I’m a recent college graduate and have never really been very good at playing the office politics game. Sadly, I have already had two positions in the past year and the problems I ran across at both companies were politically-related. I don’t care about being the popular person, the department poster child, or the biggest and brightest (though I’m sure that will come eventually).
Right now, I’m just trying to learn how to apply my college education, get along with people, and grow into a position where I can become the biggest and brightest. I am very frustrated though as I have been very much underestimated in my past positions in the form of not being given anything to grow with, but when I’m not given those things, coworkers tend to develop the perception that I am not capable of the job because I’m not working on it. Even when I did ask for tasks or projects to be on, I was told there’s nothing for me (though there’s sure a lot for everyone else!). So, I can’t get the knowledge without the work, but can’t get the work without the knowledge. The past companies have dealt with proprietary software, so there were no Internet resources to reach out to and documentation (if there was any) was very outdated. I was let go as my frustration manifested itself in the form of open boredom.
I now have a new position I’m starting in a couple of weeks that I’m actually very excited about. It involves being in the specialty I’d always wanted to be in, being part of a great and profitable company, the perks are not bad at all, and the pay is good. Even though I have resolved to correct the mistakes that I did make in the past positions, I am still quite terrified that this will be another environment I will not fit into. What office politics advice do you have for an entry-level trying to start their career?
New Kid on the Block
Dear New Kid on the Block,
Congratulations on landing the job! Now, it’s time to hit the ground running and lay the groundwork for success within the organization.
It’s important to make a good impression and an immediate, meaningful impact from day one. In today’s economy, especially, employees have less time to prove themselves and are expected to demonstrate tangible results that increase profitability. Starting off at a new company also involves establishing relationships and respect from the get-go.
That being said, it will take time to feel like you fit in. It can help to put yourself in the shoes of your coworkers, and modify your behavior as needed. It can also be beneficial to understand what is in the company’s best interests (and how your behavior can help further the company’s goals).
Here are a few tips to get you started in the right direction:
- Watch, listen and learn. Pay close attention to the behavior of your new colleagues — how they respond to emails, their tone during conference calls and how they dress, for example. Each organization has its own unwritten rules, so base your actions on how others behave.
• Are jeans acceptable on Fridays?
• Does everyone start at 8 a.m.?
• Is it alright to eat at your desk?
- It’s OK to play the office rookie card and ask questions if you don’t know. In fact, most managers prefer you seek assistance rather than attempting to learn through trial and error.
- Have realistic expectations. If you do the job you were hired for, your time to shine in the spotlight will come. You will eventually be given those tougher assignments and growth opportunities. With your supervisor’s direction, create a list of goals for the first few months on the job and establish a timeline for meeting them.
- Stay open-minded. Recognize that procedures at your new job may be different from what you’re used to. Make sure you give these new systems a chance before suggesting something different.
- Get to know your coworkers. Introduce yourself to everyone you interact with and try to get to know them on a personal level. Consider inviting them to lunch so you can talk without interrupting your workflow. It’s important to start building relationships with your coworkers early on so you can turn to them for assistance and advice.
- Build rapport. Show an interest in people and their jobs by doing more listening than talking, especially in the beginning. And remember to be pleasant to every person you meet, from the CEO to the mailroom clerk. You never know whose help you may need.
- Stay away from office politics. Disengage when discussions turn to complaints about coworkers or other office gossip. Becoming involved in office politics can damage your budding relationships and efforts to establish a positive reputation.
- Keep pressing, politely. It may take time to earn other people’s trust, but in due course you’ll be given the opportunities you seek. Volunteer to assist your coworkers. Start by asking for small things — sitting in on meetings or partnering with someone on a project. These moves will prove you are a motivated contributor interested in playing a vital part in your company and team’s overall success. You’ll also gain the satisfaction of knowing you’re doing your best.
Realize it can take several months to feel like you truly fit in and feel comfortable at your new company and role. Keep your head up and remain enthusiastic. Displaying genuine excitement for your job and your coworkers is one the best ways to ensure you start off on the right foot.
Best of luck at the new job! Thanks for writing to OfficePolitics.com!
Senior Executive Director, Robert Half
Paul McDonald is senior executive director with Robert Half International (NYSE: RHI), the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm. Our divisions place professionals on a temporary, temporary-to-hire, and full-time basis in the accounting and finance, technology, office administration, legal, and creative, marketing and design fields. McDonald joined the company in 1984 as a recruiter in Boston, following a public accounting career with Price Waterhouse. In the 1990s, he became president of the western United States overseeing all of RHI’s operations and most recently served as senior executive director of Robert Half Management Resources. Over the course of his nearly 30-year career with the company, he has spoken and written extensively on employment and management issues based on his work with thousands of client companies and job seekers.