How to Get, Start and Succeed in a New Job

These new hires share their stories

By Anna Helhoski

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In this series, NerdWallet spoke with a pack of early-career professionals who just started or are about to start a new job. Whether you’re looking for a new position or haven’t quite found your footing at work, there’s plenty to learn from their stories. They told us how they chose their job and whether they negotiated salary. They also shared missteps and wins they experienced in their early days, and when they knew they’d hit their stride. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

Meet the new hires

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Photo credit: Catherine Catoura

Stacey Fleming is transitioning in July to an associate project manager position at JLL Atlanta, a commercial real estate services firm, after working as an account manager for a furniture rental company in Chantilly, Virginia. She’s from Fayetteville, Georgia, and received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Georgia State University. She says she never stopped looking for the right position since she graduated in 2014. Working as an account manager, she realized she wanted to work in project management. She found her new role while working with a career coach for women.  

How did you choose to apply to your new job?

It was really important for me to be part of a company where my ideas and my thoughts mattered, the company truly cared about their employees and there was room for development in all of that. It was more a goal of finding the correct people I want to work with, the correct environment and the correct company. I worked with Tallia [Deljou, founder and president of Mavenly + Co., a career coaching company for women in Atlanta] in February. She was fantastic. She really helped me dig down and find my true confidence. I’m very much a “fake it till I make it” person, but after working with her, I realized I don’t have to fake it. I know this.

How long did the process take?

I applied for this job — I was applying for so many at the time — and I randomly got a call back from a recruiter in April who said they wanted to speak with me about this position. I’ve had a lot of rejection letters and a lot of “You’re a great candidate, but we don’t want to hire you,” so I was in one of those funks. I interviewed with the team I’m going to be on, and they were fantastic. The initial gentleman I spoke with came back [via email] and said, “We’d love to hire you, but we don’t have the space on our team right now.” I kind of said to myself, “Oh, here we go again,” but I kept reading and he said, “We really want to hire you on; here are a bunch of our VPs in my department to contact.” I interviewed three different times with three different VPs in that division. I felt like a hot potato bouncing around from person to person. Finally, after all of that, I interviewed most recently with the team I’m going to be on now, and I ended up landing a perfect role for me with some really awesome people.

Did you negotiate for a higher salary?

I did, but they kind of came back and sidelined me with a much larger salary than I had even asked for. I was completely blown away. I love negotiating for stuff. I was prepared for it, and a little disappointed I wouldn’t be able to use my poker face, but they said, “We want to offer you this,” and my mouth kind of dropped a little so I said, “Sure.”

Fast-forward six months from now: What will be the main indicator for you that you’ve made it and you’re comfortable?

If there’s no point that I feel bored. For me, I like to always stay engaged in something. I really hate idle time of not really doing anything when it comes to stuff like work. I think they really believe in me, so I want to make sure I‘m giving my all into this position. I think when I’m really able to grasp the information and ask a lot fewer questions and when I’m getting more responsibilities and feeling that fulfillment in what I’m doing is when I’ll be like, all right, I’m in it, I’m ready to go.

Chelsea D'Amore

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Photo credit: CooperKatz & Company Inc.

Chelsea D’Amore is an account executive at CooperKatz, a public relations and marketing firm in New York City. She grew up outside of Cleveland, graduated from Syracuse University in 2014 and took a job in the Philadelphia area at a boutique public relations firm. After about two years, she decided to make a change and found a job at CooperKatz.

How did you choose to apply to your new job?

A lot of research was involved. I first connected with one of the managers here, Dianne, because she was a Syracuse alum. I found the connection that way through LinkedIn. In my first conversation with Dianne, I was getting to know the type of clients CooperKatz works with and the philosophy behind the agency, and it seemed like the right fit for me. I came up from the greater Philadelphia area and met with the team in person and was very excited when they offered me a position.

How long did the process take?

I first spoke with Dianne and within a week of that is when I came and visited here, and within a week of that was when I got the offer. It was between two and three weeks.

Did you negotiate for a higher salary?

No. CooperKatz was great about laying [the whole compensation package] out upfront. Any questions I had, I had been able to clarify in the interviewing process. They were very considerate because I was going to be moving from greater Philadelphia, and it was a situation where I wasn’t able to start on Monday. I was letting my last job know I was on my way out and the process of moving to New York and finding a place to live. They were helpful and patient in letting me get myself situated before starting.

What were some of the early challenges of starting the job?

Learning everybody’s names and learning who does what at the company, particularly coming from a small agency background — there were only 10 of us. So mostly learning where I fit in and what the account executive is expected to do as opposed to a lower level, like an account coordinator, or a higher level.

Did you make any mistakes that still make you cringe?

I think it took me longer than I would have liked to learn who on the client’s side does what. It was a lot of, during phone calls, looking at the person next to me and asking, “Who is talking right now and what to do they do?” There was a learning curve associated with that.

When did you feel like you hit your stride?

I think I’m starting to hit my stride. In past jobs, the main indicator to me that I figured out my role is when I’m helping other people figure out their role, when I can become the person offering a little bit of counsel instead of being the person asking for it.

Ninad Pandit

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Photo credit: Jeremy Auestad

Ninad Pandit is the vice president of client management for TalentCare, a health-care recruiting firm in Austin, Texas. He previously worked for business outsourcing company ASEC International, where he was director of global operations. Pandit says he has always worked with small, growing companies, which attracted him to TalentCare. He was hired in October 2016 as a client delivery manager and was recently promoted to his current role.

How did you choose to apply to your new job?

One of the things I’m always looking for in companies is, how can I make a difference? How can I utilize my skill set and expertise? I’m a big believer in access, so TalentCare is a lively group to work with. It’s a group that challenges each other. The other thing I look for is “functional leadership” — are leaders willing to get their hands dirty, empathize and understand their team so when teachings are needed or ideas are presented they’ve been there, done that and they’re doing [it] today?

When did you feel like you hit your stride?

The key indicator of hitting stride was probably about six weeks to two months after I started, in terms of being able to handle client management. The key was being able to speak intelligently to the growth and needs of the clients I was managing and being able to help them.

Jenny Formusa

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Photo credit: Logan Ly

Jenny Formusa is a customer success specialist at Kaleo Software in El Segundo, California, which automates answers to customer questions for large companies. She’s originally from Illinois and graduated from UCLA in December as a business economics major. She had a slew of internships during college, from corporate to startup to working in tech in South Africa. After graduating, she spent three months job searching before landing a gig. She’s still learning the ins and outs of her role.

How long did the job application and acceptance process take?

Three days. I called on a Wednesday, they brought me in the next day where I interviewed with four people in the office. I went in on Friday and was offered the job, and I accepted by Monday.

Did you negotiate for a higher salary?

I did a little bit. That was very hard and awkward for me. Not having a salary before, I didn’t know what to go off of. I looked at Glassdoor, and I negotiated up a bit. I think if I move in the future, I’ll have something better to go off of.

What were some of the early challenges of starting the job?

I think when I first got there, my idea of the perfect employee was sitting quietly and doing what I was told. There was a new project coming in that was most of what I was working on. I ended working all night and all day Saturday and I didn’t want to say anything because I was the new person. I knew I was getting it done at the pace you should, but it was a huge project for one person. I stayed quiet for a few weeks, but then I went to my boss and I said, “I’m working 24/7. I don’t know how much I can keep up with this,” and she was shocked and said, “What are you doing? I had no idea it was that much work. I’ll assign someone else to help.” That was a funny moment for me.

Did you make any mistakes that still make you cringe?

I had an email come in from a customer that I don’t think I was supposed to handle. But I wanted to be proactive, so I said, “I’ll take a stab at this email.” I was trying to bulk update some content for this specific customer and I ended up doing it wrong. I called over my boss and was like, “Uh, I think this is messed up,” and he started laughing. It ended up taking from Friday at 4 p.m. to like 8 p.m. to fix. Mistakes happen. It was a good learning experience, and I won’t tackle anything without asking a question again if I don’t know how to do it.

Do you feel like you’ve hit your stride?

Yes and no. In terms of being in the office and being comfortable with, like, communicating and asking questions, yes. But in terms of my actual work, it’s so different day to day, depending on requests from customers. I feel like I’m still learning. Every request is something I haven’t done before, so in that case, no. I don’t know that I ever will. But in terms of feeling comfortable in the environment, I am much less on edge than I used to be in the beginning.

David Cooper

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Photo credit: Drive Motors

David Cooper is an account executive at Drive Motors, an online sales platform for car dealerships based in San Francisco. After graduating with a degree in philosophy from UCLA in 2015, he took time off from the workforce, then moved to San Francisco and worked for restaurants before entering tech at another company. He says he didn’t know tech sales existed before, but once he was in, he found out quickly it was the perfect fit.  

How did you choose to apply to your new job?

My litmus test was: How likely is this company to succeed and skyrocket and really be a place that I can grow with? I emailed the CEO, Aaron [Krane] — I saw there was a job on AngelList first, but I emailed him directly. It wasn’t an aggressive email, but it was concise. I explained my stats in my current job, which were impressive. I told him I really wanted the job, and I explained what I found attractive by the company. Then my current boss reached out to me and set up a call.

Did you negotiate for a higher salary?

I did not because I was given really fair compensation, and … this was a promotion. This was a role that was higher than the previous role I was at. The thing about sales is you have an opportunity to make an unlimited amount of money, unless your base salary is so low you can’t live on it. I don’t think it’s appropriate to try to negotiate salary if your commission package is fair, which it is.

What were some of the early challenges of starting the job?

There’s a whole lot of nervousness that accompanies the beginning of any sales job. You never know how the market is going to react to your sales pitch, especially if it’s a company that’s smaller or has a newer product. That’s going to impact the ability to know exactly if you can do it, right? So I’ve seen other sales reps at this company sell fast. I knew it was possible, but I hadn’t done it before, so there were a whole lot of question marks.

Did you make any mistakes that still make you cringe?

Nothing that makes me cringe. The important point about being at a startup is you have to start yourself up and just get going. You shouldn’t be afraid of mistakes; you should embrace them, especially if you’re moving fast and getting things done.

When did you feel like you hit your stride?

I had a really good sales month in March, and I knew I was going to be able to do this job effectively. Given how long it takes for deals to close, you can be there for a whole month and have only closed one or two deals. It’s important to maintain focus and be patient. That’s key in the beginning while you’re waiting to hit your stride.

Elissa Frankle

15 December 2016, Annual staff awards ceremony and holiday celebration.

Photo credit: Joel Mason-Gaines for United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Elissa Frankle is transitioning to a senior user experience researcher role at Ad Hoc, a Washington, D.C., software engineering company for government websites after about nine years working for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. She’s a native of Rockville, Maryland, and holds an undergraduate degree in German from Princeton and a master’s in museum education from George Washington University. She held six different jobs at the museum until she decided she wanted to work in user experience research, finding out what people want, need and respond to most from design.  

How did you choose to apply to your new job?

My friend had been sending me job postings for a while, and he sent me this one. They needed someone in D.C. even though it’s mainly remote. It’s a pure [user experience] research position, and he said, “Here’s a friend of mine who works there.” So this landed in my lap. It’s a little bit different. I didn’t know if I was ready to be a senior anything. I came in with all of these questions. Did this place actually believe in its mission? It sounded good on paper; they were out to help veterans get benefits. But I wanted to see what it was like on the inside. Everyone has been super nice, and they are really mission-focused, from the CEO down. They truly believe [in] what they’re doing and truly believe in the value of user research and that we can only get to know our products by knowing our people.

How long did the process take?

Six weeks. It was so fast. When I was offered the position, the hiring manager apologized for having taken so long. I told them, in my field we would be scheduling my first interview after six weeks. So we’re all feeling whiplash at the museum: One day I’m embedded and suddenly I’m giving my two weeks notice.

Did you negotiate for a higher salary?

I said to the hiring manager, “Woman to woman, I sold myself short in the initial interview. I wasn’t prepared to negotiate the salary, and I’ve learned more since then, so I wonder if there’s any room for you to negotiate.” She said, “There’s definitely room for negotiation. Let me go back to them and see what I can do.” They took five more days before I poked them and said, “Look, the longer you wait on this, the longer it will take me to give notice.” She came back half an hour later, and it wasn’t the number I had asked for, but it was substantially higher than the first offer.

Fast-forward six months from now: What will be the main indicator for you that you’ve made it and you’re comfortable?

I think when I’m able to confidently say yes and no. The next six months are going to be about how to run good research and how to run a good research team, knowing the right people to talk to, and [to] lead people when they have a question from the team — to be able to say, “This is the answer” or “This is the right person to talk to” or “No, I don’t think so, why don’t you try this other tack instead.” To be confident in myself to say no.

Want to share your new job story? Email anna@nerdwallet.com or tweet @AnnaHelhoski

Anna Helhoski is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website.