Being the new person on the job can feel like being the new kid at school. You want to fit in and be liked by your co-workers (the students) and your boss (the teacher) while feeling at home in your new environment.
One of the key ways to fit in is by understanding and adapting to the company’s culture. Just as every school you attended had its own way of life and culture, so will all the companies you work for throughout your life. You will find that every company operates differently—has its own quirky way of doing things and rules that reflect the beliefs of the higher-ups. Some companies will take some getting used to while others will automatically feel welcoming and safe. Of course, it’s also quite possible that many will leave you feeling as if you are the only sane person in the building. How fast you learn to successfully operate within your company’s culture will dictate how fast you will fit into the company itself, how happy and productive you will be in your position, and ultimately, how quickly and how far you will advance.
The following are seven characteristics that I have found work together to create a company’s culture and are important for you to gauge correctly early on to fit in.
- The employer’s expectations: Each employer has his or her own expectations for the company. The employees pick up on these expectations and carry themselves accordingly (or should). Some employers may expect their company to just get by and make a little profit. You will be able to tell this because your co-workers will do just what it takes to get by and collect a paycheck. While you should still strive for excellence, you won’t be able to condemn others for their lack of initiative in this type of environment. Other employers will want their company to be the best in the city, state, or nation and be very demanding of their employees. Half-stepping on your job in this company will be frowned upon.
- The rules and regulations: Each company will have it’s own set of do’s and don’ts to work by. Rules like stealing, back-talking the boss, lying, and so forth are no-brainer rules, but others might not be so obvious. You may not find out exactly what they are until you break a rule or see someone getting fussed at for committing a “no-no.” For example, some companies may not have a problem with employees relaxing on the job when the workload is slow. Other companies may expect you to look like you’re working even when they know there’s nothing to do. Likewise, dating among employees is a normal occurrence at some companies, while it may be forbidden at others. To avoid confusion, ask whether or not something is against company policy or considered an “abomination” before you do something you’re unsure about. And if the company has an actual handbook, be sure to read it.
- The interaction among co-workers: If you find that people rarely leave their cubicles and like to eat lunch alone at your company, then being Miss or Mister Friendly might not score you any points. This isn’t to say don’t be upbeat and cordial, but don’t be upset if other people aren’t as amiable as you are. Other companies may be under a heavy spirit of camaraderie that most people wish their company had. In this environment, you will hear people’s gossip on your first day and be invited out to lunch the next. If you are more of an introvert, you will have to stick your neck out of your shell a little if you want to fit in.
- The employees’ interaction with management: There’s a big difference in the atmosphere of a company where the boss is viewed as a team member and one where he or she is solely looked upon as the head honcho. A team member boss may be treated casually by employees and joked with like anyone else. You can tell when you have a head honcho boss because the room will get quiet when he or she enters. Take cues from your co-workers on how to interact with your boss until you get to know his or her management style.
- The dress code: Don’t expect to fit in wearing business casual outfits when the atmosphere is conservative and everyone sports a suit except on Fridays. Take your cues on appropriate attire from your supervisor and well-dressed co-workers.
- The pace: If it’s a fast-paced, deadline-driven environment you’re working in, then you better keep up or you’ll be seen as a dead weight. If it’s a slower-paced, “take your time” environment, then you might not fit in playing Speedy Gonzalez.
- The competitiveness: Some companies foster a competitive environment among employees. At companies like this, your co-workers will gloat about who sold the most ads, who sold the most merchandise, which team bagged the most clients and finished the project first, and so on. If you’re not a competitive person by nature, this may take some getting used to.
During your first few weeks at a new company, focus on learning by observing and adjusting to the company’s culture, doing your job well, and getting along with your co-workers. You will have plenty of time to show everyone you are a super star with fantastic ideas.
Demonstrating Key Skills
On your way to becoming the go-to person, you will also need to prove to your managers that you were a smart hire. While they know there may be much you need to learn, you will impress them early on by showing yourself to be the following:
- A team player: An employee who is able to relate to and work well with a diverse group of people. Someone who leaves his or her problems at the front door, and shows up to work with a “winning” attitude. A person who can pull his or her own load and doesn’t gripe about having to pull someone else’s at times.
- A self-starter: An employee who can get the ball rolling alone. Someone who doesn’t have to be babied or asked twice to do something. A person who can generate new ideas and is constantly seeking ways to improve.
- Multifaceted: An employee whose skills aren’t limited to those needed just for his or her specific position. Someone who can perform a variety of duties with ease and enthusiasm and is willing to learn and teach new skills.
- Flexible: An employee who can “go with the flow” and handle assignments as needed. Someone who won’t say things like, “There’s no way I can work those hours,” “I didn’t plan on and don’t want to work on this assignment,” or “I can’t believe I have to share an office with three people.”
- An excellent communicator: An employee with poise, tact, and something worthwhile to say. Someone with an excellent command of the English language who can converse with ease and also write as compellingly as she or he speaks.
Among these qualities, I would rate being a good communicator as the most important, particularly when it comes to your writing skills. Employers often complain that today’s graduates lack basic writing skills—no matter their alma mater. This is problematic because whether you have a position that revolves around writing or not, your writing skills—or lack thereof—say something about you. It is hard to take a person seriously and consider them a professional when emails, memos, or reports are littered with errors. The good news is that your writing/communications skills, just like every other skill or professional trait, can always be improved.
Your ability to demonstrate key skills—just like your ability to fit it—will require you to constantly assess yourself to see how you are viewed by others, and then to make the necessary changes if you may be perceived as anything other than a model employee who adds value to the company.