IT Employment

The worst mistake you can make in a new job

Don't let your enthusiasm take over when starting a new job. Here's what you should avoid in order to get off on the right foot.

There are lots of mistakes you can make in a new job-showing up late on your first day, making personal phone calls all day, and wearing a tutu all qualify as bad steps. But those are all, at least I hope, pretty obvious to you.

The worst thing you can do, and it's a mistake a lot of people do out of enthusiasm, is to storm into a new workplace and start making suggestions for improvement. While you may expect a new employer and all of your co-workers to stop in their tracks and exalt in your keen perception, it won't happen that way.

Here's an unrelated story to explain: A couple of years ago I was at a party at which I was to meet the new girlfriend of a dear friend of mine. This woman happened to be a hairstylist, who for some reason, was eager to make a good impression on me. About five minutes into the evening, she pointed at me and said, "I can fix that." I must have looked perplexed because then she said, "Your hair. I can fix it." Now, maybe it's me but I'm not sure how a statement like that could be received any way but poorly. I just mumbled something about my not being aware my hair was broken.

So, now I'm not saying you're going to charge into the CIO's office and tell him his hair is all wrong. But criticizing (which is what you're doing by offering a "better" way) a business process that has long been in place can feel like the same thing. You cannot expect someone, even an entity like an employer, to be gracious when told indirectly that they've been doing things all wrong.

This is not to say that the time will not come for your insights. It will. But it's more important to learn the lay of the prevailing land before you presume to suggest changes. It's also important that you prove yourself first so that others will take your suggestions more seriously.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

124 comments
RaySirois
RaySirois

Would not a story being used to explain or to demonstrate a concept by its use be defined as being related? If the story were truly unrelated then it would have no bearing on the concept or idea being expressed. It would therefore be entirely useless and pointless in defining the concept.

Tech U!
Tech U!

Most large corporations (and I have worked for some of the largest) and even some smaller ones, are communistic in nature. They want you to "tow the party line" (do what the master tells you) and keep your mouth shut. You best keep your good ideas/comments/criticisms to yourself. You do not have freedom of speech in a corporation. Or, at least, you will not for very long if you choose to exercise it. You have been warned.

gevander
gevander

When you are hired to make changes. I was hired for the expressed reason of improving the process in my work area. My boss would have been severely disappointed and justifiably upset if I did not start making suggestions for how to "fix that" in relatively short order.

premiertechnologist
premiertechnologist

Instead of being all full of fire to make things better, why not wait, look around and find all the things which need to be fixed. Don't say anything. Work quietly behind the scenes to set up the fix to one of the biggest problems you see about to rear its ugly head. When things get really bad and most people can't stand it any more, find a way to let management know you have a solution, but... Well, you just can't implement it without everyone's support. Drag it out. Make everyone suffer. Keep everyone on the edge. Then, when the moment is right, apply the fix -- obviously, publicly, making sure that there's no way for anyone to dodge your taking full credit for it. Then go off and prepare to fix the second biggest problem the same way. Using politics to solve a technological problem is the only way to go.

veseloiu
veseloiu

Yes, all so true but hey, they don't teach you that inschool and if they say at the interview that htey look forward to you bringing new ideas into the environment..... "you " might believe them This particular "you" (as in .... I) did just that and I is now suffeing severe persecution because of having been so stupid early on regardless of the fact that the suggestions were about my job, not other people's they were good and made with obvious good intentions, i.e to enable me to work better Perhaps they should teach that in every school, along with writing and writing as some people, people like me, are not clever enough to guess that by themselves and tend to trust what they are told

OurITLady
OurITLady

There are ways of suggesting changes that have the potential to suggest improvement while enabling you to learn about the company. Questions such as "do you mind me asking why this and not that" or "did anyone ever try doing it this way instead" can actually bring the alternatives to the new company's mind, yet gives them a chance to explain exactly why it's done the way they do it. That way, you don't look like too much of an idiot if they already thought of it and discounted it, but if no-one ever thought of the alternatives you get to plant the seed of change. Gives you the opportunity to find out the thought behind their current processes and figure out if the answer is because that's the way it's always been done or if there's a rational reason behind it that works for that company.

Gerald_Hilton
Gerald_Hilton

After 30+ years in manufacturing, IT, and process management, not to mention physical QA, this is really true. I moved to the Netherlands from Canada 11 years ago, with a bag full of tricks for improvement. Canada thinks pretty much like Western Europe, very progressive. After working for many years in American companies that promote change, iAfter 30+ years in manufacturing, IT, and process management, not to mention physical QA, this is really true. I moved to the Netherlands from Canada 11 years ago, with a bag full of tricks for improvement. Canada thinks pretty much like Western Europe, very progressive. After working for many years in American companies that promote change, improvement, and lean thinking (that is an oxymoron), I have come to realize that improvement has to start in the executive and upper management. Lower Management, such as site directors and lower managers will always suppress forward thinking to save their own butts, while telling the Board members BS. I have watched HP, Apple, and several other major players move to "better and cheaper" facilities in eastern Europe only to have their overall costs go up. Especially in the logistics. In the Netherlands, you can have Dutch workers perform in a very profitable arena where 1 worker can perform like 4 - 5 workers in eastern EU. This is to the fact that Western EU countries work with pride, and for the price of labor, being 4.75x more, dedication is stronger. I would rather pay for ten working and committed employees, than 60 who are there only for the money, and do not see the real cost of re-work. Look to the validation of the enthusiasm, filtering out the brown nosing of the MTV culture. Like the song says. "It's a Long Way To The Top If You Want To Rock And Roll", but the profits are exponential. mprovement, and lean thinking (that is an oxyMoron), I have come to realize that improvement has to start in management. Management will always suppress forward thinking to save thier own butts, whiletelling the Board members BS. I have watched HP, Apple, and several other major players move to "better and cheaper" facilities in eastern europe only to have thier overall costs go up. Especiallly in the logistics. In the Netherlands, you can have Dutch workers perform in a very profitable arenawhere 1 worker can perform like 4 - 5 workers in eastern EU. This is to the favct that Western EU countries work with pride, and for the price of labour, being 4.75x more, dedication is stronger. I would rather pay for ten working and commited employees, than 60 who are there only for the mone, and do not see the real cost of rework. Look to the validation of the enthusiasm, filtering out the brown nosing of the MTV culture. Like the song says. "It's a Lomg Way To The Top If You Want To Rock And Roll", but the profits are exponential.

donb
donb

We had, many years ago, a database that would regularly self-destruct each quarter. So, we got very good at rebuilding it quickly. A new assistant controller arrived just before the self-destruction occurred. He decided he knew how to rebuild it. It took three times as long as usual. He was not around for the next self-destruction.

inertman
inertman

i pout the kibosh on this before it started by telling employees that until i've had them working for me a reasonalbe time, there was only 1 way to do things, my way. my experience far exceeded anyone i hired, and while i was willing to entertain 'new ideas', there is also a time and a place for them, during a crunch wasn't one of them.

db625
db625

Just kidding.

profdocg
profdocg

Hello All I have been in this situation and want to share the experience. The IT Manager left the job and the new IT Manager on the first day started to advise that your network does not have this and that and it would be better to install the following. I understand he is bringing his previous experience. But right from the start for him nothing is right in the organisation and has better plans to correct everything. Eventually things gone out of hand and I left the Job. I was even told on the face that I should acknowledge that I am not expert in everything and that is why Organization has to hire the Consultants to do the Project work.

thebaldguy
thebaldguy

I've been on the job three weeks now, and can see lots of ways to imrove things, but I'm keeping them all to myself for now. That comes from 53 years of making mistakes...;-)

ghazanfar_is
ghazanfar_is

Yep, that is the worst mistake one can make in a new job

jimnorcal
jimnorcal

Learning from experience, whenever you see a mistake, even one that is blantantly obvious, don't bring it up. Being new, it's not your place even if you're the only one to notice it. Chances are, you may not be the only one but even if you are, the new person is never supposed to say anything less you shorten your time span there. This is something one learns from first hand experience so when I saw this post, it brought back such memories. Silence is often truly golden.

mountney
mountney

..keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears and mind open for 6 months... Worked for me...

rglaser
rglaser

I was just talking with one of my staff about this very subject yesterday. it is very important for a new employee to settle in to the environment around them before making suggestions. It is beneficial for the new employee to understand the current culture before suggesting changes. Thanks for the article.

Cicuta2011
Cicuta2011

Never volunteer anything... unless if asked for an opinion no matter whom he/she is. There is a saying: "In a closed mouth flies won't go in".

infojunky
infojunky

As in interrogation ...when you first meet. This actually happened last week... I was grilled by the newbie on who I was and what is my employment record. He ended with the remark 'If you've been here that long isn't it about time you moved on and did something else ?! Gobsmacked I believe, is the word I'm looking for...

Durka
Durka

It depends on why you were brought in, the ranking of your position, what is expected of you and how much variety of experience you have in environments similar to the new one. If you're brought in to make changes, then do so. Otherwise, coming in and critisizing how the environment is setup just shows what little you know. You'll have an opportunity to contribute when you are asked to. Better yet, write up a nice proposal and submit it to your boss. You'd be amazed at how much credit you get for just creating clean, concise documents. If you've worked at several places you'll find there are a variety of reasons that an environment is setup the way it is. Usually it's cheap managers being penny wise and pound foolish, with IT being forced to work with what they get.

mendozallan
mendozallan

I still think you need to fix it... your hair that is! On the other hand I go by the rule that my advice is valuable and is free only to my loved ones, anybody else have to ask and get charged for.

francis.norton
francis.norton

You could take a tip from the Lean Startup community, who recommend The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry for customer development / problem research interviews - regarding your new workplace as your "customer" is obviously a good start here.

GuyHarel
GuyHarel

I was hired by an unpopular director to replace a very popular developper, which he was in conflict with. Of course I wasn't told. A total mine field. I was the enemy of the developper pool right before my first word. So every time I suggested something the director was tapping me in the back, but the other developpers just stayed silent...without giving any feedback...with long faces.... My advise, keep complete radio silence during the first days and pay a lot of attention on the non verbal language expressed by people around you. Make affirmation which you can back from by using words like "I think it could..." "Its seems like...", etc. And pay attention to the "rictus" (smile) of people. It it goes downward while you are in the room or while talking, then there is definitely a problem with that person.

mdeschen1
mdeschen1

It is interesting that it is the 'newbies' on any team is more likely to see areas for improvement (which hopefully we ALL want) rather than those who have been on a team for a while and are now indoctrinated. Another thought is....if you hire someone at a great deal of money then why would you wait months to utilize their potential? Just my thoughts.....and experience.

Roosta
Roosta

I can see it now, new employee walks into the bosses office and says "Your hair is too pointy"

lighthouse13
lighthouse13

I think possibly a worse mistake than that is to do nothing at all. Coming accross a unproductive / unenthusiastic are worse in my opionion. If I was managing one or the other, I'd find it harder to 'light a fire' under someone who is silent and has no input that reigning in an overenthusiastic person.

TBoneTerwilliger
TBoneTerwilliger

We just had a new guy come into our organization. I love the enthusiasm, really, but you can't honestly think there isn't a reason we aren't doing what you just proposed? It's easy to come into an organization and see problems, but you need to take the time to understand the organization before you start dropping suggestions all "willy nilly". Your first couple weeks should be culture adaptation and proving your are what you say you are on paper. Now you have gained the trust to cut me down for not doing "X".

MWagner
MWagner

Jumping right in and suggesting changes/fixes is a mistake that is just as obvious as showing up late wearing a tutu on your first day.

mcgonzalezp
mcgonzalezp

At my current job they hired me as a Database Consultant, and the first thing they gave me was the application's database. It had a lot of space for improvement so what I did the second day was suggest all the broken things that needed fixing there. I would say if it concerns the area of your expertise, and the reason you're hired, then it is right to suggest improvements.

lhAdmin
lhAdmin

I've been on the receiving end of this and as the other members who posted said, you need to build relationships & credibility first. There may be legitimate reasons (or at least explanations) why your organization is not using the latest OS/updated the website/moved to the cloud.

wamorita
wamorita

Don't say what you think needs change, but write it down. It will be interesting to review what you've written in a few months.

suplero
suplero

In many established systems, things are the way they are because nobody has bothered to change them or even think about making changes. The whole culture is based on many years of previous limitations or other ideas, and could be made better with new ideas. Sometimes these established cultures cannot be changed slowly, they need a dramatic wake up call - and new eyes and fresh blood sometimes can be that force of change. It's probably best to do it diplomatically as other say, but I have never been that way :).

premiertechnologist
premiertechnologist

I had worked for Weyerhaeuser as a manager before returning to my government job and I knew that I had a lot of really great ideas that the County should implement. My boss pointed out to me that I should take my time to establish my credibility and I did so. The HR trainer was a highly sophisticated and highly respected not just at her job but in government and business in the Western United States. I worked with her, made some observations, recommended some books she had never read. It took a couple of years, but she began listening to me and as a result, I was able to give her materials for her to teach -- one of which was Project Management. But those in the IT Department who were unfavorable to me began their program to dismantle every advancement in their favor. Just how bad was it? A retired military man highly qualified to work at the job but who also could afford not to work came in, took six days to look around, declared, "You people are crazy," and left. No one had to ask why. The two managers in IT who controlled millions of dollars and 85% of the people were married to each other in violation of the law against conflict of interest (you've seen this story before and my lawyer took less that 10 seconds to say they were in violation of the law). People in these sorts of government agencies take their time. Their workplace clocks measure time in decades. They managed to get the HR person to retire and fired her assistant. All classes except diversity classes disappeared (and especially, no project management classes were taught). They got down to only one person in HR as an instructor, and last time I talked to her, she was planning to skip town and get a real job. The kicker was that in the course catalog, they had an entry for Ethics I -- required for all employees -- discontinued until further notice! This was actually accessible all over the Internet by anyone who had the URL. The County Chaplain had a good laugh. Management won. Their ideas are the ONLY ideas. The place is a wreck -- a completely dysfunctional workplace -- with terrible morale (the absenteeism is astounding!). Lawsuits have been filed. Oh, dear! So it's really good advice to curb your enthusiasm -- for making changes... and, sometimes, making any suggestions at all -- you may want to keep your head down and say nothing unless you are told to respond. Until you can find a better environment or are able to retire. After 18 months of retirement, I can truthfully say, "You people are crazy" and "I'm never going back". Good luck!

delphi9_1971
delphi9_1971

It's amazing how many times I've seen people do exactly what your explaining. Not only does it suggest that the new employee thinks we've been "doing it wrong", to me it also suggests that the new employee doesn't have the foresight to think that "maybe there's a key piece of information I don't yet know and should learn". In my experience, when you find that an organization is doing something that on the outset seems odd/wrong/different, upon further investigation you find that there's a good reason that it's done that way. Often that reason sheds a lot of light on the company and its industry. Not using this as an opportunity to ask questions and get better insight is the difference between knowledge and wisdom. P.S. Consultants are notorious for this behavior!

joatis
joatis

I've found that new grads fresh out of school are the most eager to "share their wisdom" backing it up with something their prof. once said in class. Agreed that you have to build credability before suggesting changes, and the "lay of the land" may contain something that wasn't covered in a textbook.

jkregan
jkregan

I have seen several people working as contractors come into a new location and assume that they were brought in to save the company from themselves. None of them made it past the first week. As a contractor, your best course of action is to wait to be asked for suggestions and assume your client knows his business better than you. This assumption will almost always be true.

jsargent
jsargent

Nice piece. I've seen similar things many times.

jsargent
jsargent

Probably the most common first mistakes are made when you put your foot in your mouth.Very often you have to wait a while to get the big picture. If you don't wait and start saying everything that comes to mind then you are going to get into trouble fast. It's fairly easy to be careful with your words at the beginning. If you put actions to work then you can avoid people misconstruing things. If someone is the type to put your foot in their mouth early on then they should just keep it shut and if they are confident that it is the right thing put their thoughts into actions.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

is the phrase you were trying to find. Your's sincerely Comrade Donald Trump...

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Particularly given the acute political expertise of most IT techs.

Owen Glendower
Owen Glendower

Change your username to OurITLadyExpertCommunicator. If everyone used the methods you describe, articles like this one would never have to be written. Decades ago, I was a schoolteacher for several years. I learned that I could "plant the seed of change" by asking questions. That knowledge served me well for 40 years. Requires much more work and quick thinking, of course, which is probably why so many people these days simply point fingers and give orders.

Owen Glendower
Owen Glendower

"That comes from 53 years of making mistakes...;-) " The problem with getting experience is that most of the time, you get it right after you could have used it in the first place. And as the saying goes, Judgment is "Experience, remembered."

Owen Glendower
Owen Glendower

Not "gobsmacked." "Stupid." He wasted your time (and his) grilling you for information he could have gotten from your personnel file. Sounds typical of young people these days. Finagle your way into a position and flit around for a year "implementing" this and "coordinating" that (and of course punching a few more bullet points on the resume), Exit stage left before the chickens come home to roost. You'll have no problem being the "whiz kid" in a new position.

Owen Glendower
Owen Glendower

"...you can't honestly think there isn't a reason we aren't doing what you just proposed?" You remind me of the story about the farmer who declined to buy a book about all of the best, most up-to-date, tested & proven practices in modern agriculture. SALESMAN: But this book would make you a better farmer. FARMER: I'm sure it would, but I'm already only farming half as well as I know how to.

Owen Glendower
Owen Glendower

Sounds like you did exactly the right thing. But was the company even aware of all the "broken things" in their database? And I assume that you were able to go to work fixing things without disrupting any other company operations. Certainly, even if it's your first or second day on the job, if you discover a problem which can be fixed WITHOUT DISRUPTING OTHER OPERATIONS, you should dive right in and fix it. A situation like that is every consultant's dream. But what if you had said, "This database is such a mess that it needs to be taken off-line for a week and rebuilt from scratch." You would lose all credibility on the spot. I'm exaggerating for effect, of course. But quite a few other comments in this thread lead me to think that perhaps my example isn't too far-fetched.

dwilkins
dwilkins

I was once at a site safety training course ("Do NOT head-butt the blast furnace") for 3 days, with a still-damp IT graduate amongst the motley attendees. On the final day someone sneaked in early and wrote on the whiteboard "Quick! Hire a graduate while he still knows everything..."

Owen Glendower
Owen Glendower

"Very often you have to wait a while to get the big picture." Correct, which is why you should beware of the problems which are obvious to you as soon as you walk through the door. Recognize that if it's obvious to you, it's probably been obvious to everyone else in the company for several years. This should lead you to wonder why it hasn't been fixed. A consultant where I worked came in, identified a problem (which everyone in the company knew about) and outlined what had to be done to fix it (which everyone in the company knew). Implementing his solution would have required a year of backbreaking labor (from people who were already working 60 hours a week) and $50,000. We didn't have the resources, as everyone knew except the consultant. Words are easy, deeds are hard.

premiertechnologist
premiertechnologist

IT techs must now be fully engaged in politics because that has now become the nature of their jobs. My comment was sarcasm as was yours, but this one isn't.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

How would a co-worker have access to somebody else's personnel file?

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

but somebody once said "all is politics"

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