Remember those Head & Shoulders™ commercials from the late 80’s/early 90’s? I recall one where a guy is in a grocery store admiring a beautiful woman. His buddy tells him he has dandruff and he needs to use Head & Shoulders before he asks the girl out. Then the tagline plays: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That has always stuck with me. And I have observed in my years in corporate America, that it applies there also. Most people don’t realize that you set the tone and your reputation for years to come in your first 90 days at a new company. That applies to everyone, at every level.

You are being watched. Judged. Assumptions are being made. Good or bad they will stick with you for a long time. Knowing this you have two choices. You can be mindful of your decisions or you can be careless.

Take long lunches and you will always be someone who takes advantage of their breaks. Even if you do it just once.

Be generous with your time and knowledge and people will always come to you when they need something.

Show people you gossip and you will always be someone who can’t be trusted.

It’s not necessarily fair, but it’s true.

The key to success at a new company is to establish three things within the first ninety days:

1. You are someone who fits the culture. Whether you are a passive or aggressive person, that honeymoon period needs to be you proving you fit. That you can work with others and that you listen.

Example: Susie didn’t mess around. She was brought in to clean up a mess. And she went right at it. She put a plan together and without regard for the new company blazed a path and got the job done. Susie was gone within six months after her successful project. She burned so many bridges blazing a path to victory that no one wanted to work with her. She never recovered.

2. Focus on displaying the things you do well. If you are good at coding, demonstrate your coding skills. If you are a good note taker, show that you take good notes. If you’re good at upselling, make sure you deliver on that end early. You may be asked to do things you don’t do well, which is fine, but you should always learn and grow new skills. In the first 90 days, let people see what you do well, not what you don’t do well.

Example: Johnny was hired to lead a broader organization, primarily because of his expertise with a core application that had recently suffered through a failed implementation. But almost as soon as he started, he was pulled in to plug other holes in the organization. He spent so much of his time working on those things that were his secondary strengths that he never got to show his true value. The perception of Johnny was that he was ‘okay’ but they could have someone stronger. Eventually Johnny was replaced.

3. Prove you’re a hard worker. Come in early, stay late, and take on any assignment given to you and deliver.

Example: Within a week at her new company, Inez quickly realized that the thing to do to quickly separate herself from her peers was to outwork them. And it wasn’t hard. Most of her peers worked a strict ‘in at 9, leave at 5’ schedule. Inez came in early and stayed until the days’ work was done, often hours past her peers. It didn’t take long for leadership to realize that she was someone dedicated and committed to the company. She was quickly promoted and given additional responsibility.

To conclude, watch your actions very carefully in those early days. Dig in. Stay late. Offer to help. Don’t be a know it all. Show you want to make a difference. You are establishing the worker and person you are. Make sure it’s how you want to be regarded years down the road.