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Goals for Your First Month on the Job


A woman in glasses standing in front of a group of people.


​You've landed your first HR job and have a long list of deliverables and specific goals you'd personally like to accomplish. You're ready to jump in and contribute. Showing initiative and having motivation are critical attributes for a long-lasting HR career. However, being thoughtful and setting goals that will help you acclimate to your role and the organization during the initial 30 days can set you up for long-term success.

"I had a lot of goals that I put in my mind for my first month," said Mary Jo Swearingen, SHRM-CP, a human resources specialist for the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury. "But in reality, the first month is about listening, observing and becoming aware of what is happening."

Before committing to a list of goals and feeling disappointed if they don't come to fruition, Swearingen offers advice for creating achievable expectations for your first month.

Get to know the people.

Swearingen landed her first job in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. She chose to work a hybrid rather than fully remote arrangement. Working in person was advantageous—she began to develop relationships with upper leadership in her agency and with others across the state.

"In HR, people are your business. The people you're working with, and those leaders, it is important to know how they are aligning with missions and goals," she said. "It has helped me understand where a director is coming from so that I can respect their point of view while upholding the department of the Comptroller."

Learn the business scope.

Knowing your role as an HR professional is only part of the equation. To be successful, you need to understand what the organization is trying to accomplish and how your role, strengths and skills contribute to that end goal. This also offers opportunities to find the best fit for your career aspirations. For example, Swearingen's role initially encompassed HR operations. It has since shifted to employee relations and leader training.

"In the first month, you're just trying to figure out what HR is and where you want to go," she said.

Develop your network.

Your college or university experience arranges networking opportunities for you. But when you're on the job—it's up to you to find networking events and intentionally develop relationships with other HR professionals. Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) chapter gatherings provide a fun way to connect with your peers and industry leaders.

"There is no 'HR' for the HR team," Swearingen said. "Having a person or group of professionals you can go to and learn how other people handled the situation can help you make decisions."

Plus, expanding your network can help you on your career journey. Once people in your network know you have a goal, they are more willing to share your name with somebody else, she noted.

Take networking to the next level.

Watch the people you want to emulate and reach out to them. Swearingen suggests e-mailing or connecting with these individuals via LinkedIn.

"Don't underestimate the power of saying, 'I saw you do this and thought it was cool.' You can do it internally. You can do that with a person outside, too," she said.

For example, if you attend a webinar or training and find a speaker's perspective helpful, let them know. This also applies to other participants.

"You can say, 'You asked this question or chimed in with this perspective, and I appreciated that,' Swearingen said. "It is good to give compliments as much as to get them when you're genuine in what you're sharing."

Be kind to yourself.

There's a lot to learn in a new job, and you'll inevitably make mistakes. Swearingen said she's made plenty. The key is understanding why it was an issue and what to do the next time. Depending on the situation, ask for guidance in the moment. It's not too late to follow up a few hours or a couple of weeks later if it's not addressed immediately.

"Something I recently learned is that good HR looks different in every situation. Being agile and adaptable is not something you will get in school, training or soft skills," she said. "You must home in on what is important to you, the skills and values you want to develop in the first month. That will help you pull back and see black and white in a gray situation."

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