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First Job After College: Learn to Ask Good Questions


By Lea McLeod, M.A. , Founder & CEO, Degrees of Transition


As you start your first job after college,
asking good questions is one of the best tools you have!

{#/pub/images/FirstJobAfterCollege.jpg}In a recent workshop Adrian was telling a story about the early days on his first internship.

He’d walked into his boss’s office for instruction. The boss rattled off one assignment after another while loading Adrian up with a stack of thick file folders.

Overwhelmed and barely comprehending, Adrian took the great load of paper and turned to stumble out of the boss’s office.

“Do you understand everything I’ve just covered?” the boss asked Adrian.

“No,” Adrian said as he retreated,  “I haven’t got the first clue what you were talking about.”

We all had a good laugh about that story. Seems kind of silly doesn’t it? But many college grads can probably relate because they don’t want to appear stupid in their first days on the job. They may not ask the questions they should.

There’s no need to feel that way!

I want you to learn to ask good questions when you start a job or internship. No one expects you to know everything, how could you possibly?  Consider:

You’ll be working with others who have been around for a while. Unless you’re on the ground floor of a start-up, you’ll move into an existing organization where there’s an innate way of doing things. There’s a language in that organization that might have you thinking you landed on another planet rather than in your first job.

The folks there may be used to rattling off things to people who understand the context of the organization, without having to do a lot of explaining. You’ll find acronyms, work groups, customers, equipment, that all sound foreign to you.

We’d like to think they’d automatically slow down, speak English and basically accommodate us until we are up to speed, but unfortunately it usually doesn’t work that way.

{#/pub/images/AskQuestionsatWork.jpg}As a newbie in the organization, you need to learn its language. Remind your managers, and others, to take a bit more time in explanation than they would with others.

If you don’t understand an assignment or part of a discussion where you’re expected to follow-up, ask for clarification.
If you hear a term you don’t understand, probe for more info.
If you hear a name and you can’t make the connection, ask for the clarification.
If conversations are moving at Mach 10, ask them to slow down so you can absorb the information.

Asking questions is nothing to be embarrassed about. As a manager I saw good questions as a sign of an employee who was invested in the work, and in the outcome.

It was also a reminder to me that the employee might need more context setting than I was giving. It’s a helpful prompt for managers when you ask to know more.

{#/pub/images/AskQuestionsatWork2.jpg}If Adrian asked a whole bunch of questions:

1. It would have been a more productive and satisfying conversation.

2. He would have left a better impression on his boss.

3. He would have felt empowered and challenged to attack that pile of work, rather than being intimidated and overwhelmed by looking at it.

Ask for what you need in terms of direction, and you’ll have a more satisfying career start from Day 1. And Adrian will be happy you learned from his experience!

Got a story about starting out with a new assignment that others can learn from? Please share it in our forum.

{#/pub/images/LeaMcLeod.jpg}Written by Lea McLeod, M.A., Founder & CEO, Degrees of Transition 

Lea works extensively with new grads who are tackling the job search for the first time.  She is a guest speaker, as well as facilitator of the “Find a Job Faster” Job Search Program and “Developing Patterns of Success” Workshop & Webinar series, bringing over 20 years of director level experience, most recently with Hewlett-Packard, managing, leading and serving worldwide employees. She holds a degree in Marketing from St. Bonaventure University, and a Master of Arts in Organization Development from Seattle University.


Do you have a question for Lea?  Post it here in our College Student/Recent Grad Community, she will be happy to help: Ask An Expert 


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ManagingAmericans.com is a community of Business Professionals & Expert Consultants sharing knowledge, success tips and solutions to common job issues.  Our objective is to mentor and develop professionals to be better leaders, managers, team players and individual contributors. Ultimately, helping people succeed in their careers.

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