Allow me to introduce myself (properly)

Being the new player on the team is tough, but you can make an easier entrance with these four steps.

By Sam Grobart, Money Magazine senior editor

(Money Magazine) -- Hey! How are you? I'm Sam. Sam Grobart. I'm really thrilled to be writing this column for you. I think it's going to be great! I want you to know that I'm really easy to read and pretty darn funny. (Do you like The Office? I love it!) I'm looking forward to talking about workplace stuff, sure, but also to getting to know you all as, you know, people. Pals. Buddies. I've got a lot of super ideas I want to share; I'll start off by listing them, and then we can go back and discuss them one by one.

Probably not the most inviting way to start a column, right? And that, of course, is the point. Making a first impression is tricky business, and overdoing it, even with the best of intentions, is a classic mistake.

You have a critical window of opportunity when you start a new position; botch it and you can wind up paying (in loss of effectiveness, resentful co-workers and no lunch buddies) for months, maybe years.

But you'd better learn to deal with it. The job-for-life workplace is long gone. These days the typical worker over age 25 has been with his or her employer just five years.

Even if you stay at the same job, you can expect to be assigned at some point to a new group or perhaps relocated as part of a promotion. And being new only gets tougher as your career progresses.

Notes John Challenger, CEO of the outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas: "When you've been in the workplace longer, expectations of you are that much higher, so you have less room for error."

That's why you have to follow these four rules, starting from Day One.

Tone down the star quality

It's natural to want to impress your co-workers by sharing all of your terrific ideas right away. Resist that impulse.

Most colleagues will be threatened by your new ideas and will reflexively shoot them down.

Why? Because a) they're new ideas, and b) they're yours.

Remember, "your co-workers thought they were doing pretty well before you showed up," says Marc Cenedella, founder of the executive-search site

Instead, win over your new officemates by simply doing the job you've been assigned to do as well as you can. Then "pick out some easy wins, small accomplishments that won't ruffle anyone's feathers but will further demonstrate your competence," says Caroline Nahaf, managing director of the headhunting firm Korn/Ferry.

Maybe there's a nagging problem that everyone means to fix (say, merging the old customer database with the new one), but no one ever gets around to doing it.

There's your first job. Get a couple of minor accomplishments under your belt, and you'll earn your office's trust. After that, your ideas will be judged on their merits, not on who's proposing them.

Don't be Mr. Personality

"Start slow when you're developing relationships," suggests Bob Gotwalt of the job-placement firm DBM. "At the outset, respect is more important than friendship."

Be pleasant, be polite - but check your ebullience at the door. You don't get to make jokes for a while or spout off at meetings - gregariousness in a newcomer can be off-putting.

"It smacks of trying too hard," says Teresa Hopke, director of work-life strategies for the accounting firm RSM McGladrey.

Let your work speak for you. After a few weeks, you'll have built up enough good will to let your true self shine through.

Get the inside scoop

Here's the challenge: You want to learn the culture of your new workplace - how things are supposed to work and how they really work because of the idiosyncrasies of co-workers - as quickly as possible, but you don't want to come across as prying.

Start by figuring out which people seem to be plugged in. Then approach them with simple questions about process ("How does Ms. Jones like to be kept informed about Project XYZ?"), steering clear of questions about personalities ("What's Ms. Jones really like?").

Chances are good that knowledgeable co-workers will pepper their responses with both types of info ("Send updates by e-mail, and keep them short - Jones is a real cut-to-the-chase type").

This way you get the information you need without looking like you were angling for it.

Give 'em something to talk about

You don't have to be on your own for long. Determine who the influential people are (they are usually the ones whose opinions other people quote), and find a reason to work with them.

Get on their good side (by being competent, pleasant and professional), and you may find that a whole lot more people have started to warm to your presence.

Think of it as the workplace equivalent of a force multiplier. "Get other people to toot your horn," says Korn/Ferry's Caroline Nahaf. "Buzz created by others is far more valuable than buzz you drum up yourself."


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