New kid on the team? Here’s how to add value and earn respect.
By Jackie Miller, Senior Director of Partnerships at Venture for America
During the early days of my career, I was often the youngest, least-experienced person in the room. Although it was tempting to chalk this up to my own prodigy status, I instead took advantage of the opportunity to learn from those wiser and more experienced than myself. But I know it’s not always easy to be the least-experienced one. At my very first job out of college, I hired and managed (and sometimes fired) dozens of temps 10+ years my senior—not a simple task. And it always amazed me that older colleagues and clients wouldn’t hesitate to ask, “How old are you, anyway??” though it would have been totally unacceptable for me to reciprocate with the same question. (Which is the first hot tip, by the way—never do that.) Here’s what I’ve learned about making a great impression when you’re the new kid on the team.
1) Prove your worth
The first few months of any new job are all about proving your value and putting in the time, and that’s especially critical when you‘re one of the less experienced members of the team. Even if you notice that more senior colleagues or coworkers who have been there longer come in a bit later, are lax with the dress code, or are taking some leisurely time off, don’t assume that means you should follow suit. To earn this kind of flexibility, you have to first build trust and respect by putting in time and effort to prove your effectiveness and commitment. If you give 110% and over-deliver early on at the job, you’ll earn more leeway down the line. Your first few months are the time to show up early (unimpeachably dressed), stay late, and take on the less glamorous tasks—i.e. probably not the time for taking the unlimited vacation policy for a joy ride or for announcing a new volunteer gig that requires you to leave early on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and sometimes Fridays.
2) Dress for success
There is some truth to the Silicon Valley adage that you can always identify the most important people in the room because they’re dressed the schlubbiest. The more senior you are, the more you’ve probably earned the right to play it fast and loose with the dress code. Many offices have unofficial, casual dress codes, but when I’m the youngest person at a company or on a team, I often aim to overdress just a bit, to sidestep the assumption that I’m not experienced enough for the task or meeting. This is doubly true for external meetings. Even though my nonprofit has a pretty casual dress code, when I have external meetings, especially with a big firm or financial institution, I dress the part. Besides, I always feel more comfortable and confident when I’m not self-conscious about wearing the wrong thing.
3) Google your way to victory
Do your homework. There’s always a lot to learn at a new job, and by studying old blog posts, annual reports, board or committee lists, past meeting notes, and customer/client pipelines, etc., you’ll be a few steps ahead, retain more information in meetings, and impress your colleagues. Always keep a running list of unfamiliar terms and names that come up in meetings or conversations and look them up on your own time. The same goes for any of the platforms or tools your company uses—there are plenty of tutorial videos online, and no reason not to study up in advance. My newest team member impressed me by watching several Salesforce tutorials before we sat down for the formal training. Leverage your teammates to learn as much as you can, and don’t be afraid to ask questions—but it’s always a good idea to resolve something with a good old-fashioned Google search if you can.
4) Seek professional growth (but get your job done first)
When you’re in a new or entry-level role, take the opportunity to explore other ways to add value and learn about the work other teams are doing. Showing the initiative to expand your impact and develop new skills is always a positive. But keep in mind that these extracurriculars should always be in addition to performing your core goals and job description. Are you already meeting and exceeding expectations at your core job? That’s the time to start using your extra time (probably not more than 10%) to explore other areas of interest and develop new skills.
5) Study the problems before proposing a solution
Maybe you have some great ideas and prescient vision—that’s great! But keep in mind that your team has probably already tested a lot of ideas (including some of the ones you have), so it’s always smart to get a sense of what they’ve already tried before making suggestions. Week one might not be the time to request a sit down with your CEO to propose your vision for a radical new direction for the company. Once you get to know the problems really well, you’ll be better positioned to come up with innovative solutions.
6) Check yourself before you wreck yourself
When you’re taking on a new project, ask for feedback early and often so you don’t go too far down the road in the wrong direction. It’s great to build something new, but make sure it’s something that your company actually needs.
Onward and upward
The first few months on the job are your shot at making a great professional first impression. When you’ve found the right team, being one of the youngest or least-experienced members means a real opportunity for growth and mentorship—and if you play it right, when you’re running the place, you’ll get the chance to hire the kind of entry-level archetype you helped create.
What advice do you have for the youngest or least-experienced members of a team? Share your ideas with us in the comments!