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How can I adapt to a new work environment?

Student Career Placement Consultant

Three women laugh together with their computers in an office lounge. (Photo via #WoCinTechChat)Starting a new job or internship can cause a great deal of anxiety, because (typically) you're entering an unknown environment. Your only experience is likely to have been job interview(s) or other interactions with someone from human resources, or possibly the hiring manager. You may have had a brief tour of the facility, but other than that and your in-depth perusal of the organization’s website, you just can’t know what it’s really like until you’re working in the organization.

In this post, I’ll make some suggestions for things you can do as a newcomer, whether you’ll only be there a few hours a week as an intern or putting in 40+ hours per week as a full-time employee, to make that transition easier. Keep in mind that these suggestions will be useful to you whether this is your first work experience or your tenth new job: Entering a new environment is always stressful, but you can gain confidence with experience and preparation.

Pay attention

One of the most important things you can do as a newcomer is fine tune your observation skills. Notice how people act and dress, who they go to when they have problems, how they communicate with one another, what kind of schedule they keep, whether and how they celebrate accomplishments or employees’ personal milestones, and where they congregate to socialize (either in the office or outside, at lunch or after work). All of those things pertain to the workplace culture of the organization, and to be successful in an organization, you need to fit in with the culture.

Every organization is going to be just a little different, and you want to practice noticing the important aspects of the culture so you can decide if you already fit in with the values and behaviors of this organization or whether you need to make changes to do so ... or if you even want to fit in (some jobs turn out to be stepping stones and learning experiences, not long-term sources of satisfaction).

Complete assignments on time

Your professors may have been willing to extend a deadline or give you an incomplete, but your boss probably won’t. If you’re given an assignment and no deadline is mentioned, ask when they want it and finish it by that date (or before). Another essential habit to develop is showing up at work on time and staying until quitting time (or later, on occasion, if requested or if it’s to your advantage to do so).

Ask questions

f you’re given an assignment and you don’t understand exactly what they want done, ask questions right then. As an intern or a new employee, you are not expected to know how to do everything. You are much better off asking questions at the start than doing the work incorrectly and being asked to do it over.

Ask for feedback

When you complete a task, make sure you know what you did wrong as well as what you did right. This will help you learn quickly, make fewer errors, and impress your boss with your professionalism. Seek constructive criticism and respond to it positively and with gratitude. You don’t want to wait for a quarterly—or even an annual—evaluation to know what you need to do to improve.

Look for opportunities to volunteer

Listen closely in meetings for mention of tasks that people wish they had time to do or wish someone had already done and, if it’s something you can handle, volunteer to take on that task. If you make sure that you don’t let the volunteer tasks interfere with your regular duties, this type of activity will demonstrate your concern about helping to achieve the overall goals and mission of the organization as well as your willingness to be part of the team.

Build your network

Make sure that you meet as many people as possible in the organization and take advantage of opportunities to interact with clients or customers. Be prepared to tell them about yourself, but first ask them to tell you about their careers. Almost everyone will be pleased that you’re interested in learning more about them and will remember you, especially if you can find a way to relate what you hope to do in your career with what they’re currently doing or have done in the past.

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