Office Coach: Job's sink-or-swim culture has new graduate floundering

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Question:I'm afraid that I might be fired from my first professional job. Four months ago, after finishing law school, I was hired by a very large firm that has no orientation or training program. My boss keeps saying "just figure it out" and gets angry if I ask other attorneys for help.

Unfortunately, my boss and I also seem to have a terrible communication problem. Whenever I ask a question, she gives me a long answer that I don't understand, which is very frustrating. She must be frustrated as well, because she has started rolling her eyes and sighing when I walk into her office.

I have considered quitting my job to avoid being fired for poor performance. However, I hate to give up so quickly. Is there any way out of this dilemma?

Answer: Feeling like a failure in your first job is a horrible experience, but don't be too hard on yourself. This law firm apparently has a sink-or-swim culture, in which new hires are largely left to fend for themselves. In such environments, the underlying management philosophy seems to be survival of the fittest, so training, coaching and peer support are virtually nonexistent.

Under normal circumstances, your immediate manager would be expected to help you conquer the learning curve, but since discussi ons with her are unproductive, you will need to find another suitable mentor. Fortunately, most large law firms have a human resources manager or a partner responsible for new associates, either of whom should be able to help.

Without criticizing your boss or the firm, explain the challenges you are facing and ask how other beginners have managed to learn the ropes. If it seems appropriate, consider asking your new ally to facilitate a performance-planning discussion with your manager. Having a "translator" available might help to reduce the communication barriers.

But if your adjustment continues to be difficult, don't despair. This organization may simply not be a good fit for you. Many attorneys who struggle in a large firm find that they thrive in a smaller, more supportive practice.

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Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach. Visit www.yourofficecoach.com.


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