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Your First 90 Days

By Andy Wang You’ve landed the job you’ve had your eye on for a while. Now the difficult part begins. Forget the idea of a honeymoon period. It’s time to get to the hard work, right now, because the first 90 days of any job can mean everything. They can be the difference between a quick, linear path to a seat on the board of directors or years stuck in cubicle world, lunching at your desk, toiling for little reward. How to make your first 90 days count: Before You Start “You need to hit the ground running two weeks before you walk in,” says Michelle Smith, senior vice president and in­vestment officer at Wachovia Securities. Not preparing properly, Smith says, is a recipe for disaster. “At the minimum, did you read last year’s annual report? There is no excuse for not having information when you walk in.” At Goldman Sachs, Fiona Erskine-Smith, vice president of learning and professional development, notes that senior new hires within certain departments receive a book about the company, as well as a book about navigating the first 90 days of a new job. She advises studying resources like those, along with company information that can be easily found on the Internet, to help you enter your new job on a good note. Get In Shape Because the early days of any job can be a grind, it’s important to be physically prepared. Eat well, sleep well, exercise, do anything you can to keep your energy level up going in. “It’s like getting ready for a long race, a marathon where you’re sprint­ing at the beginning,” says Laura Berman Fortgang, president of life coaching company InterCoach and author of the book Now What? 90 Days to a New Life Direction (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2005). “If there’s any way you can reorganize your life to make it easier to get through this, do it.” Do Your Homework Learn all you can about your new employer. Researching your company and industry can help you predict trends and make your name by delving into areas your co-workers and competitors haven’t considered or wouldn’t ever consider. “I started thinking about ways I could make a difference, went to the company Web site, talked to people in the company, read all I could,” says Gloria Johnson Goins, vice president of diversity and inclusion at The Home Depot. The key is also to get help from the right people and put yourself in the position to get these opportunities Lunch, Lunch, Lunch The first weeks of a job can be difficult because you don’t know what you don’t know. What are the company’s unofficial policies, how do you weave your way through politics that predate you, how does most communication occur in the company? Make sure you understand how things work before you try to change things. “We encourage people not to do too much too soon,” says Erskine-Smith of Goldman Sachs. “It’s a very strong culture here, and it’s working as a team that will get someone ahead, as opposed to acting in a counterproductive way. You don’t want to come in and try to change the world until you know what the world is actually about. We want people to ask lots and lots of questions.”

Get a Mentor It’s vital to have an ongoing dialog with somebody who knows the company well. Within the first month of her job, Johnson Goins reached out to The Home Depot’s longest-tenured senior officer and asked him to be her mentor. “I have met with him monthly for two and a half years,” she says. “He’s really made the difference in my career in terms of navigating a very large company.” It’s imperative to quickly identify the people at your business who can help you and figure out how to get in front of them. Say it Right It’s also important to know what to say and how to say it. If you’re not a good speaker, practice or get coaching. “Men are more likely to invest the time and money to develop speaking skills and seek out opportunities where they can gain visibility,” says Catherine Kaputa, founder of brand strategy company SelfBrand and author of the new book U R a Brand!: How Smart People Brand Themselves for Business Success (Davies-Black Publishing, April 2006). “I’ve worked with a lot of executives. Men have a much better network in place. Women generally don’t have the same kind of network.” Know Your Strengths Know what your strengths are and how you can use them to quickly make an impact. “One thing that can set you apart immediately is taking charge in just the right way,” says Laurel Touby, founder and CEO of media networking and job-search Web site “It’s a fine line you’re walking, because too often people take charge and overstep, and they look like an idiot when they don’t deliver.” Touby recalls one salesperson who came in, promised to sell hundreds of thousands of dollars in banner advertising, barely sold enough to cover his salary and is no longer employed at After 90 Days Yes, there’s a lot of sizzle involved in the first 90 days, but ultimately it’s about the steak. Women looking to advance their careers can’t simply wait for things to happen. They have to make things happen. “We all know smart, talented people who are not successful and who are maybe unemployed,” Kaputa says. “It’s about people who harness their assets.” And if your first three months have already ended, then now is the time to begin.

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