The First Six Months

Some of the best advice I ever got was from a crusty old manager at one of the first jobs I had out of college.  Being a recent college graduate (and highly educated!) I was anxious to give my advice to fellow workers, in meetings, around the break room, etc.

This gentleman, let’s call him Dale, was in a meeting with me where I had piped up with my opinion one too many times.  After the meeting he asked if I could help him with something and I went back to his office.

“You talk too much,” was the first thing out of Dale’s mouth.

“What do you mean I talk too much?” I said.

“Son, I’m going to give you some free advice that was given to me when I started working that has led me to build great relationships in every position I’ve ever had.”

Dale then went on to tell me that the first 6 months of ANY job can be considered probationary.  Sure, they’ve hired you, but they’re still trying to get a sense of what you’re capable of and how much they can trust you with.

He told me that a good rule of thumb is that the first two months of your employment you shouldn’t say much of anything in meetings unless you’re asked for your opinion directly.  Being quiet and listening intently is a great quality in a new employee and the higher ups will appreciate the fact that you’re soaking everything in.  In fact, Dale told me that if asked to elaborate, it’s okay to say, “I’m still in a learning phase here, but here are my thoughts…”

The second two months of employment are all about asking questions.  One on one meetings are your chance to dig in and ask questions to everyone you meet.  Your goal is to be as inquisitive as possible.  How does that work?  What did you mean by that?  Can you elaborate on the Q2 goals?  How did you get to be so good at this job?

Keep in mind the questions should be polite, non-confrontational, and asked purely for the chance to learn something more about your position.  What happens over several months of asking great questions is your managers will begin to see you as someone that is deeply interested in getting better at the job.  They’ll appreciate the fact that you care enough about the goals to have them elaborate on them.  You’ll win friends when asking people how they got to be so good at their job.  And ultimately, you’ll probably begin to hear people say things about how inquisitive you are and how other employees should be more like you.

After 4 months on the job, most conversations are fair game.  4-6 months is usually enough time to completely get your feet under you, have really strong relationships built, and have developed a reputation as someone that gets stuff done.

The key to making all of this work in your first real career is to take yourself down a peg or two.  Yes, you are a talented, capable new employee who is eager to share how much you know.  However, as my Dad once told me:

It’s better to keep your mouth closed and appear a fool 
than to open it and remove all doubt.

Before you can show everyone how much you know, you have to earn the right to open your mouth.  Earning the right to share opinions isn’t just a by-product of having the job — it’s gotten through building relationships, having trust from other employees, and good solid handle on what’s happening in the great company you’re working for.

When in doubt, remember the advice from Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People: Be interested, not interesting!