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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Firstday on the Job - The Panic Attack

Justify FullFirstday on the Job - The Panic Attack

You just left your employer of five years to start a new job. At the old place, you knew everyone and everyone knew you. You were an ace at the job, and the in's and out's of the business never worried you. Now, you sit down at your new desk and realize everything is new.

Is this what you really wanted, or did you take the wrong job with the wrong company?

Then it hits. Panic: that jarring voice that shouts in your head. Don't ignore it. But, make sure you know how to keep it in check.

How do I get my nerves under control?

What you're feeling might be anything from butterflies in your stomach to a profound sense that you don't belong here. First, ground yourself by realizing you're going through a transition. Your fear will diminish as you get up on the learning curve and enjoy a few successes, no matter how trivial they might be

For example, forcing yourself to speak up at the first team meeting might be uncomfortable, but it will help you break the ice with your co-workers. And, quickly studying up on the products you'll be working on will build your confidence and make your interactions with other employees more satisfying. A little at a time, you will become part of the team. All this will help calm your nerves.

Second, grab onto your reasons for taking the job. There's always a bit (no more than that, if you're lucky) of disconnect between the interview process and the job itself. So, take a few minutes to re-map your expectations onto what you've learned about the job during your first few days. (I guarantee you this: the job is different from what you were told. This is normal, if not always fair.) Make a short list of the tasks you will have to perform during the first week. This will give you a very real sense of control. Then list the tools you'll need to do the work. Focus on getting those basics organized. As you set up your work area to suit you, you'll feel more at home and better able to tackle the work itself.

Finally, review the "payoffs" you reasonably expect from this new job. Draw up a simple timeline you can refer to from time to time when you need a reality check. If you can keep your expectations in line with your actions, you'll avoid real panic. There's little room for panic when you have a clear target and a plan.

I feel inadequate.

A sense of inadequacy is common when you're in a new environment. You may fear that you misjudged the job and your abilities. But unless you're a total dolt or the company outright lied to you (we aren't going to get into either of those possibilities here), you took this job based on judgments you made during your interviews. Your feelings of inadequacy need to be torpedoed quickly with logic and common sense. So, don't judge yourself until you've analyzed the situation.

Ask The Four Questions:

1. Do I understand the work that needs to be done? That is, is the goal clear enough that success can be measured objectively? Also, do I understand the tasks that comprise the job?

2. Can I do the work? Do I possess the ability and skills required? Will I have the tools and guidance I need? Can I quickly outline a plan of attack?

3. Can I do the work the way the employer needs it done? Do I fit in with these people? Am I willing to park my bike the way they do? Do I feel comfortable learning to do the job their way?

4. Can I do the work profitably? How does this job profit the company? How can I add to that?

As you consider these questions, assess and admit (to yourself) your level of ignorance about the industry, the company, the business, the department, your manager, you new co-workers, the work and the tools you'll be using. (Ignorance is normal when you're tackling a new job. Don't defend it, but don't let it stop you from learning new things, either.) Then take credit for what you do know. Quickly build your knowledge by talking to people around you, not by ruminating. (I call this "job training by wandering around.") Don't quit or give in to short-term, manageable ignorance.

Answer The Four Questions. If the answers are affirmative, or if you can quickly make them affirmative, you're armed for success. You don't have a lot to be worried about.

Uh-oh. I blew it.

If you took this job for the wrong reasons, deal with it. Then never do it again. The wrong reasons might include: flattery, money, boredom, wishful thinking. If you've tried the other steps above and you're still panicking because you believe the job is wrong for you, it's time to be brutally honest with yourself.

Is this job a potential disaster that you brought on yourself? Did you make the wrong decision? Are you incapable of delivering what you promised to the employer? Are you in over your head? If the answer is yes, the best course of action may be to quit. Make a judgment and take responsibility for it.

Be frank with your boss. Take his wrath early, apologize and move on. The saving grace in all this: There's no need to list a one-week job on your resume.

Somebody lied.

Did you take this job without looking carefully under the employer's rug? The company may have misrepresented itself, its finances, its prospects or the job itself. Of course, it's better to recognize and avoid such situations from the start. (Remember that due diligence is your responsibility. You've got to look under the rug before you accept the offer.) But sometimes, you'll find the wool has been pulled over your eyes.

If the company and the people are not what you were told they were, it's time to do a little judging by wandering around. Don't let your emotions take over. Spend some time calmly assessing the people, the company, the tools, the business, the job. Be as objective as you can. (Be careful: don' t blame your own inadequacies or mistakes on others.) Lay out the facts to a trusted friend and get his perspective. Then apply Henri Frederic Amiel's advice: "To be always ready, a man must be able to cut a knot, for everything cannot be untied." (Needless to say, women need to know about cutting knots, too.)

Panic is your mind's way of telling you to take control.

Panic results from a lack of control. If you're panicking on the first day of your new job, take control. Marshal your considerable talents to successfully address the challenges before you, and you'll find the confidence you need to squelch the butterflies in your stomach.

If that doesn't work, it's time to quickly and critically reassess the job choice you've made, deal with it forthrightly and get on with your life.

Remember that butterflies are normal. Here's hoping your panic attack flutters away quietly.

1 comment:

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