Fearful About Starting a New Job

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about worries of residuals from being bullied:

I’m starting a new job tomorrow. I was previously unemployed for 5 months, and worked small jobs on the side. My main career has been corporate in the financial industry; however, I’ve only worked in a ‘back office’ environment as a processing clerk. I’ve had 15 years of financial industry experience mainly in mutual funds and insurance and I’ve dabbled in mortgage administration, but at an entry-level the entire time. I’ve never felt the desire to move up, because I found the financial industry to be quite daunting in terms of educating myself at a higher level. My new job is in the mortgage industry. It’s been over 10 years since I’ve worked in mortgages.

The position is much more challenging, in a much smaller company. I was hired to be an Executive Assistant to the CEO who is the top mortgage specialist in the industry. I’m petrified! The interviews went great, and he comes across as an amazing person when speaking with him; however, it all comes down to ‘personality fit. I’m feeling a bit self-conscious that our personalities may clash because I have a tendency to fall short of confidence in things I am not well trained on. I fear that he may not have time to train me, or take the time to be a good coach and confidant. My last job was horrible. My supervisor lacked leadership skills and was basically a bully. I think I am carrying my fears into this new job. I don’t want to ever feel bullied like I did in my last job ever again. How can I overcome my low self-esteem when I don’t even know what the future holds? Please help!

Signed, Worried

Dear Worried:

This may not reach you in time for you to read it before you start your new job, but it will be helpful for the first few weeks or months anyway. First, congratulations on getting a job that allows you to work with someone who is successful and appears to be effective and admirable. There tends to be a hierarchy for administrative support staff and your position as the administrative assistant to a well-respected CEO will be at the top of the hierarchy! That may not mean much to you right now, but it does have its value. For one thing, it gives you a chance to be supportive of everyone and to be a visible person that others consider to be approachable and pleasant. Smile!

Present yourself as a caring, pleasant and open person from the very beginning and even those who might not tend to be friendly will be more likely to open up and accept you.I recently helped a high level manager select two administrative staff from a field of ten and I think her comments about all of them, as well as her comments about the two she selected, will be helpful for you.

1. Shy, nervous or unassertive candidates were the first to be passed over. The manager said she realized she couldn’t train those traits out of people and she desperately was in need of staff who could hold their own in the wrangling that sometimes went on between departments. That’s the case in most businesses. A shy and unassertive person often cannot accomplish the tasks that require a bit of push and sometimes even some appropriate push-back. That is probably needed in your job as well. Excessive hesitancy and fearfulness will not get the work done.

2. One of her testing components was to give each the same three work problems and have them write, then discuss, what they would do. The instructions included information that she was out of town and the candidate was alone in the office for the next two days, even though there had been no time for training or explanations, beyond a few phrases of instructions.A key characteristic she wanted to identify was initiative combined with judgment. She wanted to know which candidates could be depended upon to at least make the effort to carry out the overall mission she had described for the office and for their work. She also wanted to know which candidates would do nothing or very little, without her specific directions. That exercise was a key one because almost half the candidates did nothing with the items except put notes on them saying they didn’t have enough information to take action on them. Two of the candidates specifically mentioned that they would be guided by the manager’s stated intention of what she wanted everyone to have as a mission and goal and they would act on the items accordingly. Those stood out very positively.

3. She selected the two new members of the team and had a few days with them before she actually did have to go out of town without much time for training and explanations. She told me later that when she returned and went over what had happened in her absence she almost got misty-eyed over how wonderfully well the new employees had done. She said they fulfilled every expectation and then some. Based on her comments, as well as what I have heard from those in similar situations, have experienced myself, and have read about in other resources, here are a few ideas that may be helpful to you in your new work.

*Think of yourself as the chief representative of the one you assist (I’ll refer to him as your boss, although that might not be the term you use.) Even if you don’t know everything about the job, you probably can figure out what would be the most helpful to him. The more you can lighten his load on a regular basis the more useful you are. If he has to handle work on his own, or if he has to deal with a bunch of items kept waiting for his approval when he thought they would be done, it probably isn’t helping.

*Your boss has his own work and wants you to jump in without a lot of lag time. He may not have the time to train you in the optimal manner and may not coach you or get involved in your professional development as much as you’d like. He may; but he may not. Be a confident assistant and do what you can to help him and the company be even more successful. Keep a list of the things that concern you and the things you’d like to find out more about from him. Ask him for a meeting time every week when you can ask about issues. That way you get some coaching and training, under the guise of routine meetings.

*Don’t let your worries about past bullying cause you to see bullying where none exists in this new situation. It doesn’t sound as though your new boss has exhibited any such behavior, but if it appears you are getting into that pattern, talk to someone you trust immediately to get another perspective.*Use the three steps I often refer to as ways to gain influence: 1.) Be credible about the basics of your work and teach yourself more every day. 2.) Be valuable not only to your boss but to others. That often only involves being a good listener and helping others feel positive about themselves. You don’t seem to be the type who would get involved in negative office gossip and cliques, so you already would be more likely to be a positive force in the workplace. Also look for ways to improve your own work and ways to help the business. You’ll pick up on that as time goes by, just as you have done in other work.

3.) Communicate effectively. That means directly, in an honest and clear manner and in a way that reflects confidence and competence, not nervousness and inability to be in your position.

*Consider keeping a journal for awhile, as a way to remind you of your successes as well as lessons learned. As you learn new tasks, develop templates you can use for other times. Create your own learning experiences, even if you aren’t specifically taught by your boss. If your boss does make time to teach you, that will give you even more information to add to your abilities.The main thing to remember is that training will probably be done as you work on a new task not before.

*Ask for feedback, in a reasonable way. Some employees ask for feedback so much that they become burdensome, while others don’t want anything but praise. Simply ask, now and then, “Was that what you wanted?” “Is there anything you’d like me to do differently next time?” Or, “How am I doing?”

*Enjoy your work and make it a fun part of your life not a deadly serious challenge about which you feel fearful. Give it your all while you’re at work, then go home and relax so you can recharge and be ready to do it again.*If you’re apprehensive, think how your new CEO feels! He wants someone to help him be more efficient and effective and who will eliminate worries, not create them. Until he gets to know you he’ll be worried about whether he made the right choice. Help him see that he did!

The manager I mentioned at the beginning told me, “I didn’t sleep well for the week before the new people started. I was worried that I made bad selections and after all that effort I’d be still working myself to a frazzle alone. But, after just a few weeks I already feel so much more happy about work. It’s such a pleasure to feel that I have people on my team who are happy themselves and who want to help me, not just get a check but leave me swinging in the wind. I’m doing everything I can to support them in return.” So, keep your focus on both you and your new CEO as you grow together as a team. Best wishes to you! Let us know how things are going.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.