12.1 How to Do Well in the Job You Have

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand how to maximize your first ninety days on the job.
  2. Learn strategies for developing a good relationship with your boss.
  3. Understand what success in your current job really means.

Table 12.1 "Your First Ninety Days On The Job" gives an overview of some things you may want to address during your first few months of employment.

Table 12.1 Your First Ninety Days On The Job

Suggested Time Items to Do
Before you start
  • Return offer letter and work-related forms (e.g., I-9, W-2)
  • Confirm place and time to report on your first day
On your first day
  • Meet your boss and immediate colleagues
  • Get security ID, computer passwords, phone and voice mail access
  • Find the bathroom, lunch spots, and other creature comforts
  • Understand your work deliverables for the short term
During your first week
  • Complete employment paper work
  • Learn company policies and regulations
  • Meet colleagues in different departments
  • Debrief with your boss on your first week
During your first month
  • Attend orientation sessions
  • Have lunch with different colleagues in your department and outside it
  • Debrief with your boss about your first month
  • Confirm your work deliverables for the first quarter
During your first ninety days
  • Get feedback from your boss
  • Look into training opportunities or other support from your employer
  • Confirm your work deliverables for the next quarter, half year, and year
  • Continue to debrief with your boss, network with colleagues

Make the Most of Your Onboarding Support during Your First Ninety Days

When you are new, it is a good time to ask questions and meet people. Unless you are coming into a leadership situation where people will be looking to you for guidance immediately, take advantage of your newness to collect as much information as possible. Introduce yourself to human resources (HR)The department that is charged with the welfare of employees within an organization. Subsets of HR may include employee relations, compensation, benefits, recruiting, and training. and get their advice on where you should focus to get acculturated quickly to the new organization. Remember that HR has onboardedThe process of bringing a new employee into an organization and integrating him or her to the new environment. This can be as simple as filling out paper work to get the employee paid or as involved as in-depth training and customized support to acclimate the new employee. many people before you, so they should have some good advice about how to get started smoothly. Ask your boss to introduce you to the people you should know. It is ideal that people are aware you were recently hired and are starting that day, but sometimes it’s a surprise, so be ready to introduce yourself and tell people about your background and what you will be doing.

You might be starting at the same time as several other people. Think of a school that has a well-defined academic calendar and therefore may have all the new teachers start on the same day. You might be offered specific onboarding training programs. One school sent its new hires the school newsletter for a few months before they started so they could feel they were a part of the school before they got there.

Learn How Your Employer Runs Its Business

In addition to meeting key people, you must coordinate practical logistics. paper work must be filled out, including tax forms (e.g., W-2An IRS form that determines how taxes will be withheld from your paycheck.) and work authorization forms (e.g., I-9A required form that proves you have the proper work authorization to work in the United States. You do not need to prove citizenship, just that you have authorization to work.). You may have to sign a form that confirms you’ve read the company policy manual. Don’t forget to consult the organization’s policy manual regardless of whether it’s required reading. By doing so, you know any specific rules around start and end time (continuing our school example from earlier, not every school starts and ends at the same time), breaks, dress code, access to computers and other supplies, and so forth. You may need to get an identification card or keys to the office.

You also want to get accustomed to the physical environment. Confirm where to go on your first day; don’t just assume that area will be where you normally work. Sometimes large companies have several offices, and an orientation for new hires might be located in a different area. Know where the bathroom is located. Know where the cafeteria is located or get lunch spot recommendations. Know where to find office supplies. Don’t underestimate the value of being comfortable. Some companies set up a workspace for you with computer, telephone, and other equipment you will need. If this isn’t the case, arrange for these resources as soon as possible so you can start contributing on the job. Know whom to call for IT or telephone support; perhaps the organization has put together a list of frequently used phone extensions.

Remember the school that onboarded its new teachers by including them in the newsletter distribution list even before they joined? This school used particular grading software and an intranet to share lesson plans. If you are a new teacher there, you would want to make sure you have access to the system and will get training on how to use it.

Learn What Success on the Job Means

From day one, you need to get down to work. Get clear about what you need to deliver from your work that day, that week, that month, that quarter. Will you shadow another teacher first? For how long will you train, if at all, before taking over the job (or in this case, the classroom)? Will you use existing lesson plans—that is, how much structure will you be given?

It is best to ask your questions before you start or when you are new. Ask your boss rather than a colleague so you know officially what to do. Get specific recommendations from your boss about how best to learn about the work—for example, who customers are, how specific forms get filled out, what software to use. Confirm to whom you should go for questions. It may be your boss, but he or she may select a colleague to train you. Find out about upcoming deadlines or special projects that insiders might be aware of but that they may forget to mention. Maybe the school where you teach collects data on the students after the first thirty days of school, and you need to be tracking specific things more closely or in a format different from what you anticipated.

Learn How Your Boss Likes to Work

Once you know what you should be doing day to day and for the next few weeks, you want to confirm with your boss how to keep him or her updated. People like to communicate in different ways. Live, telephone, or e-mail are all possible forms of communication. Find out what your boss prefers.

Find out how frequently you should update him or her. Only when you have a question? Once a day? Once a week? After a project or task is completed?

Confirm what type of update he or she would like. A quick summary? A more detailed report? Do you need to send a meeting request in Outlook for a specific time each week?

Find out how you will get feedback. The company policy manual may have information about formal performance reviews, but these are typically done once or twice each year. You will want more frequent feedback even informally so you know what you are doing well (and continue doing this) and what you need to develop (so you can work on this). Check in with your boss after your first week to let him or her know how you are feeling about your job (e.g., workload, what you’ve completed, outstanding questions), and ask for feedback then. You can also confirm how often he or she would like to discuss your performance going forward.

Don’t forget to bring paper and pen or an electronic tool for taking notes during meetings with the boss and others. A common newbie mistake is to try and retain all of the information from a meeting without taking notes. You will miss something. While it’s fine to ask clarifying questions, it looks like you weren’t paying attention if you ask about something that was already covered. You want to bring your own note-taking supplies because asking for a paper and pen, rather than bringing your own, makes you look unprepared.

Key Takeaways

  • Start strong by taking advantage of onboarding support new employees typically get, such as time with HR on new hire training programs.
  • Take care of practical logistics, such as paper work and learning your physical environment.
  • Get confirmation about exactly what you need to get done day one, week one, month one, and the first quarter.
  • Develop a good relationship with your boss by being available for updates and asking for feedback.


  1. For the jobs that you are targeting, research if they provide new hire training or other onboarding support. Ask people who have worked at organizations in which you are interested. Try to get a feel for what you can expect.
  2. If you have a friend who works in one of your target companies, look at the policy manual so you can get familiar with the workday, dress code, and so forth.
  3. You know you will need to adjust your communication style to your boss, but you also want to be clear on what you need. How do you like to communicate? Think back to projects that you worked on—do you plan by the day, week, or longer? Are more or less frequent check-ins helpful?
  4. Look at a job description for a job that you want. How would you translate this to specific actions you would want to do in day one, week one, month one, and the first quarter? If you are unable to outline specific actions (and for most job descriptions, you won’t because they are written very generally), what do you need to know to confirm specific actions?