New to Corporate America? How to Survive Your First 90 Days

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A friend with a new job recently called me in a panic. After working at small non-profits for nearly two decades, Theo had landed his first position at a large corporation. Although he had high hopes for the new gig, his first day left him feeling lost, bewildered and dubious about whether he'd make it to the weekend.

"I have no idea what I'm doing," Theo said. "I sat through four hours of meetings without the foggiest idea what anyone was talking about. It's like they're speaking another language. I want to rock this job, but I feel like an imposter. I'm terrified they're going to find me out and show me the door."

If you, too, have recently joined the corporate sector only to find yourself floundering like some proverbial waterless fish, fear not. With the right mindset and bit of strategy, becoming a productive, confident member of your team is entirely doable. For tips on how to make this transformation as quickly as possible, I tapped an assortment of employment experts and corporate America survivors. Here's what they recommend doing to make the right impression those first three crucial months on the job.

1. Study the system.

If you want to fit in, take mental notes, advises Maggie Ruvoldt, executive vice president of human resources at 2tor, an education technology company in New York City. Watch how your co-workers interact, how they work and how they blow off steam. Studying and then emulating these nuances is essential, "from leadership styles to work culture and preferred font types," Ruvoldt said.

2. Make allies.

Start with your boss and immediate teammates. But don't overlook colleagues and managers beyond your department. Rich DeMatteo, a former recruiter in Philadelphia who blogs about careers at Corn on the Job, advises meeting individually with colleagues and managers. Ask about their role at the company and how you can best work with them. Besides learning how the company operates, you'll learn how it makes money -- key information you need to excel in your new role. "New hires who spend time internally networking within the company perform better, are promoted faster and can expect to have a much stronger network," DeMatteo said.

3. Get in the game.

If you don't have enough work on your plate, offer to take some off your manager's or teammates' hands. "Your boss will see you as a go-getter, and your co-workers will like you more," said Jonathan Franks, managing partner and co-founder of LUCID Public Relations in Los Angeles. Likewise, when attending your first meeting, dive into the fray right away. Be prepared to join the discussion (or at the very least, introduce yourself and convey your excitement about joining the team). Be mindful, though, that you don't hog the floor or come off as a know-it-all.

4. Exceed expectations.

Ask your boss what she expects you to accomplish your first three months on the job. "What are your manager's goals and what are senior management's expectations for your department?" said John Millikin, a management professor at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business. "How does doing your job fit into meeting the department's goals? The more you understand how your role fits into the overall picture, the easier it will be for you to emphasize the right things in your performance." And the sooner you know your boss's expectations of you, the sooner you can work on exceeding them.

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