hitthegroundrunningAre you starting a new job without much direction? Things seem to be going slowly and you’re worried that you may not be adding value but don’t want to seem like you’re pestering your manager for things to do? As a contractor or senior person in your field, your new employer expects that you don’t need hand holding. Read this guide to make sure you make an impression of adding value quickly, of being able to lead yourself, and of being capable of leading others.

A tool

As a contractor, your new employer sees you as a tool; they don’t want to train you up, they expect you to just do the work right away and to be quicker and offer more insights than their permanent staff. They expect you to show more expertise and get more done.

So how do you quickly learn how things work at the new company, get started to deliver value very early while showing your wide knowledge and experience? How do you get the mandatory training done invisibly in the background to surprise them when they ask about it, along with organising your system access and other peripheral tasks?

Your aim for the first few weeks

You want to create the impression that:

  • You seem to just know how they work and what they’re working towards
  • You seem to know what to do on projects and have experience with the structure and artefacts needed
  • You’re delivering value much earlier than expected

You can achieve this by covering the bases below. I’ve broken this up into 4 categories: work, social, admin and training.


  1. Any task your manager assigns to you – These are your top priority. If you’ve been given plenty of structure then it’ll be quite straight forward to start adding value in the new job. However more often than not, you won’t have much structure and that’s where the rest of this list will build your confidence.
  1. Learn the strategy of your new company and your business unit – Complete a Lean Canvas as though you were a business owner. You may not be creating a start-up but this exercise will help you understand your business unit’s strategy and give you context that will enable you to pick things up and know what to focus on much faster.
  1. Learn the structure of your program – At a high level, what is the structure from strategic goals, to your program, to your project or team within the program? Knowing this will stop a lot of conversations from going over your head.
  1. Learn the organisational chart – Study the business, IT and your program’s hierarchy of people in the corporate directory. Knowing this as quickly as possible will help you participate in conversations and meetings as you’ll understand who people are talking about and you’ll have some context around what their team does.
  1. Learn the operating model of your program – Is it Waterfall for analysis and Scrum teams for IT build? Pure Agile? Pure Waterfall? If there is no documentation, sketch a rough diagram for yourself and identify the regular meetings. Seeking out this information helps you get in the loop of what’s happening.
  1. Write down questions to ask – As you go through these and the below exercises, write down questions on post it notes as you go. Whenever speak to someone you can get a few questions answered and fill in the blanks from your study.
  1. Note acronyms and their meanings – Start a spreadsheet of all the acronyms that you come across and add the long form and the meaning once you find out. You can discontinue this once you get the hang of things, or pass it on to the next new starter.
  1. Create a work breakdown structure (WBS) – If you can’t find a WBS, create one for yourself. This will help you focus and ensure you’re not wondering aimlessly from day to day without knowing what you should be doing.
  1. Start putting in place structure where there is none – E.g. a Sprint framework/operating model, RAID register. If you find out later that these things already exist then great. If not, then you’re creating a good impression of being a professional, having good experience and leading the way.
  1. Plan the next two weeks – Start planning the weeks ahead and let your manager know what you’re doing. Rather than asking ‘what should I be doing’, go to your manager with a plan. Always make sure they know what you’re working on so that they have a chance to re-prioritise for you if they want to.
  1. Create your filing system – Storing files by artefact results in the easiest way to find things. Three simple folders of Project governance, Analysis and Artefacts will work well initially. Store everything on the network rather than your local machine.
  1. Browse through project folders – What structures / artefacts are others in the team producing?
  1. Search the Intranet for templates – Use existing templates to get any PowerPoint documents started much faster and fit into what they’re used to.
  1. Ask different people questions – As you build up questions, try to ask different people so that you get to remember their names and they get to know you.
  1. Implement your productivity blueprint and fit into your rhythm, focussing on your Most Important Task (MIT) each day to quickly add value and produce results.


Learn people’s names – Use the corporate directory. Say each person’s name after meeting them. Re-introduce yourself later to ask questions or when you see them in the kitchen.


You want to have all of this sorted out as quickly as possible so that you’re not still asking people how to set up the printer in your 3rd week.

  1. Timesheets – you’ll want to make sure there are no issues getting paid
  2. Printer access
  3. Meeting room bookings
  4. System access
  5. Phone access
  6. 24 building access – you’ll need it at some point


You want to make sure this is well underway and gets done in the background without your manager needing to spend any of their time asking about it or getting emails about you not having completed your compliance training.

  1. Online training
  2. Induction sessions you need to book yourself into

Job start canvas

How about wrapping all this up into a quick job start canvas? Take one large page and break it up into sections. Then put a brief summary in each section and build upon this over your first few weeks. This will ensure you develop a big picture view that will result in you making the impression that you’re knowledgeable, a quick starter and focussed on delivery. Sections to use:

  • Strategy / Lean Canvas
  • Stakeholders and Organisational Chart
  • Program Operating Model
  • Work Breakdown Structure
  • Tasks
  • Training & Admin

After you’ve settled in

After you’ve settled in, start noting your goals for your time at the company, or use your yearly career goals and align your tasks to ensure you are progressing to the right direction and making the best use of your time, not just getting tasks done.

Eventually you want to settle into 3 categories of tasks: direct deliverables, tasks that help with long term deliverables/learning/career building, admin tasks. Don’t neglect any of these categories.

Remember: Travel light!! Don’t start stacking up personal files at work. Keep everything on the network – if there’s an official place to put something, put it there rather than storing on your desktop or in email. Keep personal files to an absolute minimum – Phone numbers list, training, only keep minimal emails. Be ready to easily and quickly clean up your computer when you eventually move on. If you don’t have a system for staying light, you’ll build up a hoard of files and it’ll be much more difficult and time consuming to get ready to leave.

What’s your strategy to make a great first impression in a new job?