How to excel at your new gig: 4 tips for associates

There used to be a time when I would have to explain the work that I did as a coach to lawyers. This was the educational phase of my business. These days, lawyers immediately understand the value I offer as their career advocate. But now I have entered into a new educational phase of my business: explaining the value of collaborating with a career expert as you start a new job, especially for associates.Starting a new job can encompass an array of emotions. From relief and excitement to fear and anxiety, I’ve worked with many associates to manage these feelings for a smooth transition to their new firm.

Here are my top 4 picks to get you on solid ground!

1. Set Expectations For Yourself And Others
There is such a thing as being too keen when starting a new job. Yes, you want to prove that you were the right candidate chosen for the position, but you don’t want to leave the wrong impression either. Working long hours, for example, is only going to set a standard of what your colleagues will come to expect of you.

You also want to keep in mind the promises you made during the interview. If you did say that you would be working long hours, then you should be delivering on that promise. In fact, whatever you said to sell yourself at the interview should be acted upon. You want to show that you are trustworthy – so don’t make promises at an interview that you can’t or don’t want to keep!

Define success with your mentor during the first few weeks. This includes understanding how you will work together, how you will get the resources you need to do your job well, and how your job performance will be assessed.

2. Set boundaries

It may be tempting to think that you’ll compromise your boundaries at the start of a new job and then re-establish a new routine later on, but I’ve only seen a few people actually able to do this. The majority of people who I’ve seen take this path, end up burned out. You need to pace yourself – this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Learning to say “no” is a skill I want my clients to learn to exercise early on in their new workplace. You need to be able to set boundaries in addition to setting expectations. This is like saying, “I’m going to work really hard [expectation], but I’m not going to work on weekends unless absolutely necessary [boundary]”.

Many of my clients let fear prevent them from being firm about their limits. They’ll say things like “I don’t want to let the partner down” or “I want to be seen as a team player” when given an assignment they know they can’t manage. These are valid thoughts, but they shouldn’t be the only considerations. What happens if you do take on that extra assignment and can’t finish it on time or to the level of quality that is expected…then what?

Rarely will someone else enforce your boundaries for you. It’s up to you to let others know when you can’t perform to this standard. Learn to communicate with clients, partners, clerks and assistants – don’t be silent about your needs and workload.

3. Organize Yourself

Starting a new job is an opportunity to shed old routines. Take the first few weeks to implement a system that has worked for many of my clients.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you don’t have a choice over how you spend your time. Thinking this way effectively assigns control to someone or something else. Learn early on to be a proactive lawyer.

4. Ask questions

A dear friend of mine told me to be dumb early on in my career as a litigator. She said that as a new kid on the block, it was expected that I would have questions. After that honeymoon period was over, however, I’d be expected to know what I was doing – so don’t waste an opportunity to be an amateur.

It’s okay to ask questions when you get thrown into a file mid-stream. Everyone will know that you’re going through a learning curve. In fact, you’ll probably get several invitations to ask questions. Take advantage of these opportunities and do it quickly because once the months pass, you’ll be seen as the expert just like everyone else.

You’ll want to be strategic about when you ask questions. I help my clients prioritize which questions need to get answered right away versus those that will get answered on their own. It’s also important to track these questions so they’re not forgotten and asked in the appropriate forum i.e. Does the person want to be asked questions via email or in-person? Does a meeting need to be set up if there are a lot of questions?

Many of these tips are going to be new skills, so be patient with yourself. You can overcome any obstacle with the right help. I’m here if you need a partner who is going to support you and champion you along the way: paulette@21stcenturylawyer.ca!

This article originally appeared on AWAL.

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