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I will be starting a new job next month and am a bit worried about the probationary period. I have never worked in this field (financial services) since I have done most of my life in academia (mathematics).

Till now I have only met the HR people who hired me.

Would it be considered as strange if I ask whether they can supply me with relevant material to read so that I can better prepare myself before I begin?

This a Western (to some extent) culture.

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    There are two good answers below. I'd just say that there may be confidentiality issues that you can't access some domain documents until everything's signed, so also ask if any particular regulations would be good to read up on. – Wesley Long May 18 '15 at 21:39
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    Is it normal? No, its a bit better than normal. – keshlam May 19 '15 at 13:18
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    At one job they put 1,200 pages of technical documentation on my desk on the first day and apparently didn't expect to hear anything from me for the next week :-) – gnasher729 May 19 '15 at 16:47
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I've both asked and been asked this. It's unusual in my experience (US, tech), but certainly not unheard-of. But what and who you ask matter.

The HR person is probably not going to be able to field this request. You really need to connect with the person who will be your manager. If you already have contact information for that person, you can send email such as the following:

Dear $NewBoss,

I'm looking forward to joining your team on $date. I'd like to get a head start on the technologies1 we'll be using. What would it be most important for me to read up on? Is there anything specific that it would be helpful for me to review?

(closing, signature)

1 Or domain, if that's more important.

This question is focused enough to be answerable ("such-and-such library is really important", "you might want to get an early start on this hefty legal thing", etc), but broad enough to let the manager steer.

If you don't have a way to get in touch with the manager, then you can ask the HR person to redirect you. Something like:

Dear $HR,

(some sort of pleasantries)

Would you be able to put me in touch with the person who will be my manager? I have some free time before I start and was hoping to use it to get familiar with the technologies we'll be using, and I'd like to ask which are most important to focus on.

(closing, signature)

What you don't want to do is to ask the HR person what technologies you should learn, or what domain documents you should read, or whatever. That's not his field, and you don't want to start off with the HR person telling people, including your manager, about the new hire who doesn't even understand basic job functions. Your request to the HR person is for an introduction, or to have your request forwarded; that's a reasonable request of an HR person and shouldn't raise eyebrows.

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    As a tech recruiter and recruitee - I've always made sure to discuss what technologies the hiring company uses. As a recruitee, I then read up on the new stuff, and as a recruiter I expect new staff to have done some of that, too. I guess in finance, it's more being pointed at rules, guidelines, and other related stuff - but same principle. – HorusKol May 19 '15 at 2:54
  • @HorusKol presumably if you've gotten through the interview to an offer you've already discussed things broadly (you know what type of work and what broad tools/languages you'll use), and this is to drill a little deeper. You're not looking for a language or whole technology but, rather, specific packages, libraries, design patterns, or the like. – Monica Cellio May 19 '15 at 15:40
  • It's the HR person who doesn't want to tell everybody the candidate they chose doesn't understand basic job function. – user8365 May 19 '15 at 17:05
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    The HR person is unlikely to have had much say in the matter past the initial screen, at least at the companies I've worked for. Evaluation of actual job skills is not HR's job. – Monica Cellio May 19 '15 at 18:22
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Would it be considered as strange if I ask whether they can supply me with relevant material to read so that I can better prepare myself before I begin?

I've done the same in the past.

If my experience is any guide, employers seem to appreciate an enthusiastic new employee who wants to "hit the ground running". Asking for such materials helps to demonstrate that.

I once asked for a way to get up to speed prior to joining a company that had just hired me. I was given materials, and asked to plan the layout for our new computer room two weeks before my start date. That was actually a lot of fun to do.

If I were asked the same by a new employee, I wouldn't consider it strange at all.

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    I was going to answer but Joe's answer neatly covers everything I was going to say :) – Jane S May 18 '15 at 21:07
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    I've done the same with my current job, and not only was it taken as a sign of enthusiasm, I was even reassured in writing that I really need not to worry and that I'll be given enough time once I start my job. – Pavel May 19 '15 at 8:59
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Would it be considered as strange if I ask whether they can supply me with relevant material to read so that I can better prepare myself before I begin?

You're more likely to get information relevant to the company specifically by asking this, than you are to get material about the job you're entering, but you should ask anyway. This information will be useful for going forward with your job.

You may ask about any useful books the office has on-hand. I don't know about the financial world, but in the IT world books and documentation about programming practice tend to pile up around the office. You could ask for those, though they might not let you have them until you actually start.

You could also ask your to-be boss if there are any books they'd recommend for you - pointing out that you'd like to improve your skills as part of being hired onto the new job

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