Until recently, all of my positions were completely new, redesigned, or not quite institutionalized in some way. The prospect of creating a position or program from scratch or expanding its reach is attractive to me. I like finding new and effective ways to help others achieve their academic and professional goals. But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t terrified to start from zero, zip, zilch, nada. Each new position came with the same scenario – no true predecessor, few relationships to draw upon, and no useful answer to the question, “How did we do this last year?”
So how do you move from a panic-stricken new hire to a full-fledged team member in a matter of weeks? Here are a few tips that helped me to quickly define and settle into newly created positions:
When you and your position are new, people will be curious. Welcome the curiosity! You will answer the same questions time and time again about yourself and the position, and each time ask a few questions back. Do this not only to build relationships but because your inquirers know stuff. An easy way to transition a conversation from you to them is by asking how your positions relate to one another. In addition to learning useful information for decision-making, you might learn about responsibilities that your boss didn’t think to mention. It’s better to have too much information than to be surprised at the end of the year when the Director of Institutional Research reminds you to turn in your annual report submission (I was supposed to be writing what?!).
With the institution, that is. Know the mission, learn about what has shaped the college, and think about how your office fits into the story. Read everything that you can get your hands on, attend open meetings, serve on university-wide committees, and move about the campus to get a sense of its rhythm. Cultivate a genuine interest in the school. The more familiar you are with the guiding principles and the direction in which the school is heading, the more quickly you will be able to parse ideas for your program for relevance to institutional goals.
Start to record the state of affairs in as much detail as you can. Why? Because you need to record benchmarks to assess your progress. Let’s say that you’re given a goal, like getting 100 new alumni gifts. Despite your best effort, the gifts are not pouring in but the number of unique opens of the alumni e-newsletter jumps threefold. Congratulations! You’ve made an impact, an impact that could lead to gifts. Not the stated goal, but progress. Progress that you wouldn’t be aware of if you didn’t take stock of as many starting points as possible.
Your job description left out a key responsibility- thinking about what the next person to hold your position will hope that you did. Stay up on what’s happening at other institutions so that your actions are in sync with direction of the discourse. Your policies and procedures should be scalable to what your program may become. Consider your daily work habits. For example, do you rely on searches of your inbox to find information? If so, get into the habit of storing your key information in a place that is accessible and enduring, and in a format that lends itself to migrating when change does happen. Your foresight will be someone’s saving grace.
As the first person to hold your position, you are central to defining the level of respect and scope of influence it will have. While the way that the leadership introduces the position will have a lot to do with how others perceive you initially, ultimately shaping your professional image is your responsibility. Whether your boss sings your praises or is indifferent, you must confidently go about your duties. Chances are, the decision to create your position did not come easily. The leadership discussed whether or not it was really needed, if they could afford it, and what type of person should be hired. You know that they hired the right person, so behave as such!
Did you build a position or program from scratch? How did you get going? I’d love to hear about it, leave a comment below.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Quint Geis on #SAGrad, Life, and Job Searching