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The Last Day and The First Day

For better or worse, I’ve changed jobs quite a few times in the recent past. There were valid reasons for doing so, in my mind at least. Corporate restructuring, poor management, lack of growth opportunities, bad decisions by third-party investors – to name a few. At the end of day, I decided to move on because I felt that my professional future was not headed in the direction of progress. While it is widely accepted that moving around often over short periods of time in your career is not a good idea, doing so has afforded me some unique and rewarding experiences.

As mentioned in an earlier post, I am beginning a new position soon – on Monday (tomorrow) in fact. My last day with my previous employer was just Friday (no rest in between). Sitting here between the end of my last job and the beginning of the new one, I found myself thinking about the numerous experiences I’ve had dealing with ‘the last day’ and ‘the first day’ of jobs I’ve held over a relatively short period of time. Here are 6 things I’ve learned about both of these crucial days.

The Last Day

1. People Will Surprise You
One of the nicest things I’ve experienced when leaving a job is co-workers I did not expect to hear from taking a moment to talk to me and let me know how much I positively impacted their work life. Of course, whether you experience this or not assumes quite a few things – there’s a bit of good karma required. But the feeling of hearing good things from those you didn’t expect to hear it from definitely lifts your spirits and provides validation of your efforts during your time with a company. It is always a pleasant surprise. However, you can do more with this than just hear it and feel good. Receiving feedback and positive thoughts from these unexpected sources gives you the opportunity to reexamine your interactions with colleagues and improve your approach to work in the future by better understanding who is affected by what you do. Perhaps you can maximize the outcome of your efforts by taking these sources of feedback from being on the fringe of what you do and bringing them into the mainstream.

2. How You Say Goodbye Matters
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to leave a job with professionalism and respect. This is best accomplished through a thoughtful and honest goodbye. Take a moment to talk to the people who went out of their way to help you achieve your goals and let them know how much their efforts meant to you. Go speak with your senior management and let them know that you appreciated the opportunity of working at the company…even if you thought your work circumstances were less than ideal. Spend some time to write a positive and appreciative note to your colleagues and recognize their contributions to your growth as a professional. Doing these things not only leave a lasting impression with your former colleagues, but the act of saying goodbye in a gracious and positive manner allows you to cleanse your mind of negative experiences and thoughts you might have had during your work experience at a company. Such a goodbye is a crucial first step towards getting your next set of experiences off to a positive start.

3. Honesty On Your Way Out
These days, there’s a good chance the employer you’re leaving will want to chat with you about your decision to move on. It may not be within the context of a formal ‘exit interview’ with your HR department – it might just be an informal conversation with a manager or a member of the executive team you’ve worked with. These types of conversations run the risk of getting a little too revealing – you might be tempted to provide a very detailed testimony about specific co-workers and negative experiences you had with them. While there are exceptions to every rule and while you have to use your discretion in choosing your course of action, as a ‘rule’ I try to provide honest feedback to the questions I’m asked without trying to damage reputations of the people I worked with. This can be a bit of a balancing act, but I also believe firmly in providing feedback that you think can improve the quality of working conditions for the peers you’re leaving behind.

The First Day

1. Experience vs. Baggage
Not all of the things we pick up from a prior work experience are useful to us in a new one. I once worked for a CEO who was a prolific micromanager and a bit neurotic. After producing a one page marketing slick for him, he called me into his office one day in a bit of a frenzy. The piece had already gone out to clients days before, so I was a bit confused as to why he wanted to talk to me about it so urgently. As I sat at his desk, he looked at me with a rather grim face and said, “This cannot happen again.” Puzzled, I asked him, “What can’t happen again?” He proceeded to take one of the slicks (again, a single piece of paper) and attempt to stand it on its side. As one might expect, it succumbed to the laws of physics and fell on a flat side. He went on to tell me that quality control was not done on the pieces that went out, that the paper should have been able to stand on one side, and that my work was embarrassing to the company. What you decide to take from an experience like this into a new job illustrates the difference between baggage and experience. ‘Baggage’ would be going into a new job planning to add more time and steps to the process of creating a one page slick because a mad CEO has convinced you that printers and paper mills are not capable of creating documents with straight edges and that attempting to stand a piece of paper up on its edge is a suitable test for that. ‘Experience’ would be going into a new job with the intention of understanding the quirks of your manager and devising a plan on how to manage their expectations pro-actively throughout projects. Baggage will hold you back in a new endeavor. Experience paves the road towards a successful career.

2. Introductions
One of the things I have grown to dislike in the workplace is when new people come into an organization and don’t acknowledge the people around them. Sadly, I find this to be more common these days. Not introducing yourself to everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – you come into contact with often creates the impression in others that you don’t really care about anyone other than those you mean to impress. Amazing that such a simple gesture holds such power. It’s even more amazing to me that a growing number of people don’t realize its power. Don’t make enemies on your first day. Say hello and let people know who you are. Better still, take a moment to find out who the people you’re saying hello to are. Use the introductions on your first day as the foundation for productive business relationships you can carry on into the future.

3. Stop Interviewing and Start Listening
I wish someone had given me this piece of advice. There have been a few ‘first days’ where I went into work thinking it was the sequel to the interview. I felt I had to substantiate everything I said with some reference to past work experience or continue to talk about my past in order to get my colleagues to acknowledge my relevance to the organization. The problem with doing this is that you misrepresent your relevance by citing past accomplishments instead of crafting solutions for your current employer after listening carefully to what the organization needs. Stop interviewing. Start listening. On your first day, identify the people you need to hear from to understand exactly what your mission has to be. Put time on their calendars. Prepare some questions for them. Understand what their roles are in the organization and how they all interact. Listen to what they have to say and start thinking about how you’re going to use your experience and skills to create solutions. The interview was to make the case for why they should hire you. You’ve got the job. Now, show them what you’re made of.

I hope you’ve found this useful. Now let’s see if I can practice what I preach.

Have some Last Day/First Day wisdom of your own you’d like to share? Post them in the comments below.