In this series, professionals share how they rocked — or didn't! — the all-important first 90 days on the job. Follow the stories here and write your own (please include the hashtag #First90 in the body of your post).

There are two types of 90-day wonders: the good ones and the bad ones. The bad are those you don’t want to become. They’re the people you wonder why you hired in the first place. And if you’re the one hired, you wonder why you took the job.

The good ones are far different. They’re the people who make a significant impact in the first 90 days. Their insight and problem-solving skills are apparent right away, they’re excellent communicators and they collaborate effectively with others. If you’re the hiring manager, you thank your lucky stars. For you — and the person hired — it was serendipity. Luck and good fortune all rolled into one great hire and one great job.


Unfortunately, for most people taking a new job and for those doing the hiring, the good kind of 90-day wonders are rare. Surprisingly though, with a little planning and forethought, 90-day wonders can actually become commonplace. To achieve this you need to begin about 90 days before the person’s start date when the job requisition is first opened. Then the hiring manager has a choice: define the job as a generic list of technical skills and competencies, educational requirements and years of experience. This is the wrong choice. The right choice is preparing a job description describing the work that needs to be done. These types of performance-based job descriptions consist of 6-8 performance objectives each describing the most important tasks and key subtasks.

With the job defined this way the interview consists of asking candidates to describe their most comparable accomplishments using the Performance-based Interview methodology I advocate. The big aha: if the person has been successful doing similar work he or she obviously has all of the skills required.

Since few managers use this approach, it’s up to the candidate to increase his or her likelihood of success. Here’s how:

How to Become a 90-Day Wonder – The Good Kind

  1. Don’t accept an offer until job expectations have been clarified. During the interviewing process, ask everyone to describe the job expectations. In essence you’re using reverse engineering to create a performance-based job description. Then make sure you’re hired based on your ability and motivation to achieve these objectives. If you don’t know what the work is before you start, or you don’t want to do it, you’re in trouble.
  2. Demonstrate the process of success during the first 30 days on the job. There’s a step-by-step process the best people follow to achieve any objective. It starts by understanding the problem, conducting tradeoff analyses, putting plans together, obtaining needed resources and approvals and then successfully executing the plan while overcoming obstacles and roadblocks along the way. Don’t wait for the onboarding period to get started on this.
  3. Demonstrate critical core competencies right away. Taking the initiative is probably the most important, so volunteer for something as soon possible. Use this as an opportunity to demonstrate a technical skill or personal strength.
  4. Build up your personal capital. Accelerate your launch by working as long and as hard as necessary. This will quickly establish your reputation as someone who’s reliable, flexible, and hard-working. It’s hard to break a good reputation and harder to fix a bad one.
  5. Become visible. Don’t wait for things to happen. Make them happen. It could be finding a mentor, getting assigned to an important cross-functional team or handling a difficult assignment and presenting the results to an executive.
  6. Do something dramatic to establish your leadership style. If you’re in a critical role with tight deadlines, you’ll need to demonstrate that you’re the right person to handle it right away. Being cautious isn’t always the safe thing to do.
  7. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Asking lots of questions demonstrates confidence and inquisitiveness. Not asking questions to prevent being considered foolish is foolish.
  8. Demonstrate strong team skills. You need to quickly forge important relationships with peers and subordinates. Volunteering to help or coach someone you don’t need to will pay dividends in the future. If you keep it up, it will pay dividends forever.
  9. Don’t make excuses. Just get it done. Somehow. It’s better to meet every deadline no matter what the challenge, even if the work isn’t perfect. You should do this after the first 90 days, too.

Take advantage of your first 90 days by demonstrating you’re hard-working, can achieve results, take the initiative, communicate extremely well, collaborate and work with others, understand and resolve job-related problems, and don’t make excuses. This is hard work, but it’s a lot harder if you haven’t clarified job expectations before you start. So start here. Everything else will soon be second nature.


Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring. He's also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine and BusinessInsider. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013), provides hands-on advice for job-seekers, hiring managers and recruiters on how to find the best job and hire the best people. You can continue the conversation on LinkedIn's Essential Guide for Hiring Discussion Group.