How to Make a Splash in the New Job

By Mary Ellen Slayter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 18, 2006

We all know it's important to make a good impression at an interview. But what about the impression we make once we've landed the job?

While it might feel as if all the hard work is done, Milo and Thuy Sindell know better.

In their book "Sink or Swim" (Adams Media Publishing, May 2006), they offer a step-by-step plan to survive those first three months at a new job. The book is written for a broad audience, but is particularly useful for young workers, especially those new grads making their first steps into the working world this summer.

Years of working as business and leadership consultants, as well as their own experiences as employees, left them feeling there was a real gap in the skills that new workers need to succeed and what they were bringing to the job, Milo Sindell said in an interview. After watching so many people struggle, he said, he and his wife thought, "Gosh, there has got to be a better way."

The book takes a practical approach, including a calendar with reminders at the end of each chapter. Some of the areas they consider most important:

· Goals. In Week 1, the objectives are pretty simple, concentrating on getting oriented. Make sure your work space is set up and that you have the equipment and computer passwords, etc., that you'll need to do your job. Don't just wait for people to hand this information to you, the Sindells write. While a good employer will usually have this stuff set up for you right away, sometimes that's not the case. And it may even be on purpose, they warn. "Be mindful that while your company's lack of preparation for your arrival may seem disorganized or downright rude, they may be testing to see how you adapt. Do you proactively seek out the equipment you need or sit helplessly and twiddle your thumbs? Are you relaxed and accommodating, or do you throw a hissy fit because your (already) inundated colleagues didn't drop everything to make sure your work space was wrapped up for you in a pretty red bow?"

· Time. The Sindells are big on time management, and they offer the hope that if you just get started with good habits from the beginning, you won't find yourself staring down 500 unanswered e-mails six months into your job. To that end, they offer lots of tips to develop a good organizational system. In Week 4, for instance, they talk about how to best handle distractions. (See, you must be doing pretty well if you've been at the job long enough to start getting interrupted!) Their advice: Plan for them. Assume "emergencies" will pop up, and have enough slack in your schedule so that you will be able to attend to them without getting too far behind on your other work.

· Knowledge . This category is broad, basically covering all the things you need to know to do your job. One of my favorite bits of advice in the book falls under this heading: Don't reinvent the wheel. Talk to your co-workers and find out how your predecessor did things, instead of trying to start from scratch on every little process. "No matter what you are working on, odds are that others have walked a similar path. It will save you and your company time, money and effort if you can identify and build upon existing work and resources," they write. This doesn't mean you have to keep doing things the old way, of course, but it's a place to start when you're still a newbie.

· Team. A huge part of integrating yourself into a new workplace is getting to know your colleagues and supervisors. That includes getting to know what they think about your work, as "Sink or Swim" points out in Week 6. "It's very important to gather feedback during the first weeks on the job," the Sindells write. "Imagine your horror to learn after six months on the job that you are actually not performing up to others' expectations. It's always easier to seek feedback than to have someone tell you out of the blue that you are not doing well, because then you are not psychologically prepared for the news, good or bad."

· Image. This isn't just about clothing, in "Sink or Swim." It's about creating an overall impression that you're professional. "Communication is much more than what comes out of your mouth."

Join Mary Ellen Slayter for Career Track Live, an online discussion of issues affecting young workers, at 2 p.m. July 10 at The Sindells will be her guests at the July 17 chat. E-mail her No attachments, please.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company