Session Transcripts

Live transcripts from all the talks and several of the sessions at SRCCON:WORK.

The starting a new job survival kit

Session facilitator(s): Armand Emamdjomeh, Rachel Alexander

Day & Time: Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, at 3:30pm

Room: Ullyot North

ARMAND: Hey, everybody. Welcome. Welcome to the starting a new job survival kit. I’m Armand Emamdjomeh. I’m currently a graphics reporter at the Washington Post. I started about nine months ago before working at the LA Times for about six and a half, seven years.

RACHEL: I’m Rachel Alexander. I work in Spokane, Washington.

ARMAND: And one fun fact about myself is I lived in LA for seven years without a car and don’t really like the beach!

[ Laughter ]

RACHEL: And I went to wolf tracking camp for three summers in high school.

ARMAND: Nice. Let’s see. So what we’re going to do today, why we made this session is, you know, we wanted to understand and empathize with some of the issues faced when starting a new job. Not just on your first week, onboarding, but what does that look like, three months on, six months on, nine months on. It’s a much longer period of adjustment than people believe.

RACHEL: Yeah, And we wanted to talk about it from the perspective not only from someone coming new to a team or an organization. But a manager’s perspective, what if you’re part of a team and there’s a new person, and you’re super jealous that they’re going to maybe steal your job. So we kind of wanted to talk about it from multiple perspectives and brainstorm through solving some of these challenges.

ARMAND: And it’s gonna involve a little bit of roleplaying. So get ready!

RACHEL: We went heavy on the cute animals and gifs so…

ARMAND: If you like cute animals, you’ll like this. And there is an etherpad for this. Feel free to take notes. So yeah. Okay. So, first of all, it says gather in a circle. We probably don’t really have room for a circle. So if you were in the “like a boss” session, everybody will stand up and move over here, and we’re going to do a group exercise. Do you want to get in the line here? We’re all in this together. All right. So basically how this is gonna work is you’re going to take a step forward if you have ever met the — if you’ve ever met the question that is posed in the slide.

RACHEL: Gather in a circle.

AUDIENCE: This is not a circle.

RACHEL: This is a line.

ARMAND: All right. So step forward if you’ve ever started a new job. We’re starting with the easy ones here. All right.

RACHEL: Go ahead and step back or else we’re to end up awkwardly walking into tables. Step forward if you’ve moved to a new city for a job.

ARMAND: That’s a lot of us. Wow.

RACHEL: All right. Step back.

ARMAND: And who’s ever had an onboarding process of some sort of documentation waiting for you? I heard laughter.

[ Laughter ]

Okay. So you were laughing. Do you care to —

AUDIENCE: I had so write it for myself when I started the job.

ARMAND: So you started your job and you wrote your own onboarding process? That seems…

AUDIENCE: It was a blank piece of paper.

[ Laughter ]

ARMAND: That’s very interesting.

RACHEL: Step forward if you — if you’ve moved into a completely different role at a new organization. So doing something that you were not at all before. Awesome. Okay.

ARMAND: Step forward if you’ve transitioned into a completely different role at the same organization. It’s fun, isn’t it? Okay. And step forward if you’ve felt overwhelmed because the change in environment or expectations.

AUDIENCE: That was a large step, Tyler.

RACHEL: I found this gif on Twitter today and I just really wanted an excuse to use it. This was the scenario that closely corresponds.

ARMAND: I feel like it’s illustrative of, okay, I assume it’s going to be one environment and then you step in, and it’s all of a sudden totally different.

RACHEL: Such as all your coworkers hiding using Rube Goldberg-like technology.

ARMAND: We can step back. And step forward if you’ve wound up in a basement or an ally because you’ve gotten lost in your new place. Okay. And now I would love everybody else to contribute. Does anybody have one they would like to throw in?

AUDIENCE: Like questions?

RACHEL: Like, if you’ve had an especially memorable experience starting a new job.

AUDIENCE: I try to block those memories.

AUDIENCE: I was gonna say, like has anyone started a job — sorry — has anyone started a job where you’re the first person to ever have that job at that company?



AUDIENCE: I have one. Has anyone ever been given a team lead position and received no team lead training?

ARMAND: And there’s one at the end. Someone down here?

AUDIENCE: Anyone ever had that onboarding process that’s so haphazard that they actually forget to provide you lunch?

AUDIENCE: That happened to me twice!

ARMAND: Let’s see… how to phrase this… has anybody ever had, like, a reassurance that they did not make a mistake in hiring you when you were hired? Okay. What’s that?

AUDIENCE: Say that one again.

RACHEL: A reassurance that they didn’t make a mistake when hiring you.

ARMAND: Basically saying, look, you belong here! It’s like a guard against imposter syndrome, I guess.

RACHEL: Has anyone had to watch a three-hour-long video on industrial chemical safety that’s mandated by HR because there’s technically a printing press in your building?

AUDIENCE: I had to take the test and I passed it!

RACHEL: I did have to watch a customer service video called them Give Them the Pickle.

AUDIENCE: What? Can we just watch that?

ARMAND: Yeah, how did you not bring that? And also my computer fell asleep.

RACHEL: Awesome. Thank you all for participating in this. We wanted to get people a little woken up, but yeah take a seat. We’ll move on to chapter two. I get yelled at practice all the time because I’m not loud enough. Yeah, I would not google, “Just give them the pickle.” I haven’t tried it but it seems like a bad idea. Am I doing this part?


RACHEL: Great. Sorry. So we’re going to do a little bit of small-group work. So what we want to do is have people kind of talk a bit about some of the challenges that come with starting a new job based on different roles on the team. So we’re going to split y’all up, I think, into six groups. Yes. I’m going to — do you want to do that? Okay. So we’re going to split y’all up into six groups. So two of you will be thinking about starting a new job from a employee’s perspective, two of you is going to come from the perspective of the manager on the team, and two of you are going to think about it as peers or team members who’s integrating someone new. Should we count off?

ARMAND: Yeah, let’s count off. It’s pretty popular I think. So we’re going to count off by six.

[ Counting Off ]

RACHEL: Awesome. Two. Um…

ARMAND: Now, let’s do the Shuffle!

RACHEL: Ones over there, twos, threes, fours, fives, six.

ARMAND: All right. So in your new groups and using the Post-It notes and other writable materials, talk about your most recent, or most impactful experience starting a new job and, you know, we’re gonna randomize and share a couple of those afterwards.

RACHEL: Yeah, so just introduce yourselves around and kind of talk about what were your experiences with new jobs that you want to talk about. We’ll take about ten minutes for that and then we’ll do some problem solving.

[ Group Work ]

We’re going to take about two more minutes on this. So if you have haven’t gotten something, now’s the time.

[ Group Work ]

All right. So we’re going to come back to the big group now and talk about some of the common themes here. Cool. This is, like, weird having people listen to me. Yeah?

AUDIENCE: Well, so one thing that a couple of us talked about is our companies seem to have a one-size-fits-all onboarding no matter what job you’re doing, you go to the same training, whether or not you’re going to be using that job is problematic. Also, a couple of us started in jobs where the manager was currently not present for many days up to a couple of weeks and there was no backfill in place. So that’s one thing there.

RACHEL: Awesome. Do you want to share a few things that came up, or anybody that has a particularly great or horrible story.

AUDIENCE: There were a few good stories but one of the themes here was that we thought the words “self-starter” and “entrepreneurial” both referred to cases where people didn’t actually know what the job was going to be, and so they just wrote a job description and said, “You figure it out!” Which seems like a real cop-out.

RACHEL: Backward?

AUDIENCE: Well, one thing I think I learned from the conversation with my group is getting buy-in from the employees especially if someone who is in charge of creating a new manual or a new job description, it’s really about getting the buy-in in place.

RACHEL: This group?

AUDIENCE: I think the common thread that we all talked about was having someone either assigned to you, or happened to chance find you on your first day, and show you around and help you out, and make you feel welcomed and we felt that was really invaluable.

RACHEL: This table?

ARMAND: It’s okay.

AUDIENCE: We kind of went off topic.

AUDIENCE: One thing a lot of onboarding, when there’s not a lot of structure, it falls on the manager and the manager is always very busy and often doesn’t have time to give that person attention. So some of us had mentioned that informally assigning a buddy, or onboarding a mentor, somebody on the team to be available to that person.

RACHEL: Yeah, that’s not a bad idea.

AUDIENCE: A comment that came up for us was coming in on the first day and not having, like, a desk or your laptop not being set up and it’s like you just don’t have anything to do. And we also talked about not — some of us, like, at the larger companies, people are always in contact with us, and gave us the right documents, and talked to us about the work chart and everything, but others didn’t really have insight into that. Just kind of like, figure it out on your own.

ARMAND: All right. Next we told you there would be roleplaying and we told you that there would be animals. So we’re going to put on different hats now.

JACOB: Are those hats?

ARMAND: I wish.

RACHEL: That is his dog, though.

ARMAND: That’s my dog and that’s my cycling cat.

RACHEL: We didn’t have a picture of my cat in a hat, he just wears bandanas.

ARMAND: But this just seemed appropriate. So we’re going to roleplay. Each group is going to take on a role and kind of brainstorm potential issues. That’s the next slide. But basically. So these front two tables are going to be new team members. You guys are going to be managers incorporating and making sure that people, you know, join your team smoothly. And y’all in the back are going to be existing team members welcoming people onto your team.

RACHEL: So we want you to brainstorm a list of potential issues or challenges and then what we are going to be doing is swap roles and have you solve some problems or talk about ways to maybe improve some of those issues for another group.

ARMAND: Yes, so in, you know, the spirit of newsroom culture, we are going to brainstorm these problems and then hand them to somebody else.

[ Group Work ]

RACHEL: So if y’all are finding yourselves stuck, think beyond the first day of the job, your manager is back from vacation or whatever, what does it look like a month or three months in, something like that if that helps you come up with ideas.

[ Group Work ]

Okay. We’re going to bring it back and work on solving some of these problems by giving them to other people to figure it out.

ARMAND: Yeah, so now we’re going to focus. You know, we’ve outlined all these issues so we’re going to focus on mitigation and trying to help address some of these potential pitfalls now.

RACHEL: So we made what we’re calling the conjoined triangle of newsroom issues. So we’re going to have the new team members. So it’s these two tables up front pass their biggest issues to their managers who you guys are the middle, right?


RACHEL: And managers, you’re going to pass your problems to current team members behind you, and current team members are going to run back here to new employees. So take a minute to figure out your three biggest problems. And if you want to take a minute to sort of consolidate topics you’ve been talking about into an overarching thing, feel free to do that. And then once you have your problems from the other group, go ahead and start talking about some ways that you might be able to address some of those issues.

[ Group Work ]

ARMAND: And while you’re looking at these, keep in mind your past experience and what have you seen in the past that works well, and also just as important, what have you seen in the past that hasn’t worked as well because we can, a lot of the times, learn just as much from that.

[ Group Work ]

ARMAND: Okay, everybody. Okay. Thank you guys. We’re going to bring it back in for a round-up. Thanks so much. Like, we were circulating around to, as y’all were discussing and popping into conversations. You know, this is something that’s really interesting to me and, you know, would love hearing people talk about it and, like, trying to figure out all these potential issues that nobody really has all the answers for, but we can try and make things better one step at a time. So anyways we’re just going to talk about next steps right now and, Rachel, if you want to lead the discussion, and I can take notes on our little etherpad. So…

RACHEL: Yeah, so we’re just going to go around each group and hear what you talked about, and kind of the solutions that you came up with. Does anyone want to start? Yes?

AUDIENCE: Should we do all three that we got?

RACHEL: Yeah, go ahead. We have, like, ten minutes left. So if you go fast.

AUDIENCE: So our first problem was keeping bad apples from poisoning new people, and making sure that people get good influence earlier. First one is control proximity to your curmudgeons. And connecting people and onboarding mentors who want to show them the ropes and hopefully will be good for that and helping them navigate.

RACHEL: So making that a formal process. But that was brought up in other groups that that would happen on its own but maybe stymy when it’s not beneficial after the first week.

AUDIENCE: So related to that, the second one was how do you give people the attention that enables them to get their own work done? And so we were saying, onboarding should be intentional so that you actually look at those people and it’s not a last-second thing where you make time for them. So resources, time, and person, and whatever things you have.

RACHEL: Awesome. Thank you. I think I’m going to move on if that’s okay. I want to make sure everyone gets to go. Yeah?

AUDIENCE: So ours was — so there was something about you’re a team member and somebody’s new and you’re worried that they’re going to take favorite parts of your job. So we came up with, obviously, when there’s a new hire, involve the team in the hiring process. Figuring out what are the responsibilities and expectations of the new team member. Also ensure that the team is okay, that they’re going to be slowed down in the beginning because there’s a new member on the onboarding passport assign somebody for a week to be with the new team member. And yeah, that would be that part. And I don’t remember the other problem but we were — so… oh, and then one of the ideas is there’s a lot of the — there may be lack of documentation, or outdated documentation around onboarding. So one of the ideas is to get the new team member to update whatever is existing, or if there’s nothing existing, then have the new member start a new onboarding document.

AUDIENCE: Okay. So we were asked three questions and we have two answers. So who do I ask about x, y, z after the first week? And starting solutions for that might be just having annotated directory of employees who does what, and sort of a knowledge-base sort of thing. And what are the career paths available to me, which in that phrasing might be better in the interview because if you ask when you’ve just started the job, that’s bad. But you can ask, how can I grow in this position, and become more valuable to the company is the same question, just a little bit better. That might be tough to ask the boss but the mentorship program might do it. And it occurred to us that the mentor might be able to answer the question of who do you go to talk to about that? The other question was how do — how does the senior-level person learn about this thing that I’m doing and we didn’t get to that.

JACOB: They haven’t either — it’s okay.

[ Laughter ]

AUDIENCE: One of the ones we had was how do you welcome a new team member socially. And, like, what we kind of talked about was, you know, for one, not making, like, any assumptions about, you know, that that person maybe is a happy hour person and making it like that. Keeping it very open. Maybe, like, a lunch or something that, you know, you can keep them what they like to eat, what’s their favorite thing, and welcome them that way. And we talked about kind of value of, like, making a very pointed effort to, like, bring them around the newsroom and introduce them to everyone and let them have face-to-face time with everyone they may be interacting with. So some of the awkwardness of, you know, being thrusted into a situation where you’re meeting, you know, 30-40, maybe even more new people all at once is kind of — you get to do that awkward formality, put someone there next to you and kind of go through that.

So are we good? That was really — we talked about that one for a while. So…

ARMAND: That’s a really good one, yeah.

RACHEL: I love not just defaulting to happy hour idea. Who else hasn’t gone? Is it y’all in the back?

AUDIENCE: Um, so we had four questions. So we had documentation, question mark, what do I do first? When and where is my input welcome, and whom do I ask? So the easiest one, whom do I ask first? We said nothing, just emphasizing for new employers to listen, pause, reflect, and learn. Sometimes you’re a little too eager to start doing stuff but you can kind of trip over yourself. So obviously, I’m not saying just sit around and be idle but not feeling pressured to immediately start solving things. And then we said we agreed about, like, having that directory of, like, who does what, and explaining who everyone is in the organization. The buddy system is great for if the manager doesn’t have a lot of time, saying like, here’s some other designated person you can talk to.

And then an org chart kind of explaining, like, who to talk to for explaining certain things. How it works, the office politics function because that’s oftentimes the soft things that if you are managing someone who has a different role, at least the — the biggest thing you can still offer them is kind of, hey, here’s how things work here. And this is the person if you need help championing an idea, go to them and this person might be a little bit difficult to work with, and here’s how you should approach them if you’re giving them feedback. And when and where is my input welcome? This was the one that we found a little bit more challenging but we thought about, like, having office hours and that might be like a less confrontational way for managers to just, like, open a certain amount of time that’s set every week, or every other week, and then new employees could just come and ask whatever they want and not really step on anyone’s toes.

RACHEL: Awesome.

AUDIENCE: So we were managers and I’ll just go through one because I think this one’s probably the most fun. We talked about basically if you’re on a boarding somebody, how do they get exposed to office politics and hierarchy. And so there was an idea — very interesting idea — basically, there’s a manager who intentionally gossips with the new employees so that they feel comfortable asking sort of gossipy questions rather than potentially putting themselves in an awkward situation where they may not be comfortable, that they don’t want to talk about that, but that sort of opens that up as a channel of communication that can be there.

Doing scavenger hunts, and basically asking people to run around the organization, and find people in certain positions or different areas, so that they get to know people. But there was also some concern that puts a lot of onus on the new employee, and so the inverse of that, setting up coffee dates. So you basically have people reach out to the new person to go, and just get exposed to a bunch of people. And that also has the benefit of, their first week or so, they’re not isolated but actually have lunch dates and coffee dates and things.

RACHEL: Awesome. Well, thank y’all so much for sharing your ideas. I did want to mention one thing that this group up here was talking about that really resonated with me, which is knowing your organization’s overtime policy because I have yet to work somewhere where the federal law, or the employee handbook bore my resemblance to what the actual de facto policy was. But yeah, did you want to say anything?

ARMAND: No. Go back to the slides. This is our final slide. Yeah.

RACHEL: What was that?

ARMAND: You wanna…

AUDIENCE: I said, you’re out of cats.

ARMAND: Yeah, is it time for the pickle video?

RACHEL: If y’all want to watch the pickle video in your own time, I’m not going to stop you but I already had to watch it once.

ARMAND: Thank you everybody for coming and I hope you found it productive and, yeah, really appreciate it.

[ Applause ]