My First 90 Days: Make Your Lunch Hour Work for You

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Woo hoo! It’s a new day. It’s a new job. It’s an opportunity. What to do? Lots of advice. Lots of options but no clear way to secure the confidence of your colleagues and make an impact.

Wait, maybe there is and it involves something you probably enjoy – food.

The first day on the new job will be structured. You will struggle with tax and benefits forms. You will try to remember who to list in case of an emergency. You will try to understand how to ensure your paycheck is on direct deposit, and you will be disappointed in how much vacation you will receive. You will be oriented to company policies on sexual harassment and discrimination. (Pay attention.) And, you will have lunch with your new colleagues. The first-day lunch might be in the nice place around the corner, or it could be in the company café. In either case, you won’t have to worry about mid-day food — it’s all part of the program.

The second day, the program and schedule may not be as automatic and that is your time to pounce. You are now on your own to figure things out, which means the second day is your time to pounce and ask someone out to lunch. You will learn more in the unstructured lunch than you did the first day. Start with the person who used to have the same job you now have. Continue with others who are in your same general pay grade and age. No need to treat your lunch dates or do anything fancy; it is all about moving up the learning curve as fast as you can. Grabbing a turkey sandwich and eating at your desk by yourself is a daily wasted opportunity.

As you learn more, be more strategic in lunch dates. Go to lunch with the woman in engineering that no one seems to like. Ask the receptionist who has been there for a million years out for Chinese food. Grab the sales guy who is rarely in town and take him out for a salad. If you cycle through the group quickly, branch out a little on your lunch list.

It’s not about the lunch and it doesn’t have to be lunch. What you are doing is listening. You are asking questions to learn as much as you can so that you can then do something.

Simple lunch questions can include:

  • How do things really get done around here?
  • What matters in performance reviews?
  • How are decisions made around here?
  • What are the “sacred cows”?
  • Who are the key people who make things happen?

In starting a new job, the easy route is to settle in to the same old ways and be agreeable to “the way we do things around here.” It doesn’t have to be that way. Why not be inquisitive and pointed? Why not try to make an impact? Why not ask the hard questions? Why not play the “new person” card and make recommendations?

Being active in your own career development may not be as easy as settling in to the routine and waiting for something to happen but it will pay off. If you want to enjoy your work, make an impact. If you want people to know you, if you want to make an impact, if you want to get promoted, go to lunch.

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