4 Actions to Take With Your Boss When You Start a New Job

This article originally appeared on Microlearning, our bite-sized online solution for leaders and individual contributors.

When you start a new job, you feel pressure not to screw up or dent your new boss’s confidence in you. One of the best ways to prevent this? Proactively connect with your manager — arguably your most important colleague — in these key ways to gain clarity on your role and discover how best to work with them.

1. Ask to review your job description together to align on role expectations.

Most job descriptions become forgotten artifacts once someone gets hired, but your job description can help guide a conversation about your new role. After all, it describes your manager’s hypothetical ideal person for the job. So, how well does it actually match you — and which parts of your job should you focus on first?

Before your next 1-on-1, raise the idea with your manager: “Could we spend some time in our next meeting going over my job description and aligning on expectations? I want to understand what’s most important for someone in my role.”

Look over your job description and be prepared to discuss:

  • Which responsibilities are highest priority for your manager and team — and why. Knowing this helps you to focus on making the greatest impact and be seen as a successful hire.
  • How your greatest strengths match your job description — and how you can apply them. Using your strengths right away can help you achieve quick wins for your team. And don’t forget to consider strengths that aren’t in your job description! For example, maybe you have a knack for streamlining processes and see an easy way to help your team work more efficiently.
  • Any skill gaps. It’s rare to have every skill in your job description mastered on Day One. Where do you need to gain experience — and what ideas do you both have for how you can grow in those areas? How quickly do you need to master those skills? Write down details and follow up in future 1-on-1s.
  • Which aspects of your role excite you most — and why. Pointing these out reiterates your enthusiasm for the job and encourages your boss to give you work and growth opportunities in those areas — or even tailor your role to your interests in the future.

2. Build a habit of asking how higher-level goals and company news connect to your work.

You may be tempted to focus only on learning the ins and outs of your own basic duties. But how your work connects to everything else going on in your organization is context that is critical to your thinking more strategically and making better decisions.

Many managers proactively explain their team’s top goals and how a new hire’s work contributes (if yours doesn’t, ask). Since one explanation won’t be enough for you to really understand the big picture, regularly ask for context at times like these in the flow of your work:

  • When you receive an assignment. Say your manager asks you to compile a monthly customer feedback report. Ask how it might be used to meet your team’s goal of improving customer satisfaction. That discussion could spark ideas for how to tailor the report, such as incorporating clients’ ideas to improve your products.
  • After department or company-wide meetings or announcements. When you’re new, it’s easy to nod along to high-level news and think, OK, I got it or That doesn’t seem to apply to me. Debrief with your manager to be sure you fully grasp the implications of how shifts elsewhere in the organization might impact your work and priorities.

And so you don’t rely on your manager as your only source of information, ask them who outside your team you should connect with and why. For example, if you’re on a product team, it could be beneficial to get to know a customer support lead who can share customer insights.

3. Observe and ask about your manager’s work preferences.

You send a long email update to your new boss. But you later find out that they haven’t read it, so they are uninformed about where things stand. Or you forge ahead on a task, only to learn that your manager wanted you to check in with them before proceeding. By not understanding — and embracing — their work style and expectations, you risk making early missteps that could hurt their trust in you.

To help your boss be well-informed and confident that you’ll deliver, match how they like to communicate. Is it by email, over chat, or in person? What about when something is urgent? Do they want frequent updates about your individual projects or a weekly compilation? Keep in mind that when you’re new, they may want more frequent or detailed updates from you.

Also, clarify where and when in your work they’d like you to own decisions versus seek their input. Their preferences can tell you a lot about how they work and what’s important to them. If they want you to race ahead, they may be naturally more trusting, be more confident in you, or view mistakes as learning opportunities. If they want more checkpoints, it could mean that your work is high stakes for them or that they don’t yet know you well enough to have confidence in you.

4. Get to know them as a person — and how they lead.

As a new employee, people naturally want to get to know you. In return, they, including your boss, may share only surface details.

But learning a bit about your manager as a human being can help you build rapport, find common ground, and better understand their perspectives and decisions. Plus, it can make work feel less like a transaction (I do X in exchange for Y) and more like a partnership (We can accomplish great things together).

In 1-on-1s, work in questions like:

  • “What’s been your career path? How did you get to your current role?”
  • “What do you find most rewarding and most challenging about your job?”
  • “What’s something you like people to know about your leadership style?”
  • “What do you like to do outside of work? How did you spend your weekend?”