Fatal mistakes when starting a new job
Whether you're changing jobs in mid-career or starting your first full-time gig as a new grad, here's how to avoid common - and dangerous - errors.
By Anne Fisher, FORTUNE senior writer

(FORTUNE) - Congratulations on landing that new job! Now, listen to some scary statistics: About one-quarter of all new hires won't make it through their first year, according to research from the Employment Policy Foundation. And that may be a conservative estimate: Almost half - 46% - of rookies wash out in the first 18 months, found Leadership IQ, a training firm that studied 20,000 newly hired employees over three years.

These dire numbers don't just apply to the lowly rank and file. In fact, other studies suggest that the higher up in an organization you climb, the more likely you are to fail. Indeed, 53% of managers and executives brought on board from outside are gone within a year, according HR consultants Development Dimensions International.

Quiz
Succeed in your new job?
Whether you're changing positions mid-career or starting your first real job out of college, new hires face common pitfalls. Do you know how to avoid them?
1. Five minutes from now, you will step on to an elevator whose only other passenger is your company's CEO, whom you haven't met before. You are most likely to:
Be completely tongue-tied and say nothing.
Introduce yourself and give a 30-second summary of the work you're doing and why you're excited about it.
Chat about the weather.

Obviously, when you start a new job, you want to impress your co-workers and bosses so you'll thrive. Milo Sindell and Thuy Sindell, Ph.D., a husband-and-wife team of consultants for clients like Charles Schwab (Research), Cisco Systems (Research), Wells Fargo (Research), and Yahoo! (Research), have written a book called Sink or Swim (Adams Media, $14.95) that just might help. They've also got a web site, www.hitthegroundrunning.com, that offers in-depth interactive training for newbies.

"In our consulting work, we saw a real need for a blueprint that would give new hires a manual for success," says Milo.

"Our goal here is to spare people unnecessary misery," agrees Thuy.

Some excerpts from our recent conversation:

Q. Why do so many new hires wash out in their first year?

Milo: A big reason is that a huge percentage of new employees, including new managers, are not clearly told what they were hired to do or what their goals should be for the first six months and the first year.

Thuy: They also usually aren't told where to find information that they need, so they spend a lot of time reinventing the wheel - and their managers think they're idiots for wasting so much time and not asking colleagues or bosses for help.

Q. What are some "red flags" that might indicate you're in trouble in a new job?

Thuy: One is, if you don't know why you are doing something. If you don't know your goals or what success looks like, you can't succeed. Another red flag would be if you frequently find your mouth open. You need to listen at least five times as much as you talk.

Milo: It's a warning sign, too, if no one on your team comes up to you and tells you they're glad you're on the team. If you don't know what your team wants from you and how they want it, you haven't got a chance.

Q. Suppose there are people with hostile attitudes or petty turf concerns who are really hoping you'll fail at this job? How can you deal with that?

Milo: Three things. First, try to bring to the surface the reasons behind the attitude. Ask questions to understand what's really going on. Second, change the conversation. Focus on the goals of the group, team, or company.

Thuy: And third, rise above. If all else fails, you need to be the one who takes the higher road.

Q. Your book emphasizes the first 12 weeks in a new job as being the most crucial for laying a solid foundation. What is most important for someone just starting his or her first job out of college?

Thuy: Meet as many people as you can, and explore lots of different opportunities and areas of interest. Constantly look for chances to build your experience.

Milo: Make sure you deliver on every commitment that you make.

Q. In Sink or Swim, you write that each of us is our own champion at work. What does that mean?

Thuy: Since 2001, Americans have lost 2.3 million jobs to layoffs. Like it or not, if you want to remain marketable no matter what, it's your responsibility.

Milo: Successful people know themselves. As a new employee, you need to know what you value, and what success looks like for you. Not all of us want to be the CEO. If you have a clear mental picture of your own success, it will help you understand what skills you need to develop, and recognize opportunities to do that.

Hear, hear.

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.