The First 90 Days (on a new job)

The number one question on everyone’s mind, including those running in the current GOP election, is “When will the economy get back on track?”  Of course, for the average citizen, the implication behind this question is “When will the unemployment rate reduce?” (i.e. when can I expect to find a job?). 

Keeping this on a positive note, let’s assume that you have been one of the lucky few to actually get noticed and have embarked upon the interview process.  As I’ve stated before in other posts, this, to no one’s surprise, is an employer’s market (with a few exceptions, of course).  That said, employer’s are cognizant of the fact that there is an abundance of talent available and will heavily scrutinize anyone trying to secure a position within their organization.

In a previous post, Ten Tough Interview Questions, I highlighted some not-so-standard questions that employers are asking interviewees to gauge not necessarily their qualifications against job requirements, but rather, gauge how they think.

Today, I want to highlight another important aspect about the interview process – the first 90 days.  This initial phase has been defined as a probationary period inside a new company and it reinforces the widely held assumption that judgments made about your performance in the first three months impact hugely on career success.  First, to understand more about this initial phase, I strongly recommend the book by Michael Watkins’s The First 90 Days.  It’s a great read and provides tools that one can use to help them navigate through the process.

In addition, I came across another great read by John Lees titled “The Interview Question You Should Always Expect”.  It’s shared below:

Whether you are a new middle manager or a new President-elect, the common wisdom is that you have three months to make an impact in your new role. And yet when preparing for job interviews, candidates make the mistake of believing that most questions will be about their past experience, not what they plan to do once hired.

New hires have to impress their bosses, peers, and employees in less time than it takes some of us to arrange a meeting. So if you’re interviewing for a job, plan to be asked the question: “What do you hope to achieve in your first three months?”

First, approach this question — and indeed, every interview question — as an audition. Imagine your interviewers running a movie in their heads where you are sitting working with their team, presenting to their boss, talking to customers or shareholders.

Second, beware of extremes. The savvy candidate knows to take some care before jumping in with proposed improvements, but this often leads to bland over-caution: “I wouldn’t make any changes until I had learned a lot more about the organization and consulted with my colleagues.” That answer is not only predictable, but a little too safe for most jobs.

At the other end of the spectrum is the candidate who tells the organization every mistake it’s making and offers to give things a pretty big shake-up — usually enough to put the interviewers’ backs up. Other candidates clearly promise more than they can deliver, or reveal a naive view of what is possible.

The best answerstake a middle ground, effectively saying, “Yes, I will learn and listen, but I will also get on with things.” It’s unwise to be deeply critical of the organization — the system you are trashing could be the brainchild of one of the people in the room. Better approaches use phrasing such as, “This is the approach I would take…” or “Here’s something I have tried elsewhere which I believe could help you.” Try presenting changes as suggestions open to interrogation — the beginnings of a strategy rather than the whole deal. Throw in some quick wins — short-term results that can be obtained at minimal cost without treading on anyone’s toes.

Finally, think about your presentation. Long-term success will often be based on your visibility within that initial three-month window, and your interviewer wants to know what you will look like in the role and what impact you might make.

Too many candidates concentrate on content — far too much of it — forgetting that a panel is really trying to find out whether you fit the part. Address this larger question by following a simple 3-part structure:

  1. Analysis. Say briefly what you see and understand. The more this sounds like a “helicopter view” the better.
  2. Make connections. Draw on perspectives from outside the organization, and your own experience.
  3. Suggested actions. Clear recommendations, offered with some caution because you would of course need more detail before implementing any of them.

Whether it’s explicit or not, most questions are all variations on the 90 day question — do you ‘get’ the needs underlying the role, can you fit in, and can you deliver?


Author: vikaskhanna

4 thoughts on “The First 90 Days (on a new job)”

  1. Great advice. The same plan can even be used when prospecting for jobs…cover letters, phone calls, web responses etc. Show you know the company, the industry and have a plan. Demonstrate that you can make a difference from the first contact.

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