Starting a new job: 10 tips for success for International Professionals

Starting a new job can be both exciting and daunting, especially for international professionals stepping into the unfamiliar cultural waters of US firms. Your unique background and skills got you the position and are still valuable assets, but you still need to navigate these cultural dimensions and set yourself up for success. Here are some best practices to help you hit the ground running and make a positive impression from day one.

1. Understand the Company Culture

Before your first day, research your new company’s culture. You’ve probably already done this, or you wouldn’t have made it through the interview process. But now it’s time to learn more about its values, mission, and any recent news. Pay attention to the people on your team and to the company’s communication style and work ethic.

Note the values, behaviors, and activities that are appreciated or rewarded in the company and your team as well as how the company’s culture is applied. Develop a strategy for assimilating yourself to the culture. Pay attention to who is listened to and who has influence.

2. Be Proactive in Introductions

Take the initiative to introduce yourself to your colleagues. Find out who the decision makers are and prepare to get to know them. What are their priorities? Position yourself to help and to learn what role your work will play in their strategies and goals. Depending on your job, this big picture may become very important down the road.

The key is to be proactive and get to know people. This can be a challenge in a new cultural environment. However, a warm, confident introduction sets a positive tone and demonstrates your eagerness to be part of the team. Prepare a brief introduction that highlights your background and what you bring to the role – and have some good questions in mind based on research and other conversations you’ve had. If you come with good questions, you can also show off your listening skills. 😉

3. Clarify Expectations Early

Schedule a meeting with your manager to discuss your role, responsibilities, and expectations. It’s a little intimidating, but it can get the relationship off on the right foot. You’ll want to find out the key performance indicators (KPIs) that will be used to evaluate your performance. This conversation will provide you with a clearer roadmap and help you prioritize your tasks. What are their quarterly goals and how can you help them get there? These are good questions to ask early on.

Pro tip: You can also use it to develop rapport with your manager – this will be critical as you go forward.

4. Master Communication Skills

How to improve your workplace communication? Effective communication is crucial in any professional setting. Focus on honing your English language skills. Remember, when it comes to English, you’re not shooting for perfection but for clarity and being concise. Also, practice active listening, and don’t hesitate to ask for clarification if needed.

Regarding this, some international professionals believe that if you ask for clarification, it will make you look foolish. But this is absolutely not true – it will show you are eager to get it right and that you want to understand the context clearly. I wish more native speakers would do this. As I’m writing, $64M is lost each year in business due to poor communication among native speakers. So do your part to lower that figure and keep the work process nice and clear. Maybe we can help the native speakers improve their communication at the same time!

Pro tip: One thing you can also do to improve is focus on slowing down a bit. Speaking more slowly is key to sounding more confident. Furthermore, if you have an accent, slowing down can help others understand you. This is particularly important in the early stages, i.e., the first month or two.

5. Engage in Small Talk

Small talk plays a significant role in building rapport with colleagues. It’s an uncomfortable aspect of American business culture for many, but it’s also unavoidable. So while it might feel uncomfortable at first, engaging in casual conversations about non-work-related topics can help you connect with your coworkers on a personal level. Topics like recent events, sports, where they’re from originally, or weekend plans are great conversation starters.

Here’s a recent blog that can help if you’re struggling with small talk.

6. Participate Actively in Meetings

It may be difficult at first to participate in meetings. It’s daunting to have to contribute ideas you’re not 100% sure or jump in when the more aggressive team members are talking a mile a minute. However, meetings are a platform for you to showcase your ideas and engage with your team. And in the US, it’s expected that you will participate actively in these conversations. If you don’t, you might be seen as uninterested or passive.

Prepare for meetings by reviewing the agenda and formulating your thoughts in advance. Have a couple key points you’d like to make. And don’t worry if your ideas not 100%. The point is to get them in the room, so you can collaborate with others. An idea you don’t mention may not be perfect but it might lead to a great innovation. This is a key principle of US business culture. The Ugly Duckling leads to the Beautiful Swan of Innovation!

So don’t be afraid to speak up, ask questions, or provide input. You might feel you have nothing to add but your team mates will disagree with you. Americans believe we all have unique perspectives and can add valuable insights. It’s one of the foundations of our individualist culture.

Start with baby steps – one contribution per week and stick to it. Then increase it two contributions and then three. Before you know it, you’ll be more active than you thought was possible. And don’t be too self-critical!

7. Seek Feedback and Act on It

Regular feedback is essential for professional growth and seeking it out will send a positive signal to your manager/s. Don’t wait for formal reviews; proactively seek feedback from your supervisor and your peers as you go along. And of course act on the feedback you receive. This will demonstrate your commitment to continuous learning and development.

This may feel a little too assertive and in your country, you might hold back on this and on the other tips I’m presenting here. But being assertive is an intrinsic part of US culture; if you are too passive or inert, you will have a hard time being recognized and getting the promotion when it comes along. You might also get taken advantage of. And that’s not fun or enjoyable.

8. Network Within the Company

This is another aspect of being assertive. And it might feel aggressive to you. But start building a network within your organization. Connect with colleagues from different departments. Attend company events, join employee resource groups, and participate in social activities. And when you’re at these events, don’t just interact with people from your own national group. Branch out. Expand your social circle. Use the small talk tricks I linked to above.

It’s difficult but creating a strong internal network can provide support, mentorship, and opportunities for collaboration when you need them. It will also help you feel more connected to your team and the company in general. You may feel that they don’t want to speak with you, but this is not true.

9. Balance your Humility with more Confidence

Humility is an attractive quality but you will see (and perhaps already know) that humility in the US doesn’t get you very far. If you’ve succeeded in the job search and interview stages and are now reading this blog because you need more help, you already know this. You need to be able to talk about your wins, your good ideas, and your accomplishments. Remember not to brag but also that the US is an individualist culture. You’ll need to stick out and remind people of your abilities and achievements.

At the same time, be sure to acknowledge when you don’t know something and express a genuine interest in learning from others and in helping them. Express your intentions and feelings a little more directly – this is also one of the US cultural norms.

10. Document your achievements and actions

This is something that many international professional do not do and when it comes time to make a case for promotion, they don’t have the numbers to back up the request. The reality is that documenting your daily activities and sharing them with your superiors is essential for career growth and attaining promotions.

This practice will increase your visibility and ensure your efforts are recognized, making it easier for managers to see your contributions. Remember in the US, it’s totally accepted and in fact encouraged to “toot your own horn” and pay attention to your victories.

Specific metrics and results are crucial because they provide concrete evidence; you’ll need this during performance reviews and when asking for raises or promotions.

Here’s what an example might look like:

Date: June 5, 2024

  • Task: Completed the monthly financial report.
  • Impact: Identified a 5% decrease in expenses compared to last month, saving the company $10,000.
  • Task: Led a team meeting to brainstorm new marketing strategies.
  • Impact: Developed three new campaign ideas expected to increase customer engagement by 15%.

Date: June 6, 2024

  • Task: Conducted a training session on the new CRM software.
  • Impact: Improved team efficiency, reducing data entry time by 20%.

Schedule communication with your superiors, align your work with organizational goals, showing with metrics how you’ve contributed and you’re on your way!

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