Arts LeadersSpotlight

Build Your Career By Acing Your First 90 Days

By April 28, 2017 No Comments
“The President gets 100 days to prove himself; you get 90.” – Michael D. Watkins, Author of The First 90 Days

“You’re hired!” Congratulations! You’ve worked hard, graduated with honors, paid your dues, polished your resume, mastered contemporary skills, advanced your career, survived an exhausting search process, and—phew—landed the job of your dreams. Now what?

No matter where you are on your professional journey, when you finally arrive, it can feel like you’re starting at Square One. Who do you turn to for guidance? How can you set yourself up for the best possible success? Have no fear: we’ve been here before, too.

In the DUNCH office, we’ve collected an extensive resource library (~ and so should you!) Our bookshelves are stocked from floor to ceiling with reference texts, and the collective knowledge in our “brains trust” is invaluable for any established or emerging leader. As seasoned recruiters, we feel strongly that you should begin with one particular volume: The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Smarter and Faster by Michael D. Watkins.

Our copy is well-thumbed and regularly shared amongst our staff, clients, and colleagues. Watkins presents a road map for taking charge in those first 90 days—a critical period where seemingly minor decisions, made in a vacuum, can have long-term effects. So, don’t delay! Starting off on the right foot with important stakeholders is vital to ensuring a positive and effective transition for you, your team, and the organization.

We spend our days placing capable cultural leaders into executive roles throughout the United States, and we’ve built an extensive network of leaders who have aced those first 90 days. We’ve reached out to some for a bit of advice on finding your way around your new digs. Apply these tips, and you’ll be well on your way to a successful start.


Here, Edward Yim, who was appointed President of American Composers Orchestra in February 2017, talks about his approach during his first few months on the job:

“An open mind and a determination to listen have been critical. I’m meeting with as many stakeholders as possible—board members, staff, consultants, our musicians, donors, audience members—and asking lots and lots of questions like: ‘What brought you to the organization in the first place? What are our current challenges? What are our strengths? What are the assumptions built into this budget? How has this been done in the past?’ My primary focus has been to build consensus around a new strategic plan. This will be the greatest tool for me moving forward.”


Donald Borror (a former DUNCH Project Associate!) joined Dorrance Dance as Executive Director in January 2017. He reflects on the importance of staying flexible and attuned to your strengths and weaknesses as you step into a new role:

“For me it was less about following an exact structure and more about approaching the transition with a holistic, analytical thought process. With awareness comes choice, and if you know you can only handle one element at a time, at least you know what you are choosing to neglect. Then you’re able to deal with the consequences of that decision, rather than facing a surprise train-smash later down the road.”


Piper Gunnarson, recently appointed Executive Director of On Site Opera, offers sound advice on the merits of brushing up or, in some cases, learning the ins-and-outs of your chosen field:

“I come from a theater background, which is a parallel universe to opera, but I’m certainly not an opera aficionado—yet! Right now, my nightstand and coffee table are stacked with books about opera, and I’ve started listening to or watching operas whenever I can. I’ve also started subscribing to mailing lists of other opera organizations and industry publications to immerse myself in the happenings of the larger opera community.”

Many of us can relate to what Piper said next: “The learning curve in any new job is steep and winding. Wish me luck!” Good luck to you, Piper, and to the countless other leaders out there busy aligning their talent with a new organization!

For more DUNCH book club recommendations or to share yours: connect with us on Twitter (@DUNCHNYC), Facebook, or via email at

By Dan Balkin, Project Associate, in collaboration with Rebecca Cardwell, Project Director