Each week members of our community pose a tough question they’re facing in their career for Valerie Sutton, our Non-Executive Director for Workforce Navigation & Transformation.. She posts her response in our community and we then share her advice via our blog. Got your own career-related questions? Share your questions with us via Instagram or LinkedIn!

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

Sheryl Sandberg

Starting a new job can be exciting AND anxiety-inducing – especially when you’re at the beginning of your career! Questions may swirl in your head about how to act, where to start and how to organize your day. You may be joining an organization that offers structured training or a team whose manager has organized your work for you in advance. But, if you find yourself in a situation where there’s little formal onboarding provided by your employer, take matters into your own hands and create an onboarding plan.  This is a plan that you’ll build with input from your manager to support you in learning about your organization, your role, and the relationships that you’ll need to cultivate at work to support you.  Here’s one way to create an onboarding plan to support you in your first 30, 60, or 90 days on the job during your early career.

Begin with a Learning Mindset

Being new in an organization or role is the optimal time to shift into a learning and inquiry mindset – aiming to ask questions and learn from others around you.  Specifically, you want to start with a mindset of learning new people, systems, and processes.  Spending time on each of these factors helps you to be more effective and impactful in your work from the get-go, which will enhance your satisfaction and confidence. Think about organizing your learning into sprints; a reasonable first sprint is your first 30 days, and then review your progress and priorities at the beginning and end of each month throughout your first six months (or perhaps even through your first year).

Learn the Organizational Priorities

Your first stop is with your manager.  Your manager is often your best first connection to your team and the wider organization.  You’ll want to intentionally cultivate your relationship with your manager, and work with them to gain at least three perspectives:

  1. learn how your team/business unit fits into the wider goals of the organization;
  2. how your role supports your team/business unit in advancing those wider organizational goals; and
  3. the key relationships that you should forge across your team, as well as across the organization.

You’ll also want to work with your manager to establish the following: 

  1. the projects you will be working on in your first 90 days, 
  2. the specific goals of each of those projects, 
  3. your role in delivering that work, as well as any specific requirements, and 
  4. the key stakeholders for each of these projects.

Your onboarding plan begins with these 7 areas (numbered above).  Write down what you learn so that you can refer back as you build out your plan and set priorities. And, keep coming back to these areas as you learn more about your role, your manager, your team/business unit, and the wider goals of the organization.  Doing so can help you to notice inconsistencies or areas for asking more questions, for example, and also help you to take stock of how much you’ve learned.

Once you move beyond your first month or two in a given role, consider expanding your onboarding plan to include exploring Employee Resource Groups and other aspects of your organization where you might meet people across the organization with shared interests.

Make Connections

The relationships you establish at work are critical to helping you succeed in the workplace.  So, your next step is to take time to make connections, starting with understanding the priorities of the various stakeholders you identified with your manager.  You’ll want to set up a time to meet with them, understand how your business unit and your role relates to theirs, perhaps check-in or review your tasks aligned with a particular project.  You’ll want to understand what timelines might look like for them, what resources might help you achieve your goals, and what is most important to them for the project. We recommend that you treat meeting people at work like the networking you did during the job search. Use a spreadsheet to prioritize names, track your outreach, and arrive at each meeting with some questions written down in advance.  This blog we published recently on cultivating professional relationships at work provides more strategies for doing so.

Set Priorities

Once you’ve gathered the information above, you can prioritize your tasks and build a project management plan for each area of importance, including cultivating relationships (see above).  Your team/business unit may already have project management systems in place to track the work of the team, but you’ll still likely need to create a way to organize your own tasks or activities, in particular those that aren’t going to be tracked at the team level – like meeting people.

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed during the first few weeks on the job.  If you’re struggling to prioritize or drowning in assigned tasks from a single supervisor, you might consider a simple matrix that includes urgency and importance. You can use the example below as a template.

Once you have laid out your tasks, you should plan your first 30 days by considering the urgent & important tasks first, and then you can focus on the not urgent & important tasks, as they will provide the most value.  The last tasks are not necessary & not urgent; these are the busy work and time wasters.

Share Your Plan & Ask for Help

Since you’ve taken the time to create an onboarding plan, share it with your manager – this is a good thing!.  Use it to confirm your learning and to spark conversations about prioritization. You’ll want to regularly communicate with your manager regarding your priorities and check in to see if your priorities still hold or project timelines have changed.  

Finally, you also want to be aware of your professional development needs – these are areas in which you think you need additional support, training, or mentoring.  And, convey these to your manager so that, together, you make a plan to address those needs. Remember, your manager has brought you into the role and wants you to succeed, so asking for help is always okay!