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Culture Clash: Fitting in at a New Job

By Eric Kimble

You've just accepted a new position as a marketing manager at a large company after spending five years in a similar job at a smaller firm. You're thrilled about the position and look forward to the challenge of learning your new responsibilities, as well as working with a group of talented coworkers. But these aren't the only things you need to consider on your first day: You also have to acclimate to a new corporate culture.

Learning the characteristics, nuances and unwritten rules of an organization can be a little like visiting a foreign country where you don't speak the language: When a new colleague casually asks you to log onto “SIMI,” locate the “Sweet Sixteen” folder, print out the “TENT” report and deliver it to “The Barracuda” in design, you may wish you had a translator.

In fact, in a recent survey by our company, four out of 10 executives polled said acclimating to a firm's corporate culture poses the greatest challenge for advertising and marketing professionals starting a job. It's true that most managers understand you need time to adapt, but they'll also take note of how you go about doing so.

Here are some tips for fitting in fast at a new job:

Follow your leader. Get to know your manager's communication preferences: Is e-mail, instant message or in-person communication preferred? Also, discuss your responsibilities and how your position fits into the grand scheme of things. You might ask questions such as: What are your immediate priorities? How often and in what form should you provide project updates? How will your performance be evaluated? Consider requesting feedback three or four weeks into the position to make sure you're on the right track.

Make friends. While you want to get to know everyone on your team, pay particular attention to those you'll need to rely on heavily. The obvious candidate would be your manager, but also reach out to colleagues with whom you'll frequently collaborate. If you're a graphic designer assigned to a particular product, it won't hurt to ask the group's marketing manager to lunch. Your goal should be to learn specifics about the other individual's role and how you can most effectively work together.

Take note of the work ethic. One company's idea of hard work may entail fielding instant messages 24/7, while another may expect you to only be available during set hours. Spend a few weeks studying how people work and notice whether your colleagues or manager accept calls or respond to e-mails from home. Also, how long do people leave for lunch, or do they sit at their desks while eating? When do colleagues arrive at work, and when do they depart? Adopt these unwritten company rules as your own.

Mind your meeting manners. There are unofficial guidelines that dictate proper decorum during group gatherings as well. Perhaps you came from a company where meetings were essentially free-for-alls in which the loudest person got the floor. But apply the same behavior during a meeting at a firm where opinions are only given when solicited, and you're bound to receive the wrong kind of attention.

Don't rock the boat. Even if you have an innovative idea for overhauling your firm's website, wait until you've established a credible reputation and rapport with your colleagues before proposing a major change. Your first priority is to earn people's trust. Once that's been established, colleagues will be more open to your suggestions.

Keep your personal opinions to yourself. In an election year like this, it's easy to bring up politics or casually mention you're attending a Hillary Clinton rally the following week. But some matters, such as your political, religious or social views, are best kept out of the office. These discussions are invariably polarizing, and you always run the risk of offending or alienating colleagues with your viewpoints, particularly when you barely know them.

Starting a new job is never easy, even if you're an excellent fit for the organization. But because first impressions count, it's important to take note of the subtler cues that represent a firm's unwritten rules. Doing so will demonstrate your professionalism and help you get off to the best possible start in your new position.

Welcoming a New Staff Member

When a new hire comes on board, it's only natural to want the person to hit the ground running. But starting a new job presents many challenges, and the learning curve can vary depending on the individual. Not only do first-time employees have to learn the responsibilities of the position, but they also must adapt to a different corporate culture.

By investing a little time and guidance up front, you can help ease this transition, setting up your new employee for success from day one.

Offer an orientation. Even if you work at a small firm that doesn't typically offer an introduction to the company, you should do your best to coordinate one. At a minimum, it should include a business overview, a tour of building facilities, details about compensation, and a review of benefits and how to register for them.

Arrange a “meet and greet.” On day one, introduce the new employee to coworkers, explaining team members' roles and how they will be working with the newcomer. This should include those in other departments whom he or she will be working with on a regular basis.

Set clear expectations. Misunderstandings are a primary cause of employee dissatisfaction. Be sure to sit down early with a new staff member to ensure the individual knows exactly what the job entails, how success will be measured as well as any “unwritten rules.” Make clear the communication preferences you have, such as e-mail or face-to-face updates.

Check in regularly. Many new staff members are hesitant to speak up for fear of appearing uninformed. Make an effort to check in with your new employee frequently - preferably informally - to see if there are any unaddressed concerns or difficulties.

Maintain an open-door policy. In addition to checking in, making yourself available to the new team member is especially critical. It's important to let the individual know from the start that you can always be approached with questions.

By helping your new hire get off on the right foot, you're ensuring he or she is well prepared to make immediate contributions to the firm. In addition, you'll likely see substantial payoffs down the road in terms of productivity, creativity and team morale.

Eric Kimble is division director of the Denver office of The Creative Group, a specialized staffing firm placing creative, advertising, marketing and web professionals on a project basis. To receive a complimentary copy of The Creative Group 2008 Salary Guide, please call 303-296-1010. For more information about The Creative Group, please visit

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