It doesn't matter whether you're a rookie heading into your first orientation or a 10-year veteran, adjusting to a new agency can be tricky. There is a learning curve involving understanding an agency-specific culture, establishing new relationships, learning different policies, and navigating a new geographic location. If you aren't careful, it can be a bit overwhelming as you try to fit in. As was the case for me so many years ago, outsiders usually have the hardest time because they represent the unknown.
Sometimes, even after an entire career, you still feel like you don't quite fit in. It's all about building relationships and unfortunately, especially when you are new, you don't get to pick; they pick you. I have created a list of suggestions that might make your transition easier. They are listed below in no specific order.
Learn what it takes to be successful.
You may have been a whiz kid at the academy or at your last agency, but now you are just the new guy. What worked for you before may not work now. Be flexible, listen, and be patient. Pay close attention when given assignments and when told what is expected of you. The secrets to your success are located in the details that will reveal themselves if you are paying attention.
Don't make snap judgments.
Making snap judgments could prove to be a bad mistake in the future. Give your situation time to play out and see where it's going. For example, a policy might seem unnecessary at first, but once you understand the history behind it, it might make more sense. Don't judge a book by its cover either; anyone can have a bad day. Also, some people are more introverted than others. Give them time before you make up your mind.
Build a positive relationship with your supervisor.
No, that doesn't mean becoming a boot licker. That means you need to establish a pattern of good communication, develop a clear understanding of their expectations, and always act professionally. Always remember, respect must be earned to have any value. It's a two-way street; respecting rank and respecting the person are not the same thing.
Develop relationships with coworkers.
You must try to get to know people but keep your personal life personal. Choose your associations wisely. Keep your conversations professional. Stay out of cliques and office politics. Do not become involved with questionable people because misery does like company.
Do more than what's expected.
Start your reputation as a hard worker early. Stay hungry and jump on calls. Whatever you start, however, you must be willing to keep up or people will wonder what happened to you later and question your original motives. Your work product is your reputation. You will be judged by your work ethic more than anything else.
Find a mentor.
Finding a mentor will allow you to learn the culture of your new agency faster, help you fit into your new job better, and provide valuable insight otherwise kept from you. Each agency has its own language and inside jokes and having a mentor will help you with office politics. In addition, they can help you find things. For example, you shouldn't ask your captain where the forms are; in their mind, you should already know.
Seek out tasks and additional skills. When possible, join committees or work-related volunteer programs. Getting involved will help you develop relationships and learn your agency's values. Working with your community will also help get the word out that you are the real deal and not just a paycheck grabber.
Get as much hands-on experience as you can.
The more you do during your orientation/field training, the better you will perform your duties when you are on your own. Volunteer to take all types of calls. Ask to relieve other officers. You may have 10 years of experience as a cop somewhere else, but in their eyes, you have zero experience at your new agency. At a new agency, tenure carries more weight than experience somewhere else.
Everyone says there is no such thing as a stupid question; I'm here to tell you that's a lie. I've experienced a host of stupid questions and even asked some myself. Who cares? Seek clarification when you don't understand. Ask questions that go beyond your primary duties. Strive to understand the big picture.
Ask for feedback.
It is important for you to receive regular feedback. You can't fix something you don't know is broken. Asking how you're doing is not only important, it's expected.
Remain professional and positive.
Everyone is positive and upbeat in the beginning. Make every effort to stay that way. You volunteered to work at that agency so act like a volunteer. If you have a gripe either keep it to yourself or do something about it through the chain of command. What you don't want is to be overheard complaining in the hallway.
Respect personal space.
It's important to figure out the unwritten rules of the office. People get touchy when you drink their coffee without putting money into the coffee fund, or when you put your stuff in the wrong refrigerator. Heaven help you if you move something out of the way on someone's bookshelf. Watching how people are doing things is also part of office culture. Sometimes it's the little things that can bite you.
Don't get overwhelmed.
You're going to be taking in a lot of new information during your first few weeks. No one expects you to know it all. What they do expect is for you to learn as you go, and not need remedial training. Being overwhelmed is not a sign of failure but a sign that you need to break your tasks down into smaller, more manageable chunks. You are not the first new person nor will you be the last.
Don't say, "This is how we did it at my old job."
This is one of my pet peeves. I don't care how you did it at your old job (nor does anyone else), because you are now working here. My advice is to say it differently. Put a spin on it by turning your experience into constructive criticism or a suggestion. Just drop the, "back where I used to work" part.
I've been the new guy many times in my life; in the military, law enforcement, and in the private sector. It all amounted to the same thing no matter where I worked. Organizations may have different titles and missions but they are filled with people— people whose behavior toward newcomers is as predictable and consistent as paying taxes.
People make or break an agency. For example, if your agency has good leaders, the company culture is welcoming and uplifting. If your agency has poor leaders, the culture is dark and demoralizing. Either way, it's up to you to establish yourself.
Always walk toward the light and realize that whether you are fully accepted or not is of no consequence. Your work product will speak for itself in and out of the agency. In my eyes, it's not about acceptance but instead about building respect.
Amaury Murgado retired a senior lieutenant from the Osceola County (FL) Sheriff's Office with over 29 years of experience. He also retired from the Army Reserve as a master sergeant. He holds a Master of Political Science degree from the University of Central Florida.