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How to Prepare for a New Job in the Pandemic

These seven tips will help you onboard more easily during this difficult time

By Sheryl Stillman

With the pandemic impacting us all in some way, starting a job during one is no exception. So, if you expect to begin work at a new employer soon, and as more companies elect to continue with remote work, you might want a few tips to make the onboard process easier and more successful.

An older man with a greying beard looking for a job on his laptop at home. New job, onboarding, Next Avenue
Credit: Getty

I've come up with seven, based on my experience switching jobs and fields.

My background: I was an external and internal consultant over the past two decades at large companies such as UnitedHealth Group and Best Buy. My abilities to jump into and navigate organizations, as well as build relationships, have been more than success factors — they've been my identity.

When interviewing for a job, ask which programs the company uses to connect and collaborate with their employees.

After a corporate downsizing at Best Buy in June 2019 , I launched a new chapter of my life: freelance writing and consulting with local Twin Cities businesses. However, I missed being part of a larger team. Fortunately, in October 2020 at 54, I joined C.H. Robinson, a global supply chain and logistic company, leading change management across its North America offices.

Given my background, when I took that job last year — smack dab in the pandemic — I was surprised to find my trusted toolkit for onboarding needed adjusting. And after talking with others, including an industrial and organizational psychologist, I learned I wasn't alone.

So, here are my seven tips for preboarding (preparing and planning for a new job), to set you up for success even before you accept an offer.

1. Learn the technology. Yes, tech can be your friend and foe, but embrace it. Before beginning a new job, make sure you know how to use the technology you'll be working on there.

Amy Rosen, 62, renewed her real estate license last summer and then joined Keller-Williams, an international real estate company, in St. Paul, Minn. Before starting, Rosen said, she got up to speed with the technology the company uses. "I made it a priority to educate myself through group learning, independent tutorials and other forums," Rosen said.

Collaboration and videoconferencing platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack and Yammer have all enabled employees to keep working throughout the pandemic virtually.

You've probably had plenty of experience with Zoom to "see" your friends and family. But if you haven't used Teams or Slack, they offer dedicated channels or digital folders to chat, share and organize files without bogging down your email inbox.

Yammer, a kind of work version of Facebook, is a social-networking tool fostering collaboration across an organization. Where Teams and Slack aim to help cross-functional teams work on a project together, Yammer is an informal tool used for a "one-to-many" means of communication.

When interviewing for a job, ask which programs the company uses to connect and collaborate with their employees. That will provide valuable insight on what you may need to learn if you'll end up working there.

Searching Google, YouTube and software developer sites themselves for tips and tricks will let you hit the ground running.

2. Connect early and often. Setting up "meet and greets" with your new team and key stakeholders (up, down and all around) is even more critical than before COVID-19 locked us out of workplaces.

In fact, according to Linda Reese, managing partner of the consulting firm Leader OnBoarding and co-author of "The Myth of 'Fit,'" building relationships is an early predictor for onboarding success. Since you probably can't do that in person these days, Reese suggests scheduling informal, 25-minute phone calls.

Another idea: break bread virtually. Drinking and eating together, even apart, can create a warm atmosphere in getting to know one another.

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3. Be authentic. When Hope Jordan, 54, joined her New Hampshire nonprofit's team as director of membership and development last March, she said, "Someone cried on a video call almost every day, and often with cameras off." That was a bit challenging for Jordan.

"Without visual cues or the simple gesture of being able to hand a Kleenex to a colleague, I found myself unprepared for dealing with the heightened emotions the pandemic has brought to all of us," she said.

So, listen to your coworkers' challenges while sharing your own. That's an excellent, early way to build trust with each other during COVID-19.

4. Reserve time for yourself. Monica Dahl, who's in her early 50s, became vice president for e-commerce at the photography company Shutterfly last April, just when the world was shutting down and the company was transforming. "I had to recalibrate my expectations of coming into a large organization during the early stage of COVID-19,"  she recalled.

That meant making sure she gave herself some free time to catch her breath.

Dahl quickly realized that "Zoom Fatigue" was a real phenomenon. As the mental health site Psychreg.org has noted: "Apps like Zoom not only drain the life and energy out of us, but they also beat our bodies down."

To decompress and unplug when starting a new job, block your calendar for off-air time to strategize and reenergize.

5. Know yourself. Understanding who you are can be reassuring when chartering unknown territory and that's especially true if you're beginning work for an employer during the pandemic and will have less interpersonal contact.

Don't be startled if you have an undercurrent of emotion when acclimating to your new company, especially if you have been unemployed for some time.

So, you might want to try filling out The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a gauge of how you perceive the world and make decisions. If you find out you're more introverted or extroverted, there are ways to then stretch out of your comfort zone to make better first impressions and leverage your strengths.

Introverts like to take in information and process it before putting forth a recommendation. But this behavior can make them appear unapproachable or seem like they're withholding opinions. If you're introverted, Reese offers this suggestion: consciously share more of what's on your mind and more frequently.

Conversely, she said, extroverts can employ "active listening" and "taking notes during conversations," to avoid coming on too strong.

According to the MBTI, people naturally fall into one of two types of decision-making camps: Thinkers ("Ts"), who tend to be logical and data-driven, or Feelers ("Fs"), who lean more towards people's concerns than facts. So, if you're starting a new job, think about which of those seems like you. T's might be best to involve other people in making decisions at work, while F's could be helped by limiting the number.

6. Exercise resilience. Beginning a new role during the pandemic will likely produce a plethora of opportunities to showcase your resilience after stumbling. You may be spending more time with the IT service desk than your own team or frequently hearing "you're on mute" during Zoom calls or experiencing misaligned job expectations.

Don't be startled if you have an undercurrent of emotion when acclimating to your new company, especially if you have been unemployed for some time. Try to "unlearn" language that keeps you connected to your former life as you begin to build anew. Lean into this resilience to navigate a "new normal."

In "Resilience at Work: How to Succeed No Matter What Life Throws at You," authors S. Maddi and D. Khoshaba, conducted a 12-year employee study that identified three variables resilient individuals use to recover from immense stress: they stay connected, they don't give up and they grow from difficulties.

7. Finally, maintain balance. Without the boundaries between home and office, it's easy these days to forget the importance of how mind, body and the heart play together. Carve out time for healthy eating, exercise and relaxing activities, since they can all impact the energy you bring to work.


Sheryl Stillman
Sheryl Stillman is a former retail executive turned freelance writer and change management consultant. She enjoys writing on a variety of topics including aging, technology and solo travel. Learn more at Sherylonline.com. Read More
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