Starting Well

Julie Zhuo
Aug 16, 2017 · 6 min read

This was first published on my mailing list The Looking Glass. Every week, I answer a reader’s question.

Photo by Paul B

Starting a new job well

Your article about staying in the discomfort zone really resonated with me, as I just left my job of more than 6 years to take up a product management role in a different company. I’m excited about the change and I can’t wait to get started.

Along with that excitement comes the discomfort and ‘new job nerves’, as I keep thinking through questions like “How will I gain the trust of the team?” and “What will my new manager be like to work with?” What are your thoughts on how to get started off well at a new job?

When this question first hit my inbox a few months back, I thought “Great question! But I’ve been at the same company for 11 years so I’m not sure my experience is that relevant.” Then, after being away from the office for seven weeks — two visiting remote offices and five for a family vacation — I returned to discover a bunch of new faces, new projects starting to spin up, and a Jeffersonian moment of asking “What did I miss?”

It dawned on me that in a company as fast growing and rapidly changing as Facebook, I often have the sensation of being in a new job working with a new group of people. I’ve also had the good fortune of helping to ramp up many wonderful new colleagues over the years. Here’s what I’ve seen work best for getting started off well:

Build relationships

The funny thing about being the new person is that there’s one of you and lots of everyone else. It may feel like the odds are stacked against you as you’re trying to remember everyone’s name, but this effort is super worthwhile because at the end of the day, most of our job revolves around working with others, and nothing affects our happiness more than the people we’re surrounded by.

So, your first several weeks should be spent proactively scheduling time to meet with anyone you may work with or learn from. Ask if they’d be willing to get coffee or lunch with you — you’d be surprised by how many people are generous with their time. Beyond gaining a clear picture of who works on what, take this time to forge friendships and ask personal questions. Seek to understand what makes people tick and what’s really important in their lives. In addition to these being rich and enjoyable conversations, as you grow more familiar with your co-workers on a personal level, you’ll be better able to challenge and support each other on the job.

With each person you get together with, ask “Is there anyone you’d recommend I should meet with as I’m getting starting and looking to learn more about the team/project/company?” This can help expand your network and give you steps towards relationships beyond just the people on your immediate team.

After each meeting with someone new, follow up with a brief thank you message highlighting something you learned or appreciated about the meeting, and a thought on how you may work together, or when it could make sense to get together again, so as to start laying some pavement towards an ongoing collaboration.

Of particular note, developing a strong relationship with your manager is critical, as your manager should be your first and best ally to make you thrive. Therefore, don’t fall into the trap of aiming to be perfect and hoping your manager doesn’t notice any flaws. Rather, be honest and vulnerable with your manager right from the start on what you hope to achieve, and where you’d like help. Your manager’s goals are aligned with yours, and being open about your areas for growth will lead to greater more trust and support.

Ask deep questions — every “what” should be followed by a “why”

You’ll likely be drinking new information from a firehose in your new role, buried under a pile of digital documents recounting the collective work of your organization for the past several months, or even years. What internal posts, polished presentations, and roadmap documents often lack are the thinking that went into all those decisions.

How can you unpack the tough dilemmas and trade-offs that live in the collective consciousness of your team, but are rarely written down? Your most powerful tool is: “Why?”

As you take meetings to build relationships and understand what people are working on, dig a click or two deeper into the rationale behind your team’s work, and how they arrived at the current state of the world. “Why did we build this?” “Why are we working on that?” “Why did we select this metric as our goal?” You may worry about coming across like a curious toddler asking simple-minded questions where the answer should be obvious, but more often than not, people don’t ask these questions often enough. At the very least, it helps you ramp up faster and with a clear understanding of what your team’s purpose is. Sometimes, those simple questions can do more: a report of mine once asked “why is the team structured the way it is?” and in the process of answering it, I realized that she was right — the structure didn’t really make sense. With that one question, she nudged me towards the path of redesigning my org structure. I’ve known other n00bs who, in the process of asking about their team’s goals, helped their teammates uncover assumptions that were no longer valid.

Ask what you can do for the company, not what you can do to get ahead.

A common perspective when starting in a new role is to look inward, wondering “What steps can I take to be successful here?” I once had a new hire on my team who, in our first 1:1 meeting when I asked her what her goals are, she said without hesitation “I want to get a promotion.” I appreciated her ambition, and it was refreshing how she knew what she wanted so clearly, but I made sure to emphasize that a promotion comes as result of having impact. If you’re too focused on yourself, trying to make a good impression or “say the right things to the right people” rather than thinking about adding real value to the company, it’s likely you’ll fall short on both fronts.

I’ve known many a new person who felt like they needed to jump in and start talking in meetings and expressing opinions on everything with false confidence. Usually, this comes off very obviously, and the new person often shows their lack of experience. Don’t rush it! In fact, the more senior you are, the more you should take time to understand things before charging in to try and change them. Bigger victories will come over the long run, built on well substantiated plans, strong relationships, and teams working effectively together in alignment.

Everything is new

Even without starting a new job, you may find yourself in a situation where you join a new team, kick off a new project, or work with new people. It can be powerful to maintain a fresh set of eyes to always look at yourself and your role as if this were just the beginning. We often say at Facebook that this journey is 1% done, with plenty of new beginnings ahead. Best of luck in conquering those new job nerves and setting off on your new adventure!

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The Year of the Looking Glass

A collection of essays by Julie Zhuo on design, building…

The Year of the Looking Glass

A collection of essays by Julie Zhuo on design, building products, and observing life.

Julie Zhuo

Written by

Currently: Inspirit. Former Product Design VP @ FB. Author of The Making of a Manager Find me @joulee. I love people, words, and food.

The Year of the Looking Glass

A collection of essays by Julie Zhuo on design, building products, and observing life.