsible for things such as collecting student essays when they are due.

In other institutions where the faculty administration deals with this, they may collect the marking for you, handle late submissions and all you have to do is mark the essays and give them back to your students. It will take you a few weeks to learn some procedures while others will gradually become apparent as you go through your first full academic year.

Probationary periods

Different work places have different practices when it comes to probationary periods. Some use this time to provide you with extra training, to give you support from a mentor who will be available whenever needed and also to ensure that you are up to the job and that your work ethic is sound. You will probably have a number of meetings with your mentor and/or line manager during the probationary period in which you can raise any problems you are having and also discuss future plans.

It is important that you fully engage in this process as this is a good chance to plan the development of your career. If you would like extra training request it and if you are working hard to improve your reputation then bring it to the attention of your line manager who may decide whether you deserve a pay rise at the end of your probationary period. In some places a pay rise is automatic, in others it is not. I

It may be that you will have been relieved of some duties while in your probationary period, so also bear in mind that your workload may increase at the end of it. If things have gone badly wrong, you might find you or your employers reconsider the terms of your employment during this time. If this is the case, make sure you refer to your contractual obligations (and theirs) and if necessary seek external advice.

For most people though the probationary period is a chance to receive extra support from colleagues and establish a working pattern that will remain successful for years to come.

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