When Barack Obama starts his new job as president of the United States on Jan. 20, he'll have an army of advisers helping him decide what to do, say and think. Not so for the average Joe starting a new position -- plumber or otherwise.
When it comes to proving an employer made the right decision by hiring us, we have to fend for ourselves.
Despite the economic freefall and record-setting layoffs, some companies are still trolling for employees. Monster.com has 302 upcoming job fairs scheduled in 77 U.S. cities. The job-search engine LinkUp, which mines the jobs pages of more than 10,000 company Web sites for fresh listings, had more than a million openings in its database last month. And, in spite of the recent decline in financial sector job listings, the niche site Jobs4Point0.com, which features original listings purchased by companies seeking workers older than 40, has seen a 10 percent increase in listings in the past year.
Most important, people are still getting hired. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 4.3 million U.S. workers were hired in September, including part-timers, temps, contract workers and seasonal workers. Yes, job growth is down in most business sectors. But 4.3 million hires is still 4.3 million hires.
While you might be gainfully employed or pounding the pavement for a new position now, eventually you will find yourself at your own inauguration day for a full-time, part-time, temporary, seasonal or consulting job. If it has been a few years (or decades) since you started a new position, it's natural to feel anxious and unsure about the best way to conduct yourself in your new environs: Should you speak up in meetings? Mention that the custom database the department uses crashes every five minutes? Let on that you have no idea what the acronym everyone's been using for the past 45 minutes means?
When starting a new gig, you want to strike the right balance between team player and self-sufficient superhero. So let's talk about what you should do to ensure you hit the ground running and make the best possible first impression (just like that guy in the White House).
Your first order of business is to sniff out the corporate culture and interpersonal dynamics.
"Study how people present themselves, how they work together and how they interact with executives, managers and clients," said Alexandra Levit, who has written about job hunting and hiring practices in four books, including "How'd You Score That Gig? A Guide to the Coolest Jobs (and How to Get Them)."
In other words, it's important to detect early on who the decision makers, rock stars, workhorses and whiners are. But don't stop there. Observe the organization's attitudes toward work-life balance, too.
"Watch how employees conduct non-company business during the workday so that you can get a sense of how personal breaks, e-mail, and phone calls will be tolerated," Levit said.
Likewise, don't wait to be spoon-fed basic company information. Dig it up yourself.
"Read everything on every bulletin board you can find," said Paul Gruenther, a corporate expat and real estate agent in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., who has been in the employment trenches 30 years. "Write down everyone's name and look them up in the online directory. Ask for organization charts."