February 14, 2013

How to Strike a Balance Between Proactive & Too Eager at a New Job

strike a balance

Think back to your first week after you successfully landed a new job. You were probably some combination of excited, nervous and anxious. You were so ready to get started and show off all those skills that landed you the job in the first place. But at the same time, you were worried about making a good impression and not making mistakes. You wanted your team and boss to know they made the right decision by hiring you, and you couldn’t wait to prove yourself.

Sound familiar? I know I was in that exact position when I started at both the PR agencies I’ve worked for. I was eager and excited to tackle every task that came my way, but I was also a bit apprehensive about vocalizing my opinions and thoughts because I was “the new girl” (I was WAY too apprehensive for too long, but that’s a topic for another post!).

If you read this blog even semi-frequently and/or interact with me online, you know I’m part of the Help a PR Pro Out (HAPPO) initiative (I’m the Michigan Champ) that aims to connect job seekers with employers in the communications field through online efforts. If you’re in Michigan, you may want to subscribe to my HAPPO Michigan Report (please and thank you!). Part of my duties as a Champ is to share advice for job seekers. While this organization caters to people in communications industries, I try to share advice that can apply to any field – so don’t tune out if you aren’t in PR!

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what a new hire should ideally do and not do when first starting a new job. After talking with a friend (not in the PR industry) who is experiencing some challenges with a new team member fresh out of college, I realized problems can quickly arise if a new hire is too zealous. You have to find the right balance between being a proactive and hard worker, but also not pushing the boundaries too quickly when you’re new at a company (unless of course you’re hired to fix something that’s broken – then you have all the right in the world to disrupt and rebuild!).

So, if you’re new to a company or will be joining one soon, here’s my advice on how to find that ideal balance:

  • Be an efficient worker, but don’t plow through your tasks too quickly just to impress your boss. Every manager loves an employee who can complete tasks before deadlines and produce great work at the same time. What you don’t want to do is focus so much on getting things done quickly that you compromise the quality of the work. If you finish a task/project quickly but it’s riddled with grammatical errors or is missing certain components that your manager asked you to include, then the speed in which you finished the task is completely irrelevant. 
  • Speak up, but don’t try to change something when change isn’t needed. I think it’s so incredibly important for someone new at a company to voice his/her opinion, ask questions and offer up new ideas. But, don’t cross the line of trying to change processes/procedures that existed long before you came on board simply because you feel like you need to spice things up. I’m all for change when change is necessary, and a manager shouldn’t be afraid to implement new ideas from his/her team members. I don’t buy into the “We’ve done things this way all along, and there’s no reason to change” mentality because you should always be thinking about how you can do things better. However, new hires have to recognize when disrupting the system is and isn’t warranted.
  • Learn the ropes before offering new solutions. This goes along with the above point. When you’re new to a company, you should be a sponge that soaks up as much knowledge and information as possible about the company, your coworkers, the culture, the products/services and the clients/customers. Once you’re through your training, have a strong understanding of how everything operates and have the opportunity to get your hands dirty with some real work, only then should you start having discussions about how things could be done differently or better. If you simply go off what’s being shared with you and assume it’s the wrong strategy without actually testing the water, you’re making a big mistake that could jeopardize your relationship with your manager(s).
  • Put in enough effort before determining something won’t work. Again, building off the point above. Maybe you immediately realize you’re going to have communications challenges with a coworker or client because your personalities clash. Or, maybe you’re assigned to a client in an industry you have absolutely no interest in and assume you’re going to hate every second you work with this company. Don’t immediately complain to your manager. Give it some time, and see if you’re able to overcome your challenges. I can’t give you a specific time period because it will be different for each person/situation, but if you feel like you’ve tried your hardest and you’re still having the same problems, then it’s time to have a discussion with your manager. Remember to always come to the table with solutions rather than simply complaining and waiting for someone else to solve your problem for you.

I know I’m missing some things, so I would love to hear your feedback. How can new employees find the right balance between being proactive and too eager too quickly to make their mark at a company? 

** Side note: The first HAPPO Twitter chat of 2013 will take place Monday, February 18 at 9 p.m. EST. The topic is: “How to build and sustain a mentor relationship.” All you have to do to participate is follow the #HAPPO hashtag on Twitter and share your answers to the questions, or ask your own. Join in for advice from some amazing pros all across the country!

Photo Credit: Evil Erin via Compfight cc