New job fears
Fitting in can be one of the biggest worries when you get a new job. Image: charles taylor/Shutterstock

I have a new job, but what if I don’t fit in?

26 Jul 2017

Change is good. It’s also terrifying, and starting a new job is no different. Jane McNeill of Hays Recruitment is here to help you overcome the ‘what ifs’ of a new role.

From school and college, right up to your working life, starting somewhere new can be daunting, however friendly your new colleagues are and however great the opportunity. When it comes to starting a new job, I have seen the most (seemingly) confident people get thrown off by that new job anxiety, and I’m not surprised.

If you are starting a new job, you are, to a certain extent, taking a leap of faith. You have made a commitment to take on new tasks and work with different colleagues, all within a completely unfamiliar environment.

This decision is based solely on the research you have done and the information you have been given in the interview room. There’s a lot you still don’t know about what’s to come and what to expect.

Nevertheless, letting this new job anxiety spiral out of control can have a negative impact on your ‘breaking in’ period. It will affect your focus and will, therefore, damage your ability to concentrate properly during your inductions and introductions, as well as take in new information.

With this in mind, before you start your new job, it’s important that you anticipate what you will likely be most worried about and how you plan to overcome these fears. This will help you to stay calm and positive ahead of your first day. So, which ‘what if’ scenarios are most likely to creep up on you, and how can you approach them in a positive, practical way?

What if the commute is too much?

Whether it’s a long drive or a busy train line, you might be dreading that commute. It’s unfamiliar and longer than your last one – what if it wears you out? My advice here is to be positive because it will get easier once the journey is more familiar and you are in a routine. In the meantime, do what you can to make every journey as relaxing as possible.

First and foremost, be organised. Plan your commute, and maybe do a practice run during rush hour before your first day, just so you know what to expect. Leave early to ensure you don’t get stressed and flustered over any unexpected delays.

Think about how you can pass the time, and even be productive; whether it’s speaking to someone you have been meaning to catch up with over the phone for a while, reading a book or listening to a podcast. If you are organised about your journey, it will become one less thing to worry about and you may even look forward to it.

What if I don’t know what to do for my lunch break?

The short answer is: use it. It is important for your own productivity that you take some time to recharge, refuel and relax.

If you haven’t brought lunch into work, ask for recommendations from your colleagues on where to get food. One of them may invite you to join them, but don’t be offended if they don’t. Some people like to have their break to themselves and it’s nothing personal.

If you do go out for lunch, then stretch your legs, get some fresh air and give yourself plenty of time to get back. Don’t worry about taking a lunch break, despite being new. This is your time to give your brain a break from taking in all that information, while recharging your batteries.

What if I feel like a spare part?

Some bosses won’t give you much to do during the first few weeks, and while this is probably because they are trying to ease you in gently, it can result in you feeling like a spare part. As a new starter, you will naturally want to feel useful and of value right off the bat, proving that you were a worthy hire and are keen to get stuck in. However, it’s important to be patient and remember that a steady workflow will come in time.

Use this period to do the things that you won’t necessarily get time to do once you get into the role; from researching more about the business, such as reading product literature and the company website, to the more administrative tasks, such as setting up your email signature, desktop folders and Google Alerts.

It may also be worth your while to try and identify any small tasks and administrative jobs you could do to help out your colleagues. Just be sure to check with your boss that they are happy for you to do these. In being patient while showing a willingness to help out, you will strike the perfect balance between being proactive, but also not trying to run before you can walk.

What if I don’t understand some elements of the business?

During those early days, you will be bombarded with brand new information to learn, from the products and services of the business, to the processes and programmes used during day-to-day office life.

It may take a while to fully understand how everything works, so, if there’s something you can’t wrap your head around, then just stay calm, take notes and don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if it’s something that has been explained before. Your colleagues will remember what it’s like to be new and should be patient with you.

It is also worth remembering that often when somebody theoretically explains something to you, it’s difficult to grasp how it works in practice. It may take doing a task where you have to apply this knowledge before you can fully comprehend how it works.

With this in mind, ask for a chance to apply what you have been taught in practice to see how much you understand. In asking questions and for a chance to demonstrate your understanding, you show proactivity, self-awareness and diligence. As long as you are doing this, you give yourself the best chance of grasping new concepts, but there’s no need to panic if you don’t get it straight away.

What if I make mistakes?

Following on from your training and induction period, you will gradually start to be given tasks to complete. Remember that nobody is expecting perfection straight away. Take your time with each task to make sure you get it right, and get your boss to check over your first few pieces of work and give you feedback.

If you do make an error, don’t panic and try to conceal it. Be honest and transparent, and learn from the mistake for next time. Again, now is the time where you can afford to make mistakes – you’re new, so people will be patient and understanding. In short, instead of worrying about making mistakes, think about how you plan to handle them if and when they occur.

What if I don’t fit in?

One of the most intimidating things about starting a new job is the prospect of not fitting in with your colleagues. When you join, yes, people will have their own inside jokes, anecdotes and dynamics, but try not to feel left out. This isn’t intentional. These colleagues have simply worked together for a while and this rapport has built naturally. All you can do is be friendly, make an effort with everyone and give it time.

Do your best to remember names and job titles, and if this is something you usually struggle with, sketch out the seating plan of the office with the names and job titles of the people who sit in each place. Make an effort to talk to people and take advantage of any opportunities to socialise, even if it’s just making tea at the same time as one of your colleagues to give you the chance to strike up a conversation.

It often takes a while to feel fully part of a team, so don’t worry too much about this. All you can do is stay positive, not take anything personally, and maintain a friendly and sociable demeanour.

What if I’m compared to my predecessor?

You may have caught wind of the fact your predecessor was really good at their job. Your colleagues may be openly nostalgic about their former colleague, talking about how great they were or how much they miss them.

Again, try not to take this too personally and remember that the fact they set a high standard for this role speaks volumes about how good you must be in order to have been offered it. You were hired on your potential. Your boss and colleagues know that it will be a while before you get up to scratch with someone who has months, maybe years of experience on you.

While you should try and ascertain what they did well and how they did it, remember you will have attributes that they didn’t possess. Therefore, don’t try too hard to replicate your predecessor. Instead, focus on the unique, differentiating qualities you can bring to the role.

In summary, letting your worries get the better of you before and during those first few weeks on the job can have a negative impact on how well you settle in. It allows for the above ‘what ifs’ and worries to take hold and affect your concentration, confidence and overall performance.

However, if you take my above advice as reassurance that you are probably being too hard on yourself, and that you simply need to stay positive, communicative and organised, I am sure you can have a successful ‘breaking in’ period, which will lead to a healthy, happy career within the role.

By Jane McNeill

Jane McNeill is managing director of both New South Wales and Western Australia at Hays Recruitment.

A version of this article originally appeared on Hays’ Viewpoint blog.

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