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  • Hour glass icon15 minutes : 11 minutes reading | 4 minutes video

Handling the first few weeks in a new job

After the initial thrill and excitement of being offered a new role or becoming self-employed, it is natural to be nervous at the prospect of what your first few weeks may be like. There is pressure to make a positive first impression to ensure your success.  

Prosper have spoken to employers and ex-postdocs about this critical time to show what you might expect from your first few weeks in a new role or being self-employed, the challenges you may face and some tips on how to approach them. 

“You always feel different when you start any new role: there’s new work to do, new skills to learn, in different organisations different people do different things, finding out what their roles are, learning how they prefer to work. You learn what communication mode works, you try and work towards making your niche in your organisation.
Understanding the social culture of the workplace as well takes time, does the team eat lunch together? Do they talk to each other? What is the right balance for this role? Do they collaborate across teams? But there is that excitement as well, in embarking on something new. You’re preparing yourself for new skills, developments and opportunities.

Lan Hoang, Research Staff Member, IBM Research

New employee

Congratulations on securing a new role! Moving to a new role will present some excellent opportunities for professional growth and development. However, the first few weeks of any new role will present some challenges, including some of the following: 

  • Being overloaded with information
  • Meeting new people and learning team dynamics 
  • Learning and fitting into a company’s culture

Good news is that there are many tips to overcoming these challenges and ensuring you have a successful and fulfilling first few weeks. So, here below are 5 common tips for handling your first weeks in a new role. 

1. Ask questions

Spend your first few weeks asking about anything you do not understand.  Colleagues appreciate being asked questions rather than watching new hires wasting their time trying to reinvent the wheel. It is also important to spend time listening and absorbing as much information as you can. In this period, you will learn about the company culture, subculture of your team/department, preferred working and communication styles.

“For the first week, I attended meetings where I didn’t even understand enough to ask a question. It took me maybe a couple of weeks, and then I started asking. It was just a language thing; I needed to learn the new vocabulary […] As soon as you said ‘I don’t understand, they said ‘right, how can we explain it in a way so you do? And how can we use what you bring? It’s all very team-driven, so it was very accepting […] I immersed myself in the group as much as possible, talking to people and learning what they did, which really helped.

Laura-Jayne Gardiner, Research Staff Member, IBM Research

2. Meet people

As soon as you start in a new role, start introducing yourself to people and building key relationships with those you’ll be working closely with. Take advantage of social occasions in work including lunches and company get-togethers. This will ensure that you learn team dynamics faster and help you feel more comfortable working with your team.

“The first few weeks were really spent trying to figure out who was who in the University, introducing myself to people, and getting up to speed on ongoing projects. The next few weeks I concentrated on getting to know my colleagues in the office and learning all the procedures for how things are done in the University […] Now, I feel like I know lots of people in professional services as well as lots of academics with projects in our pipeline and have excellent working relationships with everyone I work with. I’m very familiar with all of the projects and am on top of the office actions (rather than being reactionary).

Shona Jones, IP Commercialisation Manager – Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, University of Liverpool

3. Set expectations

Your first few weeks is a good time to meet with your manager and find out what they expect from you. The sooner you know the more quickly you can start to achieve these goals. Make sure you keep your manager updated regularly at first to ensure that you are both on the same page.

“It was quite a steep learning curve and that is because I think everything compared to academia was very fast-paced. Also, it required adjusting your way of thinking and also just adjusting to the working environment and organisational set up. I mean, I’m sure it’s the same if you moved from jobs even within academia, but I found it even more so moving from academia to industry, just because the mindset is quite different.
For example, in academia, you might know everything about one compound, for example to the nth degree, and you look at an experiment for one compound a day. Whereas in industry, you might profile 100 compounds a day, but you might not know everything about it, so it’s changing that mindset and adapting to the industry way of working.

Christina Chan, Senior Scientist, Evotec

4. Be adaptable and flexible

Be open to doing things differently to how you might have done them in your previous role and/or company. There will be new policies and expectations with a new role. Take advantage of new learning opportunities and experiences to establish yourself in the team and develop new skills.

“I think when I started, I expected it to be more different from academia than it was and so lacked confidence to carry on doing things in the same way as during my postdoc. From a technical skills perspective, it was an easy and quick transition to make but I’ve definitely learned new and better ways of working that have made me more productive.”

Matt Crooks, Data Scientist, BBC

5. Practice self-care

No matter how much experience you have, the first few weeks in a new role will cause an increased amount of stress. It’s also important to note that you might not reach a perfect work-life balance straight away. Therefore, as you settle into your new role it’s important to practise self-care and where possible practise calming practises e.g., physical exercise, meditation. 

Watch a clip of a Recruitment Panel we held in 2022 for some first week tips from some of our employer stakeholders. 

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Newly self-employed

Whether you are newly self-employed or planning to be very soon it’s important to be prepared for what’s coming next. Once you embark upon the exciting world of self-employment, what you do in your first few weeks will affect the rest of your career. Some of the challenges you will face at the beginning of your journey include: 

  • Being overwhelmed with stress
  • Facing burning out 
  • Heading in the wrong direction

There is more strategic advice on how to start working for yourself in Setting up your own business. In the meantime, below we share some common practical tips to help kickstart your self-employed career and ensure that you stick to your initial goals and values.

1. Experiment with time management

It can take a while to get used to not having set hours to work and this can quickly lead to overwhelm. When you initially start working for yourself it’s important to experiment with finding your best productive structure. If you have your best ideas between 2-4pm and have less energy before 12, do more operational work in the morning and strategic work in the afternoon.  

Make sure you set yourself some time to relax and recharge so that you remain energised and motivated.

2. Set up a dedicated workspace

Starting your self-employed life at home is very common and can make finding a good work / life balance difficult. Therefore, it is recommended that you designate an area for working that is as separate from your personal space as possible. It might be that you clean out and use your garage as an office or use a spare room in your home. Wherever you decide, be sure to make your work area a place that is functional and inspires you whenever you walk into it.

3. Write your first employee a letter

In order to stay accountable to yourself and to not lose sight of what you want to achieve you should write a letter to your first employee (you) sharing everything that is relevant to your business. You should include your vision, goals, values and why the world needs your business. It can also include the type of workplace culture you want and work schedule. Keep this letter to hand so that you can read it often and remind yourself of what you’re working to achieve. 

“Starting a new business is very much like starting a new postdoc. At the beginning, literally everything is new. There’s no system or process, you have to figure it all out. Now that all of these business and coaching processes are in place, everything runs smoothly. I can now concentrate on the delivery to my clients, enjoying what I have built and the impact it is having.

Hannah Roberts, Career Coach, Breakthrough Talent and Skills Ltd

4. Hold a weekly planning and review meeting

Take some time each week to set yourself goals for the week ahead and review your work over the previous week. Think about what you achieved, what didn’t go so well, what would you change? This will allow you to track your performance and organise your days appropriately.

5. Start to network with people you know

Practically you may have started thinking about attracting service users/clients/funders to your business. Something good to do in your first few weeks is to reach out to people in your network to let them know what you are up to and see if they can help introduce you to useful contacts. For instance, you might want to consider writing a post on LinkedIn to introduce yourself and your new venture. Your existing network is the best place to start looking for support. 

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