Are You Feeling Overwhelmed and Incompetent In Your New Job?
I almost feel guilty telling you this, but I love starting a new job. While I know that for many people a new job can feel overwhelming at times and, as a result, maybe even leave you feeling incompetent, for me it's a clean slate … the perfect time to create a good impression that will last well beyond the start-up period. But we're not here to talk about me. This is about helping YOU get started on the right foot, before insecurities about yourself take control and leave you feeling lost, stupid or worse.
How not to get overwhelmed when starting a new job
I mentioned that it's important not to let insecurities take control. But I know that it's easy to feel small in a new workplace. It's kind of like starting in a new high school, where all the kids already know each other – and have a secret language and their own way of doing things. Here's the thing about new jobs … it's the one time when you don't have to know it all, apart from those particular skills you told them you have. And even then, different companies may have different methods even for things you've done before. So even the most talented people can feel momentarily incompetent. But if you are being asked to take on something that you aren't familiar with, the one thing you shouldn't do is pretend everything is fine and try to hide what you don't know. It doesn't get better just from hope. You need to find a way to communicate what you need as soon as possible. That's a smart move for both you and your employer.
Warning signs to watch out for after you start
While there may be times when bosses or coworkers like to put a new person to the test, in most cases people simply don't realize what kinds of things a new employee doesn't know about within the context of a new company. So this is not to blame them for forgetting how they felt when they started, but you need to be aware of the kinds of warning signs to be on alert for:
- Lots of buzz words you never heard of
- Names of people you're being asked to contact that you don't know enough about
- People assuming you already know their internal processes
- Being asked to make decisions about things when you don't have enough facts
- Being put of the spot as an expert in an area where you don't yet have the required skills
- The first signs of feeling lost by what you're being asked to handle
Beware the self-fulfilling prophecy!
I'm not sure if you've ever experienced this, but if you keep telling yourself you can't do something or that you're too stupid to learn, you actually don't do as well as people who believe that they can figure things out one way or another. Our minds can be powerful allies, but they can also get in our way. And when we are in circumstances like starting a new job, we're already feeling a bit insecure, and that can trigger all our old feelings where we just didn't feel we were good enough or maybe even memories of things that went wrong. And you can get into a state of being on alert for the bad, closing you off to hearing and seeing what it is that you need to take in. So the best thing you can do for yourself when all those feelings of not being good enough or even failing miserably come up, is to take a few deep breaths and just be aware that your mind needs to stay open. And you need to take actions that will help you succeed despite some of those creeping self doubts!
How to make sure you get what you need
When you notice any of the warning signs above – or just in general are starting to feel lost and are too afraid to admit your "stupidity" – you need to realize that probably the stupidest thing you can do in that situation is to NOT speak up … or at least not to seek out new information to get you the knowledge you need. This is a time for action on your part. And for seeking out the best people to turn to for the information you need. It could be your boss or someone who has been especially friendly and helpful already. It's important to build work relationships and allies anyway, so this is a great time to start. Go in strength. Make notes ahead of time and organize your thoughts, so rather than coming off as lost, you come off as someone who is professional, has it together, and is simply seeking important information in order to get the job done. This way you present a picture of someone who is determined to do well – and knows how to get what they need. Nice thing is that this approach can also helps change YOUR mindset and the way you are feeling about yourself. And please don't forget to go over all the materials you were given to read and even turn to the internet to research terms or things you aren't familiar with. Knowledge can be power!
What if it's not working no matter how hard I try?
If your employer leaves no room for ramp-up time or for asking questions that are clearly meant to help you do your job better, that could be a huge warning sign. If they make you feel stupid this early in the game, odds are this is the way they operate. Then again, sometimes it's just not the right job for you. Not your fault! So whether it's the wrong skill fit or the wrong boss, you at least want to get that resume dusted off. If you are honestly doing your best and still being made to feel incompetent or are overwhelmed by the job no matter how much help you get, then there is no shame in cutting your losses and finding something that's a better fit. It happens.
Some final thoughts
Hopefully these tips will get you over that initial hump so many of us feel when we are in a new work environment. Just remember to believe in yourself and that you will find a way. And no matter what doubts come into your head, keep trying and asking for more help even if you make a few mistakes at first. A new job is a perfect time to listen, be open to learning, look for allies, ask questions, and do your best.