What I wish I’d know when I started my career: Getting your job to the right start

Looking back in the early days of my career, I think about the lessons I learned that have helped me throughout my career. Now that I’m the CMO of Leyard’s international business and vice president of marketing and product strategy at Planar, I’m sharing those lessons in the hopes they will help new employees as they enter the professional workforce.

As a new professional, you’re ready to take on a new set of challenges while working to build your manager’s trust and confidence in your abilities. Yet starting out on a new job can be daunting. Not only are you required to learn a new role, but you must navigate an unfamiliar company culture complete with a new set of processes, politics and personalities. As Michael Watkins, author of the guide, “The First 90 Days” has said, the first three months in a new job are both “fraught with peril—and loaded with opportunity.”* To do well in college, the professor gives you a syllabus and timelines for every assignment. The work world isn’t that way. You have to figure things out for yourself.

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Here are seven lessons I learned early on in my career that can help you to embrace the opportunity, while avoiding the peril as you start on a new job:

1. Come prepared

A great way to hit the ground running is to learn everything you can about the company you’ve been hired to work for — before your first day on the job. Follow the company, its leaders and industry competitors on social media. Learn about the executive team. Read recent press releases, blog posts and news articles to learn about the company’s products and services, and where the business is headed. Having that background before you walk through the door will give you a significant head start, helping you to ramp up more quickly.

2. Dress appropriately

How you dress is a part of your personal brand, which combined with your work and behavior, defines who you are as a professional. Look at how the leaders in the company dress, and take clues from them. If you don’t know the dress code, the easiest thing to do is ask. And if in doubt, it’s best to err on the side of dressing more formally and more conservatively than what’s required, especially for young employees attempting to demonstrate their professionalism.

3. Take notes at every meeting

If I had to choose one thing to help young professionals demonstrate that they’re ready for the challenge, it would be pen and paper. By taking notes at every 1:1 and team meeting, you show that you’re prepared for new tasks. When you take notes, you communicate that you’re an active listener who’s engaged in the conversation and focused on taking action. And by documenting conversations, you establish yourself as a resource whom the team can rely upon to follow through on their commitments.

4. Listen and ask questions

Over the years, I’ve noticed that the new hires who adapt the most rapidly are first and foremost good listeners. By listening and observing, you get to know the different players and personalities at your new company, what their interests are, and how they interact. You also quickly learn the priorities of the company—including what has and hasn’t worked in the past. As a new hire, you should also take the time to ask questions. The first 90 days on the job are a grace period during which you’re not expected to know everything. By seizing this time to think strategically about the company and ask good questions, you demonstrate your curiosity while at the same time accelerating your learning curve.

5. Display a positive attitude

Studies show that that almost half of new hires fail within the first 18 months.** Interestingly, the biggest reason for this isn’t lack of skill, but attitudinal issues such as lack of coachability, low levels of motivation and the wrong temperament. By being humble, flexible, energetic and openly receptive to guidance, you will quickly establish a reputation as an employee who’s ready to work. Moreover, you’ll demonstrate that you’re a “can-do” person and a great team player.

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6. Form the right relationships

Nearly every job has its share of gossipers and complainers. As you encounter these people, make sure to keep your distance. Instead, form relationships with productive co-workers who are focused on making a positive difference. Ask for guidance from those you respect. And take your co-workers to lunch to learn about the company culture and build a rapport.

7. Ask for feedback

Don’t wait for your manager to offer feedback. Proactively ask for it after you’ve spent a few weeks on the job and have had time to adjust to your new role. What’s going well? And what can you improve upon? By proactively asking for input from your manager, you make sure you’re moving in the right direction. And if adjustments are needed, you can quickly make them so that you exceed expectations in the long run.


With these guidelines top of mind, you will show your employer that you are ready and motivated to do your best work.


Jennifer Davis is a senior executive, industry presenter, business leader, mentor and volunteer. She is the vice president of marketing and product strategy for Planar Systems, a global leader in display and digital signage technology. More information about Jennifer is available at her website: http://atjenniferdavis.com/#homeinfo