How to manage your first 90 days in a job

By. J.T. O'Donnell

CEO, CAREEREALISM Media & CareerHMO | Employment Branding | Career & Job Search | HR/Recruiting | Consulting & Training

My First 90 Days: Please Don't Strive to Be the Office 'Golden Child'


Years ago, when I first started in HR, I remember my boss warning me, "Whatever a candidate does in the job interview, multiply it 10X and that's what you'll get 90 days into the job."

For example, if a candidate made a comment that felt a little inappropriate for our corporate culture, it was more than a little possible this person might be offensive in the workplace once they got the job and could let their guard down. Or, if the candidate was so quiet and barely gave more than one-word answers in the interview, they'd be so shy on the job that coworkers wouldn't feel they could communicate effectively with this person. (Even worse, they might be hiding something and just trying to get through the interview to land the job.)

If You Got The Job, You Scored High On...

Some of you might think the hiring advice above is discriminatory. You would be correct. That's because hiring IS discrimination. The employer is trying to find the best candidate for the job based on these factors:

Personality:Would this person fit in the culture and get along with teammates so productivity would remain high?
Aptitude:Would this person be able to adjust to the way we do things without constantly comparing us to their old employer's way of doing things?
Experience:Does this person have the skills and knowledge to be able to hit the ground running, or at least get up to speed quickly?
Affordability:Will this person be happy with our pay and benefits, or will they be disappointed and feel like accepting a job with us was a step down?

The above factors are what ultimately determine if you get hired. It's tough to win. If you get the job, your combined score on the above turned out to be the right number for the employer.

Congratulations! You're a winner... for now.

NOTE: The Rules ChangeAfterYou Get Hired

Once you are in the job, a different set of criteria determine if you are seen as a good hire with lots of future potential. Sadly, I've seen many new hires, blissfully unaware of the change in rules, short-circuit their success in the new role.

Here's what you need to know:

You aren't "the" best. You're now part of, "the best" organization ??? and should act accordingly. In the first 90 days, it can be easy to want to come in and be the golden child of the office. You so desperately want to prove the company made the right decision in choosing you that you offer your help and advice to everyone in the office. You chime in with ideas, offer to take ownership of projects, and have no problem putting in some extra hours and burning the midnight oil to help the company succeed. You openly share everything you get done so everyone within earshot knows you are working hard. The problem is, you're acting like a tornado, and that will have lasting effects. Some of which could include:

  • Being seen as a know-it-all who is trying to be management's new favorite.
  • Stepping on the toes of employees who have been there longer and getting the reputation of being insensitive or ignorant to all that's been accomplishedbeforeyou arrived.
  • Creating the persona you'll always be willing to work overtime.
  • Giving the impression you have no problem taking all the unattractive jobs nobody else wants.
  • Letting people think you will immediately help them whenever they ask.


Play A Long-Term Game. Here's How...

I'm not going to suggest you be lazy or hold back in adding value to the organization in the first 90 days. I also don't think you should keep your head down and let the work speak for itself. How well you integrate into the company in those early months matter greatly. There's a direct correlation between being seen as an exceptional new hire and having an opportunity to fast-track your career growth with an employer. Management loves it when a hire turns out as good, or even better, than expected. However, you need to play a long-term game to make this happen.


Here are my 12 tips for creating a strong first impression and powerful office relationships:

1. Identify your manager's communication style.Set a meeting with your boss and get clear on the best way to update her on your progress. Some managers want to meet in-person weekly. Others, prefer an email update as you go along. It's very important that you determine how to communicate with your boss without taking up too much of her time. You need to be able to get answers and show you are getting things done without overwhelming her. The sooner you know the best way to stay connected with your boss, the better.

2. Develop (and get management sign-off!) on your 30-60-90-day plan.Outline in writing what you plan to accomplish each week/month in the next 90 days. It should have specific milestones highlighted to reassure your manager you're getting up-to-speed and adding value as efficiently as possible. By showing this to your boss, you can open up the discussion to ensure he agrees with the goals on the timeline. If he feels it's too aggressive, or too light, you'll know before you get started and can adjust accordingly.

3. Get clear on each coworker's job AND professional agenda.Each coworker you collaborate with is a stakeholder in your success, and you are a stakeholder in theirs. It's important to take time to get to know their goals as a professional at the company. What are they focused on achieving, and how does your role directly tie to their success? This will help you support their efforts in a constructive manner. It will also show you respect them and care about partnering with them successfully.

4. Refrain from making any 'fast friendships' with overly outgoing peers.Be wary of coworkers who rush to be your friend and start giving you the inside office gossip. They usually pounce for a reason. Be nice, but keep your opinions to yourself and don't let them bait you into commenting. Just say, "Gee, I'm so new here, I'm just taking it all in for now." You may find their reputation in the office isn't the best and that being aligned with them isn't in your best interest.

5. Map out your core work and master it in less than 40 hours.Get clear on your tasks and responsibilities and become efficient enough that you can do them easily in less than a full work week. This will show you know how to work "smarter" not "harder." Better still, it will free up some time for you to focus on the next tip.

6. Identify your first "reach" project.A "reach" project is a problem you've identified by doing your core work that you feel you could help resolve if you put some time into it. This should be something that saves and/or makes the company money so that you can justify you spending time on it. The best part about a reach project is that it should tie with a skill you are looking develop. This enables you to get the company to justify letting you develop that skill, which makes you a more valuable employee.

7. Hold off on any snap judgements or assessments of coworkers and company policies.Even though you chose to leave your last job, you will find yourself naturally thinking their rules and ways of doing things were the norm. Thus, when the new company or coworkers do something dramatically different from what you are used to, you may feel uncomfortable. Maybe even a little scared. Don't react. The worst thing you can say aloud is, "At my old company, we did it this way..." Instead, take a deep breath and explore why your new employer might have a different approach. Which leads to the next tip:

8. Ask, don't tell.Smart questions are your secret to success in a new company. When something doesn't seem right, you should ask a question to better understand the situation. For example, if the team follows a process that seems time-consuming, you need to fight the urge to say, "That's a really slow process," and instead ask, "Why do you follow this process?" Followed up with, "Does the extra time concern you?" By asking questions, you can get a sense of the thought process behind what's going on. You may be surprised to see that you didn't have the answer. Or, your questions may lead to a pleasant discussion about possible changes. Either way, you will have navigated the conversation in a way that wasn't threatening to your peers.

9. Keep your emails vanilla and your phone in drawer on vibrate.Everyone will be watching your technical etiquette. Emails should stay professional. Don't send personal emails from the company account. More importantly, put the phone away. Coworkers don't want to hear your phone dinging, nor do they want to see you texting away. You need to prove yourself as committed to making a good impression on the job. Being distracted by your personal technology will get back to the boss fast.

10. When in doubt, include anyone whose opinion might count.There's nothing more relationship-killing than for you to leave out a coworker on an email that has a stake in something you are working on. When it doubt, cc the person. Worst case, they'll tell you they aren't involved and you can take them off the list. But leave them off and they find out, and you could get an earful for not realizing their importance to the project.

11. Find a trustworthy 'new hire' buddy.You are going to have lots of little questions as a new hire. You shouldn't go to your boss with all of them. Instead, identify someone who is well-respected in your department and ask if they might be willing to be your onboarding mentor for the first few months. Explain you don't want to bother your boss with lots of silly questions and hoped this person might be willing to help you out so you can get comfortable and integrate into the organization well. It's a smart way to create a new office relationship with a key player too!

12. Be the most reliable person there.Every employer's biggest fear is that they got snowed in the interview and the new hire is unreliable. Employers expect you to be at work everyday on time. They expect you to deliver your work on time and without issues. It sets off major warning bells if you are late repeatedly, calling in sick, missing deadlines, etc. Of course sometimes things can't be helped. But, I will tell you not showing a real respect for the need to be someone the company can count will make the employer very watchful of you. If they feel it's a trend that will continue over time, they would rather terminate you now then end up with an employee they've invested a ton of training and resources in who isn't reliable.


If you can leverage the tips above, you should be able to establish yourself as a effective team player with a desire to exceed expectations. You'll build positive office relationships and define yourself as a solid contributor.


The first 90 days on the job can be a career game-changer. Don't let a misguided desire to be the golden child ruin that opportunity for you!


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