By Kim R. Wells

Congratulations! Your successful job search campaign has landed you the job opportunity you have always dreamed of. Celebrate your success, you’ve worked very hard and deserve it. But when your celebration is over, it’s time to focus beyond just showing up for work on your start date, its time to take your professional game to the next level by developing a 90-day career engagement strategy.

Your 90-day career engagement strategy will provide you with a strategic framework and timeline to follow during your first 90 days with your new employer. An effectively executed 90- day career engagement strategy will guide your professional transformation from being perceived as a “new hire development project,” to being perceived as a high impact performer and valuable organizational asset. The choice is yours, you can drag through the “first year blues” of trying to “fit in,” or starting off with a career engagement strategy that will enable you to fully maximize opportunities, effectively build networks, and “own the place” after your first year!

Developing Your Strategy

As you get started in developing your strategy, you should schedule a meeting with your new supervisor prior to your start date or immediately after. In discussing your engagement strategy with your new supervisor you will ensure that your strategy, priorities and goals are in alignment with his (or hers) and the team you will be working for. Your meeting with your supervisor to discuss your engagement strategy is also an excellent opportunity to make a personal connection, and ensure him or her of your commitment to development and openness to coaching and assistance from those who will help your performance.

Other great people to contact in developing your engagement strategy include a career services professional on your campus, a faculty member, successful family members, alumni, and others you have met from the organization during your recruitment and interviewing process.

Key components of your 90 day career engagement strategy (CES).

Targeted Goal: The area of your performance, organization, or team that you would like to learn more about, grow in, or actively engage. This could also be a suggested goal shared with you by your new supervisor, and other successful individuals in the organization you have come into contact with.
Engagement Activity: Specific actions you have identified to be engaged with, including formal training, coaching, meetings, mentoring, social networking activities, telephone calls, emails, etc., that will assist you in accomplishing your targeted goal.
Identified Resources: Organizational offices, departments, programs, groups, individuals, and other mechanisms that can support your engagement. Examples would include the human resources office, affinity groups, training centers, mentoring programs, cross-corporate committees, sports activities, and more.
Organizational Contact: The specific person or persons you will need to engage.
Projected Time Frame (start and completion): Date and times in which targeted goal is initially engaged and completed.

Recommended 90 Day Career Engagement Strategies From Successful Corporate Executives

It’s important for employees to understand the “lay of the land” both from a professional and personal development perspective. Upon starting a career, the first 90 days are critical to career success. As such, new hires should ask themselves the following questions:

Why am I in this role?

How will it contribute to my short and long-term plans?

To help new hires jumpstart their profession, I advocate using, what I call, the 3P’s to determine career advancement strategies.

Personal Branding
Professional Networks
Proficiency – In the first 90-days of employment, employees should set up face-to-face meetings with their direct managers and jointly discuss:

a. The key objectives for the group and how their role contributes to the larger objectives and goals.

b. Confirm the success factors for one’s role and determine how management defines success.

c. Understand the performance metrics for evaluation.

Having this understanding will enable new employees to manage their work style and output to maximize the results that drive success. By doing so, employees can begin to establish credibility in the eyes of their managers, coworkers and team members, which can ultimately expand opportunities for career advancement.

Personal Branding – It is critical for new hires to “ask” what they can do to get involved with key projects or strategic initiatives. In doing so, employees can begin to create a platform for themselves to demonstrate their capabilities. The key word here is “ask.” Often new employees do not take the initiative to ask for key assignments, and therefore they have limited exposure to management for showcasing their talents. By volunteering to contribute to key projects, new hires can position themselves in the eyes of company leaders and their co-workers as a team-player and as someone willing to move things forward.

Professional Networks – New hires should find a mentor. Employees should find someone who they: (1) naturally connect with, (2) who can help navigate the internal workplace culture, and (3) someone who can help new hires build a network by linking them to others.

Making Connections Over Lunch – Having a lunch calendar is important. By establishing a lunch calendar new employees can make personal connections with colleagues in and outside of their departments. These connections are invaluable for building professional networks that can boost future career possibilities.

Get Involved – Employees should stretch their comfort zone and join committees or internal organizations outside of their immediate work groups. Getting involved with other groups helps to develop professional relationships across departments. This can help to expand individual networks and set the framework for future opportunities.

Befriend, be nice to, and get to know the executive assistant to the CEO. She (or he) is one of the most important persons in the company.

Attend and participate in an after hours event – be it a social or sporting activity. Get to know your colleagues outside of the office, and let them get to know you.

Hit one out of the park – early – then focus on singles and doubles. Use your “new voice” and “new set of eyes” perspective to contribute something special to the team’s success.

If this is unachievable, walk the halls slowly and don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to new colleagues. Also, show up to work on a few weekends, but don’t waste anyone’s time by being too chatty. Your presence won’t go unnoticed.

Learn and observe as much as you can about the organization and its culture. This includes learning that the key decision makers are in your area, learning those unwritten rules you need to live by in order to survive and succeed within the organization, and being prepared for the unexpected.

One-on-Ones are extremely important and key in your first 90 days to ramping up in your new job. Ask your manager for a list of individuals that he or she thinks would be crucial to you succeeding in this role. Then schedule 45 to 60 minute sessions with each of these individuals so you will have the chance to get to know them, learn their work style, and establish rapport with them so they will remember you. This makes your transition into the role much smoother.

LEARN WHO THE MVPs ARE – Networking is key at every point in your career, but it is crucial early on as you establish creditability and seek out mentors. Be a good investigator and find out who the star players are (they aren’t always the ones with the biggest jobs). Seek these people out. Ask them how they got started, find out what they do, ask if you can shadow them at some point, if appropriate. People usually love talking about themselves and will be happy to share the secrets to their success if you seem interested in THEM as well as what they do.

OBSERVE AND MODEL THE CULTURE – Every job will not only present a different career challenge, it will also present a different work environment. Make sure you model that to the best of your ability. Your company’s culture is about much more than just the dress code. If there is an active company softball team, you don’t have to play, but you should attend a few games. Ultimately the perception of what type of person you are…if you are sociable… if you are smart…if you are a team player…if you are approachable…will play a significant part in your success with your peers and supervisors. Remember, perception IS reality.

BE CRYSTAL CLEAR – It’s okay to ask questions when you are new. Be patient with yourself as you learn the ropes. Make sure to ask smart, clear, informed questions when necessary. If you have a clear sense of your responsibilities and level of accountability you’ll be able to best focus on doing the most efficient job possible.

Kim R. Wells is the Director of Career Services at Howard University, President-Elect of the Maryland Career Development Association, and Chair of the National Association for Colleges and Employers Diversity Advancement Committee Mr. Wells is also an experienced human capital management consultant. See Mr. Wells’ new career management blog on the Black Collegian website.