What to ask when starting a new job

To be successful in a new job, it’s essential to have a clear idea of your role and what you are expected to deliver. Photo: Freepik

To be successful in a new job, it’s essential to have a clear idea of your role and what you are expected to deliver. Photo: Freepik

Published Sep 19, 2023


MaryAnne Isaac

Creating a strong personal image and building momentum early on can catapult you in your career - positively impacting your success and leaving little room for failure.

It is essential to stay focussed on the right things - the positive things – so that you don’t take on too much or waste precious time. For this reason, it is necessary to have clarity on what you are expected to bring to the workplace and how it can impact your career.

Michael Watkins, a professor at IMD and Harvard Business Review columnist, shares five vital questions to ask yourself when starting a new job.

How will I create value?

Why were you put in this role? What do key stakeholders expect you to accomplish? What is the time frame? How will your progress be assessed? As you seek to answer these questions, keep in mind that the real answers may not be what you were told when you were appointed or recruited for the job. Your role may also evolve as things progress and you learn more. Remember, too, that you will probably have multiple stakeholders to satisfy - not just your boss - and that they may have divergent views of what constitutes “success”. It’s essential to understand the full set of expectations so you can reconcile and satisfy them to the greatest degree possible.

How am I expected to behave?

Unless you have been hired to change the culture of your new organisation, you should strive to understand and conform to its most important norms of behaviour. Think of culture as the organisation’s immune system. It exists in large measure to prevent “wrong thinking” and “wrong behaving” from infecting the social organism. So you violate key norms of behaviour at your peril - becoming viewed as “not belonging here” can lead to isolation, and ultimately to derailment. As you seek to understand key norms, keep in mind that they may differ across the organisation.

Whose support is critical?

Your success is likely to depend on people over whom you have no direct authority, so you need to build alliances. The starting point for doing this is to understand the political landscape of your new organisation and learn to navigate it. Who has power and influence? Whose support is crucial and why? Armed with this insight, you can then focus on how you will secure their backing. Usually this involves more than just building relationships. You need to understand what others are trying to accomplish and how you can help them. Reciprocity is the firmest foundation on which to build allies.

How will I get some early wins?

Leaders in transition energise people by getting early wins - quick, tangible improvements in the organisation that create a sense of momentum. Done well, they build your credibility, accelerate your learning, and win you the right to make deeper changes in the organisation. You need to identify the most promising ways to make a quick, positive impact and then organise to do so as efficiently and effectively as possible.

What skills do I need to excel in this role?

As Marshall Goldsmith, the renowned executive coach put it, “What got you here, won’t get you there”. The skills and abilities that got you to this point in your career may not be the ones (or all of the ones) you need to be successful in your new job - and it’s all too easy to fall into the comfort-zone trap.

Put another way, to become fully effective in your new role, you will probably have to do some personal development. This doesn’t mean you can’t get off to a good start immediately, but the sooner you understand what new capabilities you need to develop to excel in the role, the better. Failure to grasp this essential point diminishes the potential for future career advancement.

As you start a new role, ask yourself these five questions - and keep asking them on a regular basis.