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Know When to Get Out Early

March 23, 2011
by Tim Tolan
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Is Your New Job a Go or No-Go? Signals to Watch for During Your First Few Weeks
Tim Tolan
Tim Tolan

I spoke to a very bright candidate last month who accepted a job that went south very quickly. In just a matter of days he knew he had a major career mulligan to deal with. It happens. You start a new job and realize all that glitters is not gold. How are you to know? There are lots of signals to watch for in your first few weeks at a new job, but I would especially be on the lookout for these five show-stopping signs:

No On-Boarding. You arrive on your first day very excited and full of enthusiasm. You feel teenager-like jitters as you enter the building as an employee for the first time. The receptionist has no clue who you are, and you have to explain that you now work for the organization. Scary-your basic communications to the outside world don't exist on Day One. There's no laptop ready, no e-mail, and nobody has bothered to set up your voice mail. You are totally unconnected. You sit at your desk until your new boss shows up to inform you what you'll be doing-that day. Benefit information and a company credit card for business travel is an afterthought. The total lack of on-boarding is likely a sample of coming attractions. It may not get much better. Yikes!

No 30-60-90 Plan. This is essential to your early success in any new (or existing) role. You can't hit a target if one doesn't exist. How will you measure success or know if you're on track if you haven't been given the guidance or a basic roadmap of what you need to accomplish? It just won't happen. People like structure and the ability to measure their progress. And let's face it, on your first day in a new job you are clueless about what to do and what the expectations are for you in general. I always recommend the new employee deliver a 90-day plan during the interview process, so at least you've got a straw-man document you can work on with your new boss. If you don't have a 30-60-90 plan, chances are there is no plan.

No One-on-One Time. It's very important to get a steady diet of one-on-one time with your new manager during your first few weeks on board (and on an ongoing basis). Close the door; turn off cell phones and e-mail-you need to be distraction-free for 45 to 60 minutes while you and your new boss discuss what's going on. This is time that's all about you and how to improve and scale your role in the organization. But you do need an engaging participant in this discussion-your boss. He or she needs to set aside some time for you to ask questions and make sure you're on track to meet and exceed the organization's expectations for you. Without one-on-one time, it's a crapshoot. I don't like the odds.

No Structured Team Meetings. Attending your first team meeting can sometimes validate why you joined the organization (or why you need to find the exit door). A strong leader always has an agenda and a structured meeting. This is where you get to see firsthand how he leads. Is it collaborative or a complete dictatorship? If you're the only female team member, spending the first 10 minutes of a 60 minute meeting talking about the weekend sports summary may signal that you're in the Boys' Club and that's how each meeting will be run. Or is it just another 60 minutes someone stole from your Outlook calendar? Listen, observe, and see what happens.

You Feel Physically Sick. After many years as an executive team-leader, and especially since starting my search practice (and hearing all the war stories), I suggest you trust your gut. If it doesn't feel right, there's a good chance the job's just not right for you. Give it an honest try, but if you see the warning signals and things haven't improved after a few weeks, you've got to be honest with yourself and you may have to pull the plug. If your emotions tell you one thing and your experiences and gut tell you something else-you'd better listen. Life is too short. Get out early, or just know that every day isn't going to be filled with the joy and passion you deserve. Why waste your time?

Tim Tolan is a senior partner at Sanford Rose Associates Healthcare IT Practice. He can be reached at or at (843) 579-3077 ext. 301. His blog can be found at Healthcare Informatics 2011 April;28(4):48

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