Learning about the company and its key figures before your first day can help you make a good first impression.

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In a time of layoffs and high unemployment, adapting to a new job is more important than ever. A study by the training company Leadership IQ of 20,000 newly hired employees found that 46 percent of them had hit the rocks within 18 months, facing either termination, disciplinary action or a negative performance review [source: Leadership IQ].

Why do so many new hires fail? One reason is that many of them aren't given a clear job definition from the start [source: Fisher]. You should begin by finding out exactly what your duties will be in the new role. It's best to get a written description, but remember that jobs change and that, in today's job climate, employees often are expected to be flexible and ready to take on new duties.

To help yourself adapt, begin by learning as much as you can about the company for which you're going to be working. Who are the top executives, and how do the various departments and sectors work together? What's the company's history? Who are its main competitors? What trends are affecting the industry?

Once on the job, the Leadership IQ survey found, it was not a lack of competence but difficulty in accepting and implementing feedback that proved the most common downfall of new employees. "The best way to show deference to a group is to listen," says psychologist Albert J. Bernstein in his book "Am I the Only Sane One Working Here?" Your coworkers "want you to show them that you value the experience and knowledge of the group," Bernstein says. Feedback is so important that if you aren't getting it, you should request it. Ask your boss: How am I doing? How could I be performing my job better? Some of what you hear might not be pleasant, so you should be able to take criticism in stride.

In addition to knowing your company, learning what's expected of you and being ready to accept feedback, here are some additional tips to help you adapt to your new job:

  • Don't talk about how you did things at your old job. It's a big temptation, but a serious mistake.
  • Don't bluff. If you don't know how to do something, ask.
  • Acknowledge your mistakes. You're bound to make some; don't try to cover up.
  • Ask questions, take notes. Most people don't mind explaining things to you, but they'll lose patience if you ask the same questions over and over.
  • In office jobs, don't dress too casually. One common suggestion is to dress for the job you want to have, not the one you already have.
  • Keep your boss informed. No surprises or embarrassments.
  • Study the employee handbook. Pay close attention at orientation and training sessions.

Every workplace has its own pace. Read on for advice about adjusting to the rhythms of a new job.