4 Costly Mistakes that Can Ruin Your Job

If you make listening and observing your occupation, you will gain much more than you will by talking.

— Sir Robert Baden-Powell, Founder of the Boy Scouts

A beginning is a very delicate time.”  Starting a new job can be a trying experience.  Especially if you were out of work for a while, moved into a new industry or even an entirely new line of work.  There are a host of unknowns; unfamiliar faces, opaque office politics and where exactly is the bathroom?

If you want to excel in your new job, there are a number of behaviors you should avoid, to make your life easier in your new role  and put yourself in the best position to be successful.  In this article, I discuss four costly mistakes that can ruin your job and give you some useful techniques to keep yourself from making them.

1. Stressing Yourself Out

According to a survey done by the American Institute of Stress (who knew there was even such an organization?), the most common cause of stress on the job is your workload.  So, don’t try to impress your new boss by taking on too much, too soon.  Give yourself a little time to acclimate  to your new environment before you try to balance the world on your shoulders!

Better time management in the workplace can reduce stress levels.  Are you a night owl who has trouble getting into work by 9?  I would suggest going to sleep earlier so you can be up and out of the house earlier and be at your desk by 8 o’clock, or even 7:30.  This might sound like an impossible task, but the benefits can be tremendous.

The best time to catch up on work is in the morning, before everyone else is in the office.  It’s quiet, there are fewer people chatting around you and no one calling, emailing or instant messaging and interrupting your flow.  Switching from a night bird to an early bird is an excellent way to reduce your stress level by keeping up with your workload.

2. Being Afraid to Ask Questions

Almost everyone at your new job has been there longer than you.  They already know the routine, the jargon, the procedures, everything.

And you don’t.

But that doesn’t mean you should feel insecure and try to act like you’re a company veteran after just a few days or weeks.  There is a lot for you to learn and most places don’t have a formal orientation program for new hires.  So, if there is something you need to know, you’re going to have to ask someone.

Always be polite and remember to thank your informational benefactor for helping you out.  And avoid asking the same question twice.  It will quickly start to annoy your co-workers and they will start to wonder why you can’t retain the answer.  Which leads us to our next behavior to avoid…

3. Don’t Skimp on Taking Notes

Take notes. Lots of notes.

There will be so much new information thrown your way that you will probably feel like you’re drinking from a firehose.

When you enter a new job, you will often be facing a steep learning curve and expected to pick up quickly. However well you remember the information you heard ten minutes ago, after writing a five-page report, getting four new sets of instructions, and drinking three cups of coffee, your memory may not be as good.

Be sure to take notes on subjects that are not your strong suit and don’t be too proud to let people seeing you doing it.  Pretty soon, your co-workers will stop taking notice and disregard which topics you take notes on as opposed to others. Plus, you’ll never forget anything, because everything you learned will be in your notes.

One thing you can do with that stockpile of notes is start a how-to guide, with detailed instructions on different procedures that you can reference. You can create a notebook in Evernote and make a table of contents for easy access. This will also help you avoid pestering people for information, saving time and making you appear more competent.  (See Is Your Life Full of Clutter? Organize It with Evernote! )

After you become a veteran at the company, you can offer your guide to a new employee to help them get up to speed faster.   This is a great way to give back to your new firm and “pay it forward”.

4. Telling Everyone What They’re Doing Wrong

Learn first, criticize later.

In terms of costly mistakes that can ruin your job, this is one of the worst.  Always be open to change when starting a new job, and try to understand why this new company chooses to do things a different way. Are they more efficient than your methods?

Also be sure to let your colleagues become used to your presence and working with you, and allow yourself to become established as a competent  employee before recommending any changes. Avoid the “bull in the china shop” mentality, where you walk into a new place and start criticizing and telling everyone how much better things worked where you came from- make sure you’ve been there long enough that people feel a camaraderie with you and trust your judgement. People generally do not take criticism well, and usually just become defensive and start to dislike.

As a consultant, I maintain a collection of best practices, and usually have a way which I think is most efficient to complete key procedures. However, I always wait a little while before criticizing existing methods or making comments on how people do things.  I find it is better to spend some time getting to know my co-workers and understanding why they do things the way they do.

No one likes a know-it-all, which is a label you can be branded with if you take an “I know better” approach.  Once you are familiar with the personalities, you can assess the best way to approach them with new ideas without seeming like a jerk.  You can scope out who is more open to change and criticism, and who would prefer you keep your mouth shut and let them do things their way, at least for now.

Avoiding Costly Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Job

Here are the four tips for avoiding doom in a new job:

  • Keep calm and carry on
  • Ask lots of questions instead of staying silent
  • Taking notes and sharing them instead of trying to keep everything in your head
  • Start off in observation mode rather than criticism mode

Write these tips down and keep them by your desk.  Even better, enter them into an appointment in your smartphone.  Set an alarm for each of these tips to pop up every few days during your first weeks on the job.  This will keep the concepts fresh in your mind and help you to redirect your thoughts down the right path.

Starting a new job can be a positive experience and give your career a boost, if you just think like a consultant.

Emma Iskowitz contributed to this article.