Reprinted from The Star Ledger, Sunday, June 14, 1992 (Section Nine: Page 58)

By Sheryl Silver

Just landed a new job? Wondering how to keep it, how to avoid being “last in and first out” if the company downsizes? Nothing can guarantee job security in a volatile economy and certainly those with the least tenure in a company are often the most vulnerable.  There are, however, behaviors by which new employees can ingratiate themselves with superiors and become less likely targets for termination.  You’ve heard the expression, “First impressions are lasting.”  In a new job, that adage can be particularly true. There’s a phenomenon known as the “halo effect” that refers to the positive perspective an employer develops about a new employee who makes an extremely favorable impression their first 90 days on the job.  That perspective generally gives that employee some latitude to be “less than perfect” thereafter without endangering the criticism or scrutiny of that same employer.  Conversely, for the individual who makes a negative impression in their first three months at work, who comes in late and seems less than diligent in their efforts to please and perform well, an employer tends to develop a negative perspective that invites more severe scrutiny and judgment for any subsequent infractions of the rules.  For the second individual, termination – either on an individual basis, or as part of a company-wide downsizing, is likely. For the former, retention and even promotion, is the more likely future in the organization.

What can you do to create a positive “halo effect”.  Start with the basics, like being punctual. In fact you may want to arrive at least 15 minutes before your official starting time.  Managers and executives often arrive early to organize their days and prepare for important meetings.  You’ll definitely make a positive impression if you show similar initiative.

If you’re not enough of a morning person to actually arrive early, at least arrive precisely at the time you’re expected to do so. Coming in a bit late on occasion is a privilege you may earn in time, but at the onset of your tenure with any organization, it’s unwise to take such liberties.

Always be prepared.  If you’ve got a presentation to make, don’t wait until the last minute to assemble it.  Count on things taking more time when you’re in a new work environment, after all, you’re still unfamiliar with clients, company products, and policies.

By the way, don’t feel compelled to go it alone in preparing if there are aspects of the task at hand with which you need help. The goal is to have an outstanding result.  That means doing your homework and enlisting any other expertise you need to achieve your objective.

Make yourself available.  Companies today are, more than ever, looking for those people willing to go the extra mile and pitch in for the common good of the organization.  You can create a positive halo if you demonstrate early on that you’re one of those people.

If your employer, for instance, needs someone to work a weekday evening or one Saturday to handle the flood of calls expected in response to a product recall announcement, volunteer to be that person.  Trading off one early dinner or Saturday afternoon at home for making the impression that you can be counted on in a crunch, is a sacrifice worth making.

In a similar vein, don’t show resistance to overtime work that might be required if you join the company during its peak season.  It’s probably that extra work load that justified the company’s hiring another full-time person – i.e. “you” – in the first place.  Demonstrate your flexibility and team spirit by taking your share of overtime.

Don’t be a clock watcher.  Bosses are less than impressed with employees, particularly new ones, who walk out the door without fail at the stroke of the company’s official closing time.

There’s no need to go overboard and offer to stay late each night for a boss who’s a workaholic with a never-ending list of projects to be completed after 5pm daily. It can, however, make a difference in the impression you make your first three months on the job, to stick around an extra 15 to 30 minutes daily.

Use the time to finish a report you know will be needed early in the morning. Read trade journals you didn’t have time to scan during the day. Plan your agenda for the next day. See if your boss needs any last minute assistance on a project. Even if he or she doesn’t, the impact of your offer will generally be appreciated and remembered.

Schedule personal appointments on your own time. You may find yourself with more flexibility after some months on the job, but early on don’t be labeled as someone who takes excessively long lunch hours or uses work hours for dental, doctor, or other personal appointments.

Even if the company has a policy that enables you to make up the missed time, be sure you’re not abusing the policy or making appointments at times when your absence creates a hardship for co-workers or superiors.  Those hardships will be remembered, but not very favorably.