Starting a New Job During the Pandemic

It’s a challenging time to find a job, and a challenging time to start one.

Published: Apr 23, 2020

Emma had been unemployed for two months when she got an offer to join a large media company as a producer. She took the job with a sense of relief and gratitude—after all, millions of people around her had also lost their jobs in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, and opportunities for hiring were bleak.

But starting a new job during the crisis was a strange experience. It all felt a bit random: some days were busy, with Emma bouncing between back-to-back video calls with her new colleagues and discussions with IT to get set up on company systems, while other days she had nothing to do. But there were some obvious bright spots, too: she was able to have a half-hour video chat with the head of her department, a high-flying executive who normally wouldn’t have time for onboarding midlevel producers but felt it was important to make new hires feel welcome during these strange times. And when Emma had to complete her benefits forms, an HR person was able to quickly hop on the phone with her and answer every question she had.

When you find yourself in frustrating situations—too much downtime, a boss who assigns work but doesn’t seem to care about the outcome, a colleague who missed your one-on-one meeting—remember that it’s likely not personal.

Indeed, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the typical process for starting a new job, with many employers going the extra mile to add a human touch to the process. “Organizations are reining in their expectations of how new hires can hit the ground running and increasing their focus on integration and establishing trusted relationships,” says Karen H. C. Huang, director of search assessment services at Korn Ferry.

If you’re starting a new job during the pandemic, here’s what to remember.

Batch your questions.
You’re bound to have a lot of questions for your peers and higher-ups in the first few weeks of a new job. Instead of pelting people with messages as questions come up, decide which questions are a priority and which can be addressed later. “Always do this, pandemic or otherwise,” says Sean Carney, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. “Prioritize your questions and group them.” For questions that don’t need to be asked right away, keep a running list all in one place, so you can quickly run through them when the time is right. Don’t be afraid to ask people how they prefer to be communicated with; some may want you to message them on a messaging platform, while others prefer a quick email or call.

Be a sponge.
Your main goal in the first few weeks is to learn as much as you can and figure out how to make yourself indispensable. “Treat this job like you would any other new job. Focus on mission-aligning with your manager’s vision quickly and understand what specifically you need to do to make them successful,” Carney says. “Build relationships with your new team members. Get up to speed as quickly as you can to begin to deliver and be helpful.”

Especially since you’re remote, you want to be sure you’re clued in to the latest goings-on at the company. Pay attention to news about the company, competitors, and the industry, but also don’t obsess over it. “This crisis is unprecedented, and no industry or company isn’t impacted in some way,” Carney says. “That’s the good news: we are all in this together.”

Master the one-on-one.
“With everyone working from home, you won’t have the ability to walk around the office and be introduced to members from various teams in addition to your own,” says Ryan Frechette, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. “Take it upon yourself to introduce yourself.”

This will mean working with your boss to coordinate who’s important for you to meet, then setting up quick one-on-ones to say hello. Be mindful about taking up too much of people’s time. “Don’t use Zoom meetings to justify your existence, as it’s becoming the new email in terms of limiting productivity,” says Carney. Instead, ask people how they prefer to communicate, and keep introductory calls to five or ten minutes.

Have patience.
These are difficult times for most people. When you find yourself in frustrating situations—too much downtime, a boss who assigns work but doesn’t seem to care about the outcome, a colleague who missed your one-on-one meeting—remember that it’s likely not personal. “Everyone, at some level, is dealing with their own stuff and will have different coping skills, abilities to manage stress, etc.,” Carney says. “Now is not the time to make anything personal. Chances are it isn’t about you.”

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