The Five Questions Every New Employee Should Ask On Their
The offer letter is signed and the celebratory toasts have been made. It’s official: you got the job.
But don’t let the rose-colored glasses of a new position blind you. Make the most of yourfirst day in the office by asking five critical questions that will help you get the lay of the land—and put you on the right track for professional success.
From corporate culture to office politics to formal (or informal) reviews, taking stock from day one is critical. “What happens is that people take a job thinking it’s going to be this great and perfect fit and five months in they realize they’re stuck in a role that’s less than ideal,” says leadership consultant Cynthia Burnham. “They’re kicking themselves for not asking these questions sooner.”
For one thing, Burnham says, just as job-seekers are on their best behavior during the hiring process, employers are just as guarded—if not more. “They’re courting you as much as you are them,” she says. The hiring manager is describing the very best version company to prospective hires, not sharing dirty secrets that could color your decision, or worse, make its way to competitors. “No,” she says, ‘It’s often not until papers are signed that employers and new hires meet each other for the first time.”
Which makes your first hours of employment a can’t-miss opportunity. So what should you ask? I tapped three experts in recruitment and career planning to come up with five critical questions to cover all of your bases—and put you on the path to success from day one.
What Can I Expect…
For reviews and evaluations? Speak now or forever hold your peace. Whether or not your manager and company have a formal review policy in place, your first day in the office marks the countdown to your first sit-down to evaluate your performance. “Your new boss and new team might have very different expectations than you think,” Burnham says. Being explicit in asking exactly what those expectations are is the only way you can be sure of meeting them.
If your company has a review process in place, mark the day on your calendar and send an invite to your manager. Burnham says to ask him or her what established competencies are used to measure success—they can just as easily be soft skills as they can be sales targets—and then make it your business to achieve them. If there is no formal or annual review, ask for one. Tell your new boss you’d like to meet again in six months time to discuss your progress. The failure and success of each employee is absolutely being evaluated, she says, initiating the review is the difference between proactive or being caught off guard.
What Should I Know About…
Office politics? Burnham says office politics—though often a dirty little secret of the corporate culture—are as important as whether or not blue-jeans are office appropriate. “Ask your new manager privately about the dynamic of the people you’ll be working immediately with,” she advises. Are there alliances or friendships that you should be aware of? Who is the best person to ask for advice? But be wary of this line of questioning, says Karen Friedman, author of Shut Up and Say Something: Business Communication Strategies to Overcome Challenges and Influence Listeners. “There’s a fine line between being aware of office politics and becoming a part of them.”
Chuck Pappalardo, the managing director of executive recruiting firm Trilogy Search suggests a variation on the office politics question that could reveal similar rifts and alliances without direct questioning. “Ask about the reputation of your group within the context of the larger organization,” he says. Does accounting hold a grudge because your vendors tend to pay late? Are you always dogging the ad sales team for paperwork? What is the reputation of my group within the context of the organization?
“The ugly truth is that there are enemies, misalliances and undeveloped relationships within every organization,” says Burnham. “Why let them derail you?”
Is There Anything Weird About…
Procedure and process? “Every company and manager has weird and unusual ways of doing things that they consider normal,” Burnham says. This is your chance to ask—and ask everyone—what those things might be. Are there unusual or unique processes that have surprised people when they came to work for the company? Ask your manager for the inside scoop. Does your new manager expect to be cc’d on all correspondence? Ask your new coworkers for their best-practices.
“Some companies are better than others at on-boarding new companies,” says Pappalardo. “finding out the best communication style can be critical in your first days in a new office.” Ask the HR manager when you’re signing papers what your new manager’s reputation is—is she laid back or formal? Does she prefer email, phone or instant message? “You really want to get this right,” he says, “and the best way is just to ask.”
What’s the Deal with…
Availability and flexibility Is your manager a keeper of the clock or an ally in getting the work done wherever and whenever it’s necessary? It’s important to ask about expectations of availability for two reasons, says Burnham. One, the obvious, is simply so you can meet them: if your team plays strictly by the nine to five time clock, your days should be scheduled accordingly. But secondly, you don’t want to wind up resentful of your colleagues as they stagger in at 10:15. “Having an understanding from the start is your best bet,” she says.
Similar to the hours you keep, ascertaining your new manager’s personal policies on vacation time can be critical. Will a full day be counted if you leave at three to pick up a sick kid? Can you work from home if necessary?
To the person who was in your position before you? “As important as it is to know why you got the job—why me? How did I beat the competition,” says Pappalardo, “You also want to know about the person who filled your position prior to you.” Whether they left for another company or advanced within the organization are important pieces of information to have, as they offer insight into the natural career trajectory of someone in your position.
“Career trajectory and next position could be the most important questions of all,” he says, “as they really let you know what—if any—opportunities for growth await you. If three employees before you left after one year, it can help you to better anticipate your own time with the company. On the other hand, if the three employees before you are still with the company, you have much bigger things to look forward to.