Life as a Product Manager is good so far. Since joining in my new role and company, I’ve been spending a lot of time learning about the business, the market, the products, the users, the processes and really everything that comes with a new company and a new role. Already before starting out, I built a pretty hefty list of things I wanted to learn and do in my first months. So once I started, I knew quite well how I wanted to organise myself and have had a pretty solid learning run that helped me get up to speed and deliver some results.
I also have to say that within my first six months I was able to get a salary increase as part of my first review, which is something I’m quite proud of. In the past I shared that by doing the career switch I took a small pay cut, and now I am happy to report I was able to build back so quickly.
Looking back at the last 6 months, I though I would reflect on what has been important during my first few months on the job and share some tips that can help you too. There is one important thing to achieve during your first 3-6 months at a new job, and that is to build a reputation that will work for you in the long run. This can be done through two things: 1) highlighting your work ethic and 2) building your network and – indirectly – making them aware of point no. 1 and how you work. I chose to split this topic into a two part series. The first part – this post – will focus on highlighting your work ethic and the next one on building your network.
Before I start going into details, let me start by saying that I am not a fan of the traditional first 90 days concept, setting 30-60-90 day goals and so on. On the one hand, lately I am feeling more rebellious against traditional career concepts used to sell books or help self-proclaimed career gurus feel adequate. On the other hand, I am just not a fan of the idea that it only takes 90 days to get up to speed when it comes to a new job or set yourself up for success.
I’m a quick learner, but let me tell you, it’s been six months already and I still feel like I’ve got a lot to learn and especially a lot to internalise. First of all, the time to acclimatise to a new role, company, etc… varies wildly from person to person. Second, the idea that you are able to determine business goals and actions that make sense in such a short timeframe, well that is very little likely. That is why, for example I don’t think that setting 30-60-90 day goals is helpful; or at least it wasn’t for me as I did not find them useful throughout my journey. I had one overarching goal and that was learning as much as possible and meeting people. In my experience, the first 3-6 months are important to show that you can do the job and not actually doing it all.
I do agree that you ought to give some structure to your thoughts and especially your learning to set yourself up for success in your first few months, but the pressure of figuring things out in the first 90 days is just ridiculous. My general advice is to keep an open mind, keep asking questions and continue to learn and absorb information as much as you can, and the rest will follow. With that in mind, I did extract some easy tips from my first 6 months that helped me highlight my work ethic and land a salary increase. They are easy to approach and put into practice, without the pressure of achieving it all in the first 90 days.
Part 1 – Highlighting your work ethic
I have said this in the past and will continue to say it. Ensuring that people are aware of your work ethic is key and part of building your reputation at work. At the start, this can mean several things: showcasing curiosity and a continuous learning mindset, a positive attitude, being team oriented, outcome oriented and willing to make an impact. This may seem pretty basic but if done right, it will help you go big.
- Learning and asking questions. The most important thing is to learn and absorb as much as you can. Whenever you have the opportunity, ask questions. Show your curiosity and eagerness to know and learn more. Don’t stop there and don’t ask basic questions (the ones that you can Google), and make sure you learn on your own as much as possible, especially the basics which are generally documented in every company and department and therefore should be accessible on your own. If you are not sure how to approach learning, I would suggest listing out the key aspects of the role/company/industry and building a knowledge base around that. For example, in my role (Product Manager) some of my key learning areas were: company processes, team processes, the product, our users, our customers, competitors, key metrics, business goals, etc…
- Staying organized. While this is generic advice, being organized really helps you get more out of those first few months when everything is new. Use anything that works for you, whether that is an app or pen and paper. I personally love using Notion as my note taking app. I use it for both personal and work notes, and I simply created a work specific folder where I take notes from reading documentation, meeting people and stakeholders and managing my day to day tasks. For heavy note taking, I would certainly recommend using an app, because it’s so much easier to search through notes when you need to refer back to them later on vs. keeping them on paper.
- Getting up to speed with tools. A simple yet powerful tip. You have to be comfortable with the tools you are using in your day to day. If you are new to work life then you have a bit more learning to do, and in that case I would recommend even watching tutorials to learn tips and tricks – basic Outlook or Excel tips are a must. If you are not new, you might still use different tools in a new role, so make sure you carve some time to explore the tools and get familiar with them early on, and also have a few tips up your sleeve. This serves two purposes: one, it makes you more comfortable and therefore confident in your day to day and two, it improves your perception that you know what you are doing. Remember doing the small, basic things, help you go big.
- Learning on the side. For me, moving into a new field, I needed to make sure I kept learnig on the side. Whther it was reading books, doing courses, or checking out relevant articles and news, this was very important to me. Even nowadays, I still try to carve out a little time every other day to read something relevant to my job; I typically like to read books on the topic and am also subscribed to some newsletters among other things.
- Focusing on what matters. This is a bit of a trickier one, and hard to have precise tips for, especially since it’s role and industry dependent, but still extremely important. During your first few months you also need to show you can do the job, and ideally do it well. Learn from what people are saying and doing and try to get a sense of what’s important, what drives impact and how, what and to whom you should communicate things. While 3-6 months are not enough to deliver impact on a big scale, you should be able to take on some small projects, presentations, initiatives, etc… that showcase your potential. Think small but impactful.
Stay tuned for part 2 where I delve into the networking part and how to do that effectively, especially if you are tipically put off by just hearing the networking word.