Adjust to your new job

When you're the new kid, the learning curve can feel like it's practically vertical. Learn how to start off on the right foot.

Adjust to your new job

Your first week at a new job is supposed to be exciting—the start of the next adventure in your career—and you've been looking forward to doing something different. Perhaps you've made a shift into a new kind of business, leaping from law to finance or from a technology firm to a medical practice.

Whatever the case, starting a new job means you may be confronted with a range of challenges that might include new software or a fresh operating system. You're sure you're up to it, but suddenly you're faced with a learning curve that seems as steep as Mount Everest.

Don't panic. Remember those first days on your last job. You probably felt just as nervous, but after awhile, all those intimidating tasks became second nature. Here are some tips to get you over the mountain.

Ask questions

Bosses sometimes expect employees to be psychic, but it's best to ask about expectations up front. In today's work world, with more and more workers reporting to multiple bosses, remember that different people may have different preferences.

You also may be assigned a particular person, a supervisor or coworker, to whom questions should be addressed. However, in many offices, no one person holds all the answers or is always available. Therefore, it pays to identify your best sources for questions on different topics.

If you're on a team where each person's tasks are similar, you may have lots of people to choose from. Other information sources could include IT specialists for computer matters, mailroom clerks for shipping instructions and human resources personnel for protocol questions. Let everyone know you're the new kid on the block, and ask them to take the lead and guide you.

But be sure the time is right

In a really busy office, you may begin to feel like your constant questions are becoming annoying. Pay attention to what others are up to before you interrupt with a question.

Consider their body language and tone of voice. Does your coworker or boss appear harried or in the middle of something? If yes, can the question wait? Can you drop that task and work on another until a more convenient time?

Consider going to another source or accumulating multiple questions so you only have to bother the person once. Ask for a convenient time to set up an appointment, or email questions so they can be answered easily when convenient.

Take notes

This may seem like a no-brainer, but the trick to ramping up at a new job is accessing information when you need it. Make sure your how-to instructions and various lists are well-organized. If your job requires some moving around, it's no good to have a helpful Post-it back on your bulletin board. Use a portable notebook or accordion folder with labeled dividers that you can even take home for review.

Ask for examples

If you're not sure how to fill out a form or craft a document, ask for an example you can keep on file. File these samples in your notebook or folder as well.

Sign up for classes

Many companies offer complimentary courses to help employees get up to speed on a variety of tasks, from software to customer service to specialty skills such as medical coding.

Ask your supervisor for a list of available classes, an increasing number of which may be online or on CD-ROM for independent study. Many large firms post class descriptions and schedules on their intranets. Also, check software for tutorials, explore "help" sections and sift through manuals.

Finally, don't forget to take a deep breath. Your new workplace has factored in time for the learning curve. When filling a key spot in a fast-paced environment, you may feel pressured to catch up quickly. But if you do new tasks too fast, you're liable to make mistakes. If you're concerned about taking too long, talk to your supervisor and communicate your appreciation of the importance of getting tasks done correctly.