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Background:

I'm working a fairly entry level job in Information Technology for a company I've been with for nearly a year now. I've been hired part time after interning initially for 3 months. After receiving my bachelor's I will begin working full time for the company

Question:

I'm often working on projects from various levels of priority, mainly fairly low because of my experience. Being inexperienced however, I often require additional help or instructions from members of the company. My experience with replies range from taking weeks, to often not receiving a reply at all from different sources of help. This can often lead to my projects stalling completely.

How often or how persistent should I be when it comes to following up with these requests? Is this normal to expect as an entry level employee?

It's difficult to tell sometimes if they're deliberately seeing if I'll show traits of persistence or if they're simply too busy to deal with my requests.

I don't want to show that I lack initiative and drive; however, I don't wish to be a thorn in the side of my employees.

Thank you for your input.

  • 1
    Does this happen with a variety of people, or is it the same person or two all the time? – Monica Cellio Apr 23 '12 at 17:20
  • 2
    It's typically the same few I need specific guidance for. I never ask for help unless I can't figure it out on my own in the first place. – Michael Capobianco Apr 23 '12 at 17:33
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You should take initiative; not to bug them again, but to go find the answer.

I don't know the nature of your work, but in my own experience, if a worker is given access to the data and tools to do their job, then rarely do they absolutely have to wait on a coworker for an answer.

If you're waiting for:

  • General knowledge: Google it. Develop your research and investigation skills by using a combination of what you know and what problems/unknowns you see. Ask questions on forums.

  • Understanding of proprietary systems you have access to: Dig in and find out how things work. Ask a variety of people, not just one. It's like above, but it's an internal search.

  • Understanding of proprietary systems you don't have access to: If you've asked once, then before you ask again, make sure you can show what you've found out in the meantime. And, like above, ask more than one person for help.

  • Someone to make a decision: This is the most difficult to figure out as an entry-level employee. However, you still need to take initiative. Instead of just expecting your manager or a senior employee to make a call, you should become an expert in the facts, consider potential solutions, understand pros and cons, and finally make a recommendation.

    At a minimum, this will help the senior worker to make the decision, even if it doesn't match your recommendation. As you gain experience, you will be more likely to make the right call and they will simply sign off on your recommendation.

Summary: Show initiative by doing as much as you can before returning to ask the question again.

Take ownership, no matter how low the priority of your projects is in the company. This will show that you are the right person to take on projects of increasing importance.

  • Great answer, NickC. I definitely should start making at least minor, non critical decisions to continue the flow of my projects. – Michael Capobianco Apr 23 '12 at 17:52
  • 1
    What a nice answer to a valid question. Nearly same situation is with me. Thank you for your advice. – AbdulAziz Apr 30 '12 at 19:01
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Were you assigned a direct mentor/supervisor for your internship? Assuming you're in a situation that really truly requires help from within the company, this is the person you should go to with all your questions. S/he can then decide who is best suited to help and ask that person for you.

Building on NickC's comments about proprietary systems, ask your supervisor or HR manager if you can cross-train with groups using everything you interact with. If they've already committed to hiring you upon graduation, they should be committed to helping you succeed within the company.

  • Could you elaborate on cross-training. What if my position is determined with a certain team? Would it be worth spreading my time into other teams? – Michael Capobianco Apr 23 '12 at 19:27
  • Assuming you interface with other teams at all, yes. I once worked at a place where 6-month cross-trainings were fairly common so that everyone understood everyone else's work--it can make meetings far more productive, for one thing! As a new employee, even 1-2 weeks with other teams would probably be very helpful (even if it just helps you build connections with people who can guide you in the future). – sheepeeh Apr 23 '12 at 19:36
  • I'll definitely look into that. That's a great idea for working full time in the summer. – Michael Capobianco Apr 23 '12 at 19:42
  • Even if it's not cross-training per se, many companies (mine included) make sure that everyone has a mini bootcamp session with related teams, so that you have connections (like sheepeeh said) but also learn any shared vocabulary. – jcmeloni Apr 23 '12 at 20:31
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Sometimes (especially when you are inexperienced or new to an organization) you need to ask something, not because you don't have a preference about what to do, but because you want to make sure that your preference is going to be OK with the organization or make sure you have the authority to do something.

One thing I might do in this case is write an email that states the possibilities and the one I prefer and then adds the magic words:

I know you are busy, so if I don't hear back from you differently by noon tomorrow, I will use Option 1.

This has the advantage in that the person is fully informed and doesn't delay you much. Further if you have someone who consistently ignores you, it gives you political ammunition if you do something other than what they wanted, because you told them that no replying meant they agreed. It might even make the person start to actually read your emails when they get burned because you did something they didn't agree with and they couldn't be bothered to tell you so.

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