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I am a master's student in Germany and till date I have had two positions as a working student at different companies. In company 1, I was hired initially for 6 months with an unspoken understanding that based on performance, the contract could be extended or promoted to a paid thesis position. A problem I had here was that I was told "We need X task done" and I would do it based on what I learned and by asking questions but instead they expected that I fast-forward the process, not ask many questions and just do what was asked. Although I was not terminated, they often delayed giving me negative feedback only to say something when things got to such a point that all they had to report was negatives, and maybe a few positives so as not to hurt my feelings (I don't really care about feelings in the workplace). This contract was subsequently not renewed.

The fate of the second position is a bit similar and ended with me being terminated on the grounds that their expectations were different from what I was outputting. Fair enough.

My question is: What could I do to avoid such situations in the future so that I clearly understand what is expected of me and that my supervisor(s) has a clear picture of what I am able to do? In short, what are some techniques that I could work on which would help me bridge this chasm (I'll be honest here) of expectations?

  • Life is full of unreasonable expectations. My suspicion here is that they felt you were not working hard enough, rather than were incapable. I am not saying you were not working hard enough, just that for some reason they had the perception that were not. And in business perception is reality unless you can demonstrate otherwise. In other words it would have been fine probably if you had gotten the work done, since you didn't it was not enough. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jun 22 '17 at 19:17
  • "they expected that I fast-forward the process, not ask many questions and just do what was asked" unfortunately that is totally normal in software, in all regions. "What could I do to avoid such situations in the future" unfortunately, you must 1, never asked questions (figure it out yourself - use stackoverflow!) 2, do what is asked (just "get it done" and then state loudly and clearly "that is finished - what's next" in a very brief clear way) – Fattie Jun 22 '17 at 23:41
  • TBC, "don't ask questions" meaning, do not ask for technical help; figure it our yourself from references, textbooks, study. By all means, you should "ask dumb questions" constantly when working - what I mean is things like "Hey boss, let me ask you a dumb question, which server does this go on - I don't want to waste time!" that's different. but don't ask anything technical, learn it yourself. – Fattie Jun 22 '17 at 23:43
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Well, the first thing I would say is to keep asking questions, ALWAYS do that.

The second thing is to learn which questions to ask.

The third thing is learn how to ask them.

You've got the first one down.

The fact that your feedback was delayed means you need work on #2. You need to know enough about a subject to ask the right questions. In the future, you should always be mindful of the end goal, which is to complete your tasks. By reading in between the lines, it sounds like you were asking more "why" than "what" or "how".

The best way to educate yourself on what questions to ask about a job is to simply start doing it, and then compose a list of questions you have about them.

This brings me back to point 3, HOW to ask. If you've gotten into the weeds of an assignment, you'll look far more productive/competent if you can ask

"You know, I've tried "A", "B", and "C" so far, but I'm not sure I'm doing this right, are these good approaches, or is there a better way"

As opposed to "How do I do this?" or "Should I do 'A'".

HOW you ask is almost as important as asking the questions themselves. The first example makes you look competent, productive, and eager. The second example makes you look lazy, and lacking initiative.

  • Thanks Richard for the response. I generally try to ask, ponder and research the subject matter but I suppose being far more direct and reviewing the assignment on the spot is a better approach. I've been using this recently and though it leads to an extended discussion I am able to walk away with a good sense of what needs to be done. – Ruchik Yajnik Jun 23 '17 at 19:45
  • @RuchikYajnik We've all been there at one time or another. If I have any wisdom in this life, it's because I've paid for it with hard won experience. – Richard U Jun 23 '17 at 19:48

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