Set up for success in a new job – 3 tips from MIT alums

Starting a new job can be exciting and overwhelming, particularly if it’s your first time working in industry. Two MIT alumnae, Maureen Reitman, Principal Engineer and Group Vice President at Exponent, and Minsun Byun Kevers, Co-Founder & CEO of DiVerity, shared their insight about maximizing your first few years in your career.  

Get to know your colleagues

Be thoughtful, intentional, and confident when engaging with new colleagues for the first time. Whether you’re grabbing coffee with a peer or meeting the head of your division, be sure to: 

  • Do some homework to understand the person’s role and background.  
  • Direct the conversation by highlighting ways you can work together, sharing what is most important to you, and inquiring about parts of the organization you want to learn more about. 
  • Develop a short pitch about yourself and how your background or work connects with theirs. 
  • Convey your willingness to learn and potential opportunities for you to add value to their work. 
  • Actively listen. 
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel or be afraid to stand on the shoulders of others — ask about how things were done in the past, and request previous materials and resources to help you get started.  
  • Try to anticipate the needs of your colleagues and offer information or help whenever possible.

Establish short- and long-term goals  

Many companies have a formal framework to set goals which are reviewed every three, six, or twelve months. However, make time to set personal goals to foster your professional development. When setting goals   

  • Allow ample time to formulate goals. 
  • Understand how your skills and interests fit within the company’s priorities. 
  • Gain multiple perspectives on your goals, whether they are from team members, your manager, mentors, or others within your professional network.    
  • Highlight the impact of your goals on the organization you work for. Why should you or the company care whether or not you achieve these goals? 
  • Maintain open communication with your manager regarding your goals. They aren’t set in stone, and communicating about potential changes with your manager can help you remain aligned with the company’s priorities and best interests.  
  • When assigned a new project, ask impact focused questions, and have conversations with your manager both before and after. For example: 
    • Before:  How will this project advance company goals?  How can we expand the impact? 
    • After: How did it go? What was the impact? 

Implement strategies to prevail through new job hurdles    

We all experience obstacles throughout our career; however, navigating these challenges often leads to the biggest professional growth. The strategies below can help you cope with some professional growing pains.  

  • Develop strong mentoring networks, including sponsors and allies  — seek both peer mentors (at your level or just above), as well as more senior mentors (further ahead in their career). This is especially important for women and other underrepresented groups. 
  • To assess a company’s culture, ask how the organization approaches feedback. You can ask questions like these starting in the interview process:  
    • How does your company/institution collect feedback from employees?  
    • What is done with the feedback?
    • How is it shared?  
    • How is it acted upon?
  • Recognize that there may be multiple causes for challenges you encounter. Separate internal criticism or personal growth areas (such as feelings of imposter syndrome) from the systemic biases that might be at play.  
  • Practice self-advocacy and conflict resolution through positive conversations and manage up to find mutually beneficial solutions. Frame your requests and propose solutions, highlighting how it also benefits the company and the audience you are speaking to.

Find more resources 

Want to learn more? Take a look at these new jobs & career transition resources to help you develop from a student into a professional. 

By: Tavi Sookhoo & Simona Rosu