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A New Employer: 8 Steps to Put Your Best Foot Forward

A New Employer: 8 Steps to Put Your Best Foot Forward

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    When you’re fist starting out at a new job, it can be difficult to find your footing. You’re probably transitioning from a job or other environment where you knew everything from how to get the coffee pot going to who to ask for help with the filing system. In a new office, that’s probably no longer the case. You have to learn just about everything from scratch — even if you have the ideal skill set for a given job, you’ll be learning how to use those skills all over again within the framework your new employer expects you to use. New starts are certainly not impossible, but there are some ways to make them a little smoother.

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    1. Write it all down: I realize that it may feel like you’re less that prepared if you write down every piece of advice your new coworkers and supervisors dispense, but having it in writing means that you won’t have to ask a second time. Noting routines and processes — and perhaps the occasional password — can help, even if you’re only taking notes when no one’s looking. If you are writing down passwords and other sensitive information, it’s up to you to keep that information safe. Once you feel comfortable that you’ve committed it to memory, it may be worth shredding such material.
    2. Be social: A new job is not the place to be shy. Most offices have at least some level of politics, and you aren’t exempt just because you’re the new guy or gal. The best protection you can have is to be at least sociable with your coworkers. Once you do, you’ll get the tips on information like who to avoid, who’s able to help you with particular issues and so forth.
    3. Do your work, but don’t push: It may sound strange to avoid pushing for new projects or big changes when you’re first starting out at a new company. You may want to be seen as a go-getter or you may even have been brought on for the purpose of changing things up. But give it a little time before you start pushing — even waiting a week can be enough to tell you what project you really want to join or what problems you’re going to face when changing something.
    4. Connect outside of work: If your coworkers invite you out to lunch or offer to meet up outside of work, it’s worth the time to do so. It’s even worth the expense of a lunch out if you normally brown bag — your coworkers can make your workplace more comfortable, and they can be a valuable part of your network down the road as well. Connecting outside of work can mean more than in person, as well. Make a point of adding your coworkers as connections on LinkedIn and other networking sites.
    5. Make your desk home: Even if you share a workspace, you can make your area a little easier to work in. A favorite picture or a poster can make your space feel more welcoming and adjusting your equipment to make it easier to use just makes sense. Keep it within reason, of course — especially if you share the area with someone else, you don’t want to make your space seem at all unprofessional.
    6. Check in with your supervisor: Not all managers will go out of their way to tell you if you’re doing your job correctly. That makes it important for you to seek out that information on your own, especially when you’re first getting started and can change your approach. You never want to wait until your first performance review to find out just how well your supervisor actually thinks you’re doing.
    7. Take care of the HR department: At every new job, there’s a huge stack of paperwork with your name on it. Human Resources needs you to fill out tax forms, retirement forms, insurance forms and more. The faster you can get those papers taken care of and turned in, the better. The same goes for any training or orientation. If you can keep the HR department happy, it’s worth the effort — after all, you probably won’t get a paycheck until your paperwork is complete.
    8. Learn by doing: There may be a lot of hoops you can jump through before you can actually sit down and do the job you were hired to do. But the fact of the matter is that you’ll learn more about how to interact with the rest of the company by actually completing some of your work. Even if you can only squeeze in fifteen minutes between orientation session, it’s worth your while. At the very least, you’ll probably have some useful questions for the next session.

    You don’t have to perfectly mesh with a new office on your first day. Adapting to a new company is a process: it’s important because you’ll be spending most of your day with these people, and you’re dependent on this employer to make sure that you have the money necessary to cover your bills. You don’t need to take in cookies for your new coworkers, but you do need to make a serious effort to adapt.

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    It’s worth noting that not all companies will be a perfect fit for you. If you’re having trouble adjusting to a new employer, you should give it your best effort but also be willing to walk away if there’s no hope of it working. It’s better to do that during your orientation period, if you can.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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