How to Overcome New Job Jitters

Don't let your anxiety about starting a new job cripple your performance. Heed these six tips for controlling your new job jitters.

Starting a new job creates anxiety in even the most collected, experienced professionals. It's not uncommon for people to worry about their performance, ability to come up to speed and adjust to a new work environment in the days leading up to their start date, says Ben Hicks, a partner in staffing firm Winter Wyman's software technology group.

Hicks, who has witnessed his share of IT professionals second-guess their decisions to accept job offers, says the anxiety people feel upon starting a new job is no different from the nervousness they experience upon making many other major life decisions, including getting married and buying a house.

"It's change anxiety," he says. "Someone might take months in a job search, interviewing for positions, considering what direction they want to go in, and when they finally get the offer, they become conflicted and get cold feet."

It doesn't matter whether the individual had been engaged in a protracted job search or had been working in another job prior to starting a new one, says Hicks. New job jitters can be just as acute for someone who left an existing job to take a chance on a new opportunity as they are for people who had been unemployed for months or years. The fear in both situations is ending up without a job.

Indeed, the anxiety some people experience upon starting a new job can grow so debilitating that they end up quitting their jobs, or they get fired for poor performance, says Hicks.

"I've seen people quit new jobs two or three days in because they over-reacted to feeling like they're not integrating fast enough," he says. "We see people get offered jobs that they wanted all along and at the last minute they get jitters and they reject it. Then they come to us two weeks later wanting to resurrect the offer because they feel they made a horrible mistake."

Since new job anxiety stems from a fear of the unknown, the key to overcoming new job jitters is to have a clear understanding of the culture you're entering and the job you need to do. Here are six tips for getting a handle on both and for keeping your new job anxiety under control.

1. Check in with your new boss. Hicks recommends calling your new boss a week or two before your start date to find out what your boss wants you to accomplish on day one, week one and month one. The call also presents an opportunity for you to obtain materials that will help you ramp up in your new job. For example, says Hicks, software engineers might want documentation that will help them get up to speed on a product their new employer is building or on technologies the company uses with which they're not familiar.

Discussing your new job with your new boss before you start is a key survival strategy for two reasons. It helps to quell your anxiety and demonstrates that you're conscientious, says Hicks. "A boss will be more forgiving of someone if they feel that person is making an effort, trying to integrate themselves [with the team] and learn," he adds.

2. Check in with your new co-workers. You can alleviate concerns about your new workload or learning a new corporate culture by talking with a few of your soon-to-be co-workers before you start your new job. Chances are, you met one or two of them when you interviewed for the job. Ask your boss if it's ok for you to call a few of these people to learn more about the culture and day-to-day work environment. Respect their time by keeping these conversations brief. Also, have an agenda—two or three specific questions you want answered, such as, what is the workload like? What is the culture like?

"If you haven't had an opportunity before your job interviews to meet people, that two or three week period between accepting the job offer and starting the job is a great opportunity to do that," says Hicks. "The more comfortable you can get [with the job] before you start, the better."

3. Focus on your work. Your primary focus when starting a new job should be to do a good job, says Hicks. Devoting your attention to exceeding your boss's expectations of you will help ground you in your new role and assist you in earning the respect of your new coworkers, he adds. It will also ensure that you start off on the right foot.

"When jobs don't work out in the early period, it's usually for performance reasons, not because someone didn't integrate themselves into the fabric of the company," says Hicks. "If you're being pulled into a conference room&it's more than likely because you're not doing your job or because you're not doing your job well enough."

4. Make friends. In your zeal to wow your boss, you don't want to be so focused on your work that you miss out on opportunities to connect with your coworkers.

"You can develop a bad pattern early on if people go out of their way to be friendly and fold you into the social fabric [of the organization] and you squash those opportunities," says Hicks. "People don't make a second or third effort, and before you know it, you're an outsider."

5. Maintain personal routines. The change in routine that a new job often brings—particularly for people who've been unemployed for any length of time—can feel destabilizing. That's why Hicks recommends maintaining aspects of your personal routine. They will ground you when you're dealing with so much newness.

For example, if you went to the gym certain days of the week or always read before bed, continue those habits.

"The more you make those first few weeks [of your new job] like your life, the easier the transition will be," he says.

6. Be patient with yourself. Hicks says feeling anxious about starting a new job is normal. "It's part of what drives people to perform," he adds, reminding professionals who are starting new jobs to cut themselves some slack.

"When people get anxious, they get overwhelmed by the number of things they have in front of them—learning everyone's names, doing a good job," says Hicks. "Scale that down. Set mini goals that you can accomplish each day so you can pace yourself. It's going to be a process."

Meridith Levinson covers Careers, Project Management and Outsourcing for CIO.com. Follow Meridith on Twitter @meridith. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Meridith at mlevinson@cio.com.

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