4 Secrets to Nailing Your First Month at a New Job

By Daniel Pink

You've read about the perils of graduating in a recession. We can't do much to avoid that fate. But whenever we begin a new job—in a recession or a boom—we can influence how much we enjoy the job and how well we do. With that in mind, here are four research-backed recommendations for how to make a fast start in a new job.

1. Begin before you begin.

Executive advisor Michael Watkins recommends picking a specific day and time when you visualize yourself "transforming" into your new role. It's hard to get a fast start when your self-image is stuck in the past. By mentally picturing yourself "becoming" a new person even before you enter the front door, you'll hit the carpet running. This is especially true when it comes to leadership roles. According to former Harvard professor Ram Charan, one of the toughest transitions lies in going from a specialist to a generalist. So as you think about your new role, don't forget to see how it connects to the bigger picture. For one of the ultimate new jobs—becoming president of the United States—research has shown that one of the best predictors of presidential success is how early the transition began and how effectively it was handled.

2. Let your results do the talking.

A new job can be daunting because it requires establishing yourself in the organization's hierarchy. Many individuals overcompensate for their initial nervousness and assert themselves too quickly and too soon. That can be counterproductive. Research from UCLA's Corinne Bendersky suggests that over time extroverts lose status in groups. So, at the outset, concentrate on accomplishing a few meaningful achievements, and once you've gained status by demonstrating excellence, feel free to be more assertive.

3. Stockpile your motivation.

On your first day in a new role, you'll be filled with energy. By day thirty? Maybe less so. Motivation comes in spurts—which is why Stanford psychologist B. J. Fogg recommends taking advantage of "motivation waves" so you can weather "motivation troughs." If you're a new salesman, use motivation waves to set up leads, organize calls, and master new techniques. During troughs, you'll have the luxury of working at your core role without worrying about less interesting peripheral tasks.

4. Sustain your morale with small wins.

Taking a new job isn't exactly like recovering from an addiction, but programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous do offer some guidance. They don't order members to embrace sobriety forever but instead ask them to succeed "24 hours at a time" something Karl Weick noted in his seminal work on "small wins." Harvard professor Teresa Amabile concurs. After examining 12,000 daily diary entries by several hundred workers, she found that the single largest motivator was making progress in meaningful work. Wins needn't be large to be meaningful. When you enter a new role, set up small "high-probability" targets and celebrate when you hit them. They'll give you the motivation and energy to take on more daunting challenges further down the highway.

February 2018

The opinions and views expressed in this publication are for general information only and are not necessarily those of Mutual of America Life Insurance Company.

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