The First 90 Days: Your Road Map For Success at a New Job

The First 90 Days: Your Road Map For Success at a New Job

by Scott McDowell

Transitioning to a new job is not easy; it can be overwhelming to learn your role, create new relationships, assimilate into the culture, and impress your boss all at once. Onboarding programs are tasked with making sure you do one thing: quickly create value for the company.

In the definitive book on the topic The First 90 Days, Michael Watkins outlines a specific plan to ease transitions for leaders at all levels. It’s good reading for anyone beginning a new job (and anyone who leads teams).

Think of it as your battle against misunderstanding. According to a study conducted by the International Data Corporation: “U.S. and U.K. employees cost businesses an estimated $37 billion every year because they do not fully understand their jobs.” By assimilating into a culture and gaining an initial sense of purpose, you’re actively minimizing your own frustrations and showing your worth right off the bat.

But what, specifically in creative professions, is important to look out for when starting a new role? What should you pay attention to?


  1. Assess the business case for your hire. You were hired for a reason. Is it to generate ideas? To train others? To add design or technical skills that were lacking? To deftly oversee client projects? Learning where you fit within the overall business strategy is something that may seem obvious but is often overlooked. Figure this out early.
  2. Show your work. After a rigorous interview process, it can feel like you described your skills and experiences ad nauseum, so now that you’re hired you can get work. The thing is, most people in the company don’t know who you are, why you were hired, or what specifically you bring to the table. Make sure your team knows your resume and has viewed your portfolio. It gives people around you context, a view into your style, and an idea of how you complement or challenge them.
  3. Learn the communication patterns. Cracking the code of company culture often comes down to simply learning how people communicate with one another. Does your boss expect you to keep her informed on the details, or come to her with only the big problems? Does your team need constant validation or complete autonomy? It is not only a matter of imposing your own communication preferences on the organization, but assimilating into the patterns that already exist.
  4. Establish expectations with your boss. According to Watkins, one of the keys to success in a new role is to secure early wins: “Early wins excite and energize people, build your credibility, and quickly create value for your organization.” But it is important to define what a win is in your boss’s eyes. What does she expect you to learn and accomplish? How quickly does she expect to see results? The more clarity you build around these issues, the easier your transition will be.
  5. Don’t try to do too much. You may feel the need to validate yourself by proving your creative genius. Instead, feel confident that you’re there, and at least initially, listen carefully rather than talk. Find ways to highlight the strengths of others. As for your own genius, there will be plenty of time for that.

Navigating the transition period in a new job can feel a bit like juggling swords. But if you take the time to find your place in the organization and focus on new relationships, you’ll be off to a great start.

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