Expectations vs. reality: setting yourself up for success in a new job

Apr 28, 2023

5 mins

Expectations vs. reality: setting yourself up for success in a new job
Debbie Garrick

Freelance writer and translator, ex-recruiter

Picture this: you’re about to embark on an exciting new job, and your mind is filled with visions of success, camaraderie, and growth. It’s only natural to daydream about the possibilities, says Kim Nicol, Life Coach and host of The New Manager podcast. However, sometimes these rosy expectations can set us up for disappointment when reality doesn’t quite match up. So, when do new job expectations become a problem? Nicol explains that it’s when we encounter unexpected challenges, like a steep learning curve or less-than-welcoming colleagues, that self-doubt and insecurity can creep in.

To help you navigate these potential pitfalls and ensure a smooth career transition, we’ve gathered six expert tips for managing new job expectations. From embracing the unexpected to cultivating resilience and adaptability, these insights will empower you to start your new role with confidence and poise.

1. Don’t blame yourself for things you can’t anticipate

Remember there will always be things you can’t anticipate when starting a new job. When this happens, Nicol says that self-awareness and self-care become really important. “I see this a lot with high achievers. When you’re new in an organization there can be a lot of uncertainty about how people work, and what the expectations really are. There’s this period of recalibration where it can be a little awkward as you haven’t quite found the harmony of how to work together.”

Knowing this and not being hard on yourself is so important. Instead of feeling like you aren’t doing a good job because it doesn’t go how you thought it would, don’t give in to self-doubt, imposter syndrome, anxiety and self-questioning. Nicol recommends you focus on the fact that it’s probably a normal learning period. Say to yourself, “I can learn how to do that, I can learn how to communicate, I can learn how to ask, I can adjust.” She adds, “It’s a normal part of this experience, it doesn’t mean it’s a terrible situation, it could just mean this is the part where you’re learning about each other and how to work together.”

2. Don’t set time limits for getting up to speed

Nicol says we often have an internal expectation for how much time it will take to feel comfortable in a role. “We think, ‘Oh I’ve already been here for two weeks and I still haven’t figured this out.’ But it might take you a month, or two, or six. It depends on the circumstances, the organization, the personalities, and a lot of different things,” she explains. To combat this Nicol has a seemingly simple solution: “Practice being kind to yourself.” Simple to say, perhaps less simple to do when adjusting to a new job. Nicol explains that being kind to yourself in this context is choosing to talk to yourself with kindness instead of beating yourself up and choosing to take a bigger perspective. Are you blowing things out of proportion?

3. Don’t expect too much of your manager

While of course, your new boss shares some of the responsibility for helping you adjust to your new job and they want you to do well. It’s a bad idea to expect too much of them. Nicol explains, “We sometimes expect our managers to be rested, resourceful, well-trained, really good managers for us specifically, and that’s often not the case. They might be very well-intentioned but they are also humans, stressed, tired, forgetful, busy and impatient. They may never have learned to manage in a way that works well for you.” As a new starter, Nicol recommends you hold some of the responsibility for this and develop a skill for managing up. By this, she means working on your communication skills and getting clarity around prioritizing or reassessing the timeline or scope of work.

She explains that a mismatch in communication is pretty common. You expect something to look or be a certain way because of how it was portrayed, but once you’re in the role you can see that it’s actually quite different. This is normal and doesn’t have to be a crisis. Focus on communication and figure out with your manager what you are doing, how you can do it, and find a solution.

4. Don’t keep everything hidden inside

Still on the theme of communication, don’t feel you have to keep everything bottled up and handle it on your own either. Nicol explains that because sometimes we want things to go well, we go into people-pleasing mode and say yes to avoid disappointing people, but in the long term that just makes the hard part take longer to resolve. When you keep everything under lock and key, it can soon lead to you feeling like a failure. Believing you’re supposed to be able to do everything without any help can also cause combative feelings which will harm your working relationships. Ask questions, share your worries, and most importantly, work on solutions with your colleagues and managers.

5. Make sure you’re in good shape

To ensure a smooth career transition, Nicol says you should focus on your physical and mental health. “Make sure you’re getting good sleep and feeling supported. You want to do as much as you can to really support your well-being because that will help everything as you get started. For each person that will look a little different, so know yourself and what will support your well-being. Then when you start, you’ll be coming in with the most robust and resourced sense of self.” It will help ward off the dreaded imposter syndrome and feelings of failure.

6. Plan your exit strategy

This might sound counter-intuitive—the last thing you want to think about when starting a new job is leaving it. But it can help to diffuse a situation if you know it’s not forever. Nicol explains that it’s something we often don’t consider but says you should ask yourself, “When it’s time to leave, how do you want to leave?” If you go into a job and the reality is extremely far removed from your expectation then you have a decision to make. Nicol says that some people may decide to just quit and that’s ok if that’s right for you. If you aren’t in a position to do that then think about what you need to make the most of the situation. “Take care of your own well-being and think through the path forward.” What does it look like, what are your goals, and what do you want to get out of it? How will you learn and grow?

If you’re having a hard time distinguishing between whether you’re going through the normal adjustment to starting a new role or whether it’s the kind of thing you need to get out of, then getting an outside perspective can help. You can turn to a career coach but also a trusted person within the company who can give you their point of view, or someone who knows you well, like a mentor or advisor.

Managing expectations in a new role

In conclusion, navigating the challenges of a new job and managing expectations are crucial aspects of a successful career transition. Embrace self-awareness and practice self-kindness while adjusting to your new role, and remember that it’s normal to encounter unanticipated obstacles. Open communication with your manager and colleagues can foster stronger working relationships and help you find solutions to any challenges you may face. Prioritizing your physical and mental well-being is also essential for building a strong foundation for success in your new position.

Having an exit strategy in mind can empower you to make informed decisions about your career path and ensure you’re making the most of your current situation. Seeking external perspectives from career coaches, trusted colleagues, or mentors can help you determine if you’re experiencing normal adjustment issues or more significant concerns. By incorporating these strategies, you’ll be better equipped to overcome the challenges of starting a new job, allowing you to excel in your career and reach your professional goals.

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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