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I started working in my current job as a contractor last week and was given an assignment which I completed at the end of the first week. My 2nd week is now into its 2nd day without any correspondence from anyone around. Maybe they are all too busy with their own stuff to dedicate time to a new associate.

I have sent emails announcing my availability but received no response. Is this a bad sign? I do not think I did anything wrong as to be disliked and I completed the first week's project fine. I am worried. Do I go and tap someone on their shoulder telling them I am available to do more stuff if I told them once already in an email and they are ignoring me?

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Have you emailed/talked to your direct supervisor? They should know what work you'll need to/be able to do and they'll want to know when you need more work to do. –  Rarity Sep 25 '12 at 17:51

5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

It is not uncommon. When a new person starts there is a breaking in period. First that person needs to learn systems and the network. So any task you are given you are unlikely to be able to complete with out some amount of help. This limits your productivity to tightly scoped and documented tasks. These take time to create, often more time than it would take someone who is up to speed to just do it in the first place.
I would expect in the next few weeks you will be given another task. Until then do what you can to learn the systems. Try and tag along to project meetings and get your self involved. If you hear a task that sounds like you could complete step up and volunteer. If you are concerned still talk with you supervisor and ask them what they would like you working on.

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The only thing I would add is that email is a bad tool in these circumstances, because you never know if your message has been read, understood or forgotten. I would always go to my boss in person and say "I've finished what you gave me, do you have something else?". That way you know the message has registered. –  DJClayworth Sep 25 '12 at 17:24

You need to step up to the plate and talk in person to your boss and ask for an assignment.

Sending an email and sitting around waiting for someone to respond shows a lack of intiative and passivity that is not a good characteristic in an employee.

If the boss hasn't reponded in a day or so, then talk to him. Make a suggestion for something you would like to work on or ask where they need the help. While you are waiting to be assigned, never look as if you are playing or not working, find something professional to do in terms of learning the current systems and going in depth on the current codebase. Maybe even documenting the system to make it easier for someone to undersatnd it. Never allow yourself to sit for a week with no work, to a manager that means we don't need you and it's a good way to get laid off.

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Some suggestions:

  • Spread the word... Besides what Chad has mentioned, there are some companies where a 'mentor' would be assigned for each employee (it's not your boss, as usually a boss is project-dependent). In case there's someone like this person within your company, go for it.

  • ... but don't be annoying. People have their own rhythm and tasks to accomplish. Ensure you make your point, but don't keep pushing and pushing. Be assertive, knowing you passed along the message you're available, but understand it's hard to share something with new associates for the reasons Chad already mentioned.

  • And take advantage of it. You have some spare time, make good use of it. If the company is serious about your opportunity, you won't be idle for so long. Understand why you've been hired and what's expected from you... in the next week and in the next two years. Get ready for both needs. Get to understand what's the company business and culture. Read the internal documentation (there are some good stuff beneath the pile of nonsense docs!).

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How do you say you are bored and need work to do?

You never do.

Think of the best workers in the history of work. Thomas Edison? Steve Jobs? Bill Gates? Oprah Winfrey? Ryan Seacrest? Sam Walton?

None of these people only did what they were told to do. At times, they may have even rejected orders from their boss (if they had one at all). Undoubtedly, these people always kept an open mind and kept thinking about ways that they could innovate, create, and improve their business(es). In fact, some of the people I mentioned became entrepreneurs, and thought about multiple businesses at the same time.

When you have some idle time at work: Seize the opportunity. Do you know of any schleps that need to be solved? Go ahead and try to devise a solution. Are your coworkers working on difficult problems? Could they use some help?

Contributions to these efforts will pay dividends to both the company and yourself. Even if you aren't immediately recognized with a promotion, pay increase, or visible sign of praise, making an effort and taking initiative will transform you into a producer. When you become a producer, you'll be well on your way to promotions, increased earning power, and career success.

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@JimG. Yes, but it also means you might not have any idea what needs doing, which gets you right back to "Talk to your boss and find out what needs doing". This answer seems to be indicating that you should magically know exactly what needs doing at all times starting from day one, so I thought I'd point out that it's normal to have no idea at first. –  Yamikuronue Sep 26 '12 at 14:48

In addition to what everyone else has been saying, I thought I'd add a couple of pennies. I recently found myself in this situation, not because I was a new hire, but because someone else was hired and needed to be trained.

I sit in an odd position where everything I do generates more work for other people. So a certain amount of work needs to be done before I can start, and once I finish someone else has to do more work. Part of this is just because we're too siloed, and even though I could do much of this work I don't have access to some of the needed resources.

So try to keep in mind who you could unintentionally be inconveniencing by just trying to do your job. By all means, try to stay productive, but don't shoot yourself in the foot if you could be pushing someone who is overworked to do even more work to keep you productive.

If you can't find other work, look for clues that suggest some upcoming initiatives that you might be able to develop useful knowledge on. Also, think back to your interview. Were there any questions you felt you could have answered better? Take advantage of the extra time and learn what you can about those topics. Chances are, that knowledge will be highly relevant in the near future.

Also, take advantage of the "down time" to try to build relationships with the rest of the team if you can without interfering with their work. This will stand you in good stead, as your ability to build consensus will probably help you more than any technical skill you bring to the table. For example, if a teammate is struggling with his workload and owes assets to several different people, who do you think he'll work hardest to get the assets to? Probably not the new guy who has never even said "hello."

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