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What Is A 30-60-90 Day Plan And Why Every PhD Needs One

On my first day of work at my new role in industry, I was so excited. 

I hadn’t just walked away from academia – I sprinted away and never looked back. 

And it was a long road that I had traveled to find this job. I had no industry experience at all (unless you count shoveling snow out of driveways or mowing lawns). 

I didn’t know the first thing about resumes or networking or how, exactly, to find a job. And my job search journey reflected that. 

But now I had arrived. A large company and an exciting job in Data Science lay ahead of me, and I wasn’t going to waste the opportunity. I was ready to jump right in.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew I was supposed to meet with someone for onboarding.

When I arrived, someone from HR greeted me at the front desk. He offered me a badge and a handshake. 

“Let me show you to a meeting room,” he said. “You can meet the team and then I’ll give you some time to work through some paperwork. I’ll be back to check in with you around ten-thirty.” 

And that’s exactly what I did. I shook a few hands, fielded a few questions from the team I’d be working with, and then settled into a meeting room to fill out paperwork. 

It didn’t take long, however. I was done in about half an hour. So then, I did what I always do when I have something big to tackle: I slid one of the blank sheets of paper on the table over and started to make a list.

Why You Need A 30-60-90 Day Plan

I didn’t know it at that moment, but when the gentleman from human resources returned I learned that what I was doing had a name. 

“What’s this?” he asked. In shuffling my new-hire paperwork, he’d accidentally taken the notes I’d made on that blank sheet of paper.

“Oh, nothing. I just like to get a game plan,” I started to explain, but he seemed to recognize the list without any explanation.

“That’s great – I was just about to introduce you to our version of these,” he said before I could get any further. “Hold onto this. You can use it to build your 30-60-90 Plan next.” 

He went on to explain that every new hire at this company creates a 30-60-90 plan when they start. 

The Plan is a concise document that maps out all your professional and personal goals for each of the first three months you spend in a new role.

This plan was introduced to me as part of the onboarding process. I learned later that preparing one in advance of an interview can actually help you land a job.

Creating a 30-60-90 plan and either memorizing it or bringing it with you to interviews is a great way to demonstrate your enthusiasm and also your business acumen.

This document is powerful because it allows employers to picture you in the position and it shows them that you understand what is expected of you once you get hired.

A 30-60-90 Day Plan Can Get You Hired

You might think that once you get hired into an industry position, you just jump right into the thick of things: meetings, briefs, research, analysis and everything in between. 

But the truth is that there’s a process most industry companies have adopted. It was designed to ensure that every employee gets the same tools and opportunities to succeed as those who come before and after them.

This process takes anywhere from 30 to 90 days, and is often called the onboarding process.

The onboarding process is in place to help you understand how things work at the company. 

A strong onboarding program coincides with higher retention rates in industry. That means that it’s in a company’s best interest to have a clear, well-defined onboarding process. 

It also means that candidates who can demonstrate they understand the importance of onboarding are attractive acquisitions for a successful, growing company.

For each of those months, your employer will have some milestones they would like to hit in order to show that you are incorporating in the right way to the company.

As you can see, during your onboarding, you will execute a 30-60-90 day plan.

So, showing an employer that you understand this whole process and have gone the extra mile to put together a plan on paper – even if it’s different from the plan the company has in place for the position – will make you stand out.

A 30-60-90 day plan is a list of high-level goals you have for your position – including metrics for success – that you anticipate meeting in your first 3 months at a new job.

Once you understand the general process, you just need to personalize your 30-60-90 day plan based on the information you gathered during your informational interviews and the first steps of the interview process.

Know Your Metrics Of Success

Before you can begin to measure your success, you first need to understand a little bit about the goals of your industry.

There are a few ways to determine how a company measures success. Some are intuitive and others call for a little research on your part.

A great place to start is with the job description. This is obviously going to be a resource for identifying your goals. After all, it’s your claim that you’re able to complete these objectives that landed you the interview.

Another good place to look when you’re considering your metrics for success is the company’s About page. All the work that your company does is in service of its mission, so each of your goals should align with that overarching mission statement as well. 

In addition to the About page, you can likely also do an internet search for “[company name] values” or “[company name] mission.” In the performance reviews to come, you’ll likely be asked to self-identify your achievements in the context of the company’s mission.

This is important. Mentioning them in your 30-60-90 plan demonstrates that you understand your role in the bigger picture of the company. A strong grasp of the company’s mission shows that you are an excellent fit for the position and are well-suited to their company culture.

Your next step is to turn to current employees for insight. Look to your existing network – who do you know that works at your target company? Who can you be introduced to or cold contact?

Informational interviews are a great way to get the inside track on what a company’s onboarding process is really like. Be sure to ask these questions of your connections before you land an interview.

Ask them if they have time to chat about their experience at XYZ Company. Find out how the department you’re targeting and the company as a whole defines a job well done.

Your 30-60-90 day plan doesn’t have to be incredibly intricate. It just needs to show that you understand the onboarding process and the company in general. When creating your written plan, aim for three to five objectives for each section.

The 30-Day Plan

In your first month, you will become a sponge. You will absorb everything you can about the state of things, and discover how you fit into the mix.

Although it may be difficult, each of your 30-60-90 day goals should be measurable. Ask questions about specific timeframes and measurements in any informational interviews you’re able to get. In addition, you can ask questions during phone screens or video interviews that might help you create your plan.

You’ll be naturally excited and enthusiastic about a new job in the first 30 days, so plan to capitalize on that. Mention to your manager that you’d like a few minutes at the end or beginning of a meeting during your first or second week to introduce yourself to the team. 

Make it a priority, also, to mention that you plan to get oriented with the facility and its operations. Where are supplies kept, and what floor is HR on? If you can’t take the stairs, is there a service elevator? And so on.

There are physical resources such as office supplies or hardware, and then there are training resources. Plan to find out where you can find answers to your questions about both.

Learning the processes that you’ll be using day to day is another important part of your first 30 days, so mention this in your plan. What tasks are you going to be doing, and in what order, during your work week? To what end? What are your team’s SOPs, and what are their definitions of done?

Perhaps the most important thing you can do, however, is to plan on having a dialogue with your supervisor about their definition of success. What are your team’s ongoing objectives, and how can you exceed them? 

The 60-Day Plan

The main goal for the end of the second month is to contribute. Some companies call this the assimilation phase.

During this stage, you’ll begin to understand the unwritten rules of the company. For instance, you’ll see and understand the difference between a company’s internal culture and its external culture or brand image. This is important to understand in order to be a good steward of the company’s values.

You will start getting familiar with your work during the first 30 days. It will likely take two months to reach a point where you understand everything that’s expected of you. 

In order to do that, you’ll need to fully understand how the teams in the company work together. Who does what and what is the best way to communicate within and among teams? Ask your manager to introduce you to adjacent departments and stakeholders in other departments. 

Follow the company’s training cadence, but set ambitious goals for yourself. If your goal is to complete one task in a series, aim to finish two. Pushing yourself now will set a precedent of excellence.

Ask team members if there’s anything you can help them with if you have downtime. They may not have anything they need help with, but they will remember and appreciate that you even asked. 

Your fresh perspective is an asset to the company. Make notes on processes you see that you have any suggestions about. Save these for your 90-day review and ask your manager who you can share those with. Even if they aren’t changes that can be prioritized at your company or in your department, your initiative and interest won’t go unnoticed.

Finally, if you aren’t currently trained on all the tasks outlined in your job description, touch base with leadership about when you will be. Let your trainer or manager know.

The 90-Day Plan

The final 30 days of the plan is about execution. By this time you know what you’re doing, you know who you’re doing it with and you know why you’re doing it too. 

The month before, you may have known what you were doing and have tried your hand at it, but you may have needed more mentorship. You were likely still finding your place within your team and developing a rhythm of your own. 

In your third month, however, your focus will be on using your new knowledge and experience to take ownership of your role.

Using the relationships you’ve built and your insights, you’ll demonstrate your real value to the company by showing your ability to get things done with minimal supervision. This is a huge advantage that all PhDs have, no matter their background.

Take the initiative to identify anything you haven’t tried yet – and then ask for permission to. Continuing to show initiative beyond the honeymoon phase at your job is another important part of your personal brand.

And the best advice I can give during your 90-day period at a new company is to keep setting goals. Be visible – let your manager and your team know what you’re working on – and be transparent – let them know how you’re doing it.

When & How To Use Your 30-60-90 Day Plan

Bring an actual document to the interview, as well as a copy for the interviewer. When your meeting comes to a close, hand a copy over to them and say, “I put this together. I’d love to ask you a few questions about it, if we have time.”

With this in hand, you can discuss the product or service you’ll be working on, the initial projects you aim to complete, and the initial relationships you want to foster. This will show employers that you understand what they expect from you in the first months on that job and that you want to start producing as fast as possible. In other words, this is your chance to demonstrate that you are a candidate worth investing in. 

Below is an example of a format you might find useful as you plan your own 30-60-90 day plan. Whether you do it on paper or digitally, writing down your itinerary is an important part of the process. Once you know what you’re going to say, preparing it to present using spreadsheet software or a word processing program adds a put-together finishing touch.

30 Days | LearningGoalCompany ValueMetric
Learning goal? 
You can find your target company’s values online. Hours spent?

Performance benchmark? Demonstrate your alignment with company culture, and identify which of your company’s values is demonstrated by each goal you’ve accomplishedCompetency achieved?
Personal achievement?Tasks should be process-driven and focus on learning the new tasks you need to master in your new role.Number of tasks completed?
60 Days | Contribution3 to 5 goals
90 Days | Execution3 to 5 goals

Concluding Remarks

In today’s contracting economy and job markets, employers are looking to hire candidates who give them certainty. If you’re a PhD who can show employers that you are in it for the long run and want to be productive and generate revenue, you will absolutely have the advantage over other candidates. Demonstrating to employers that you understand what your position entails from the company’s point of view is a great way to provide a degree of certainty. Presenting a 30-60-90 plan at the last stage of the interview might seem as if it’s going above and beyond. However – especially if you’ve never had a job in industry before – this step is the assurance companies need that you have the business acumen and the bright mind they’re looking for.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

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Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by millions of PhDs and other professionals in hundreds of different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published 3X bestselling books and his latest book, The Power of a PhD, debuted on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list. His methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

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