I graduated in May and was already hired for a dream job. I work in a STEM field and there is a lot to learn. However, I had always done well until now. I got straight A's in school, worked exclusively with school faculty on certain jobs, I even worked with my school's president on a job. I was their first choice for a lot of things. I completed an internship with positive feedback from the employer. I had two job offers before I graduated. Now, suddenly, it seems like I'm failing on just about every task I'm given at work. I work for a small company that is trying to grow rapidly. My tasks go beyond my education and I do a lot of administrative stuff too, which I love.

Most of my job is very techincal. I knew my ability to perform this job was going to take effort on my part to keep learning outside of school. I frequently spend my weekends studying new things related to my position and completing tasks I couldn't finish during the week. I was never really given any training for this position. Everyone I work with has decades of experience and I have less than a year's worth. I often tried to ask for help when I didn't understand something but I was given loosely sketched drawings and told to look at previous projects that were similar. I've been there for half a year and I barely feel like I've caught on. I am getting paid exactly what I asked for and I really do believe in this company, so I want to stay. But the idea of simply joining a larger company that has better training and less demands sounds too tempting some days. Have you been in a similar situation? What would you do in my situation? Before I do anything too big, I know I should talk with one of my superiors, but I'm not sure how to even approach that conversation. Any advice?

  • 5
    Have you asked your boss for feedback on how s/he feels you are progressing? Your employer most probably thinks you are capable of doing the job otherwise they wouldn't have hired you. Also, what kind of training would you be hoping for in the large company? There are many technical fields where the best 'training' for a junior employee is simply to spend a year or two muddling along trying to figure most things out for yourself and asking for help when you are really really stuck. (Software development is a perfect example of this..) Aug 20, 2017 at 22:03
  • @BenCottrell The company owner often corrects my work, but continually gives me new responsibilities. However, I rarely work with him. The people I work with everyday seem like they're sometimes annoyed that I don't know everything yet. I'm sure there are large facilities with decent training that could use me where all the tasks are more straightforward. Those jobs wouldn't be as exciting, but they're secure and they would probably pay the same. But if my current employer, like you said, expects me to muddle along for a while, I'm totally okay with that. I just hope my coworkers are too. Aug 20, 2017 at 23:09
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    There will always be people who get annoyed for petty reasons, such as you asking questions they don't want to take the time to answer. As long as your supervisor(s) are happy, there's no problem. In time, you'll learn the things you need to ask about today, and then the annoyed co-workers will disappear (or perhaps start getting annoyed about something else - some people are never happy.)
    – Steve-O
    Aug 21, 2017 at 0:13
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    Conversations with superiors can be helpful if your focus is how to improve your current situation, but do NOT tell your superiors that you are thinking about or planning on leaving.
    – mcknz
    Aug 21, 2017 at 15:16

3 Answers 3


First: It is quite normal to be struggling if you enter into a new and demanding field. Especially so at a startup, where you constantly take on responsibilities outside of your normal field of work. Not because you are qualified to do it, but because you are currently the most qualified that is available. The good thing is, this will get better, the more the startup transitions into a regular business.

Rapid growth goes with a constant overload, that is just normal in a world where you do have limited resources. So I guess your colleagues basically feel the same, they are just more experienced and thus are used to it and don´t get stressed out so fast.

If no one complains about your work, and you get assigned new responsibilities form time to time, that is a sign you are doing alright! If someone seems annoyed by you not knowing everything, maybe they expect you to step up and take more responsibility for dealing with things nobody knows how to deal with, yet?

I suggest you seek to establish regular 1-on-1 feedback with your boss and/or any of your colleagues you think can help you develop. This goes both ways, so you can also give them valuable hints on where you think the organisation needs to improve. The good thing: As the company grows, you can gradually give away responsibilities to new hires and shape your position much more to your preference. Until then, you will learn a lot more than any trainee-program could teach you (with a lot more struggling involved).

  • I've had a lot of jobs before, including full-time jobs. But this is the first "career" sort of job I've ever had and it is very different than what I'm used to. I guess what I'm experiencing is normal. I'm going to take your advice and establish regular 1-on-1 feedback with my supervisor. I'm happy to say my company is working on a training program for new hires and I'm looking forward to contributing to that. I've already streamlined some of our processes. For me, I guess I have to learn everything the hard way and I'll come out much more skilled because of the extra effort. Aug 22, 2017 at 2:50

Work and school are two very very different things. Every last one of us, even those of us with decades of experience are STILL learning. As to learning things and completing things on your own time, that is TYPICAL in the STEM fields, especially when you are starting out.

As for no training, stop thinking like that. You are not in school anymore and people will not hold your hand. You're doing the right thing by learning on your own. Keep it up and don't expect training.

Moving to a bigger company will not help. While they may be more willing to train you, you'll find that the training has limited benefit at best. At worst, a bigger company will be far less tolerant of mistakes and errors. As you're new to your field, you're going to have plenty of those.

School gives you all of this wonderful theory, what you are experiencing now is the same shock that most students get when they enter the REAL WORLD(tm) of what you've learned as it ACTUALLY is.

Or, as a dear, departed friend of mine used to say "In theory, theory and practice are the same, in practice, they are not."

Every last job I have ever had in the technical field has exceeded my education, again, in the STEM fields that's to be expected.

The training wheels are off, and you're in the job now. Keep studying, keep making mistakes, keep learning from them and stick with your job. Don't expect your coworkers to drop everything to teach you, you already know enough, not it's time to apply what you know, and learn on your own, the things that you don't.

  • Thank you for your response. I have very few peers in the same industry as me so I don't have many people to talk to about this. Reading everyone's response it seems, like you said, what I'm experiencing is typical in a STEM field. I just have to keep trying my best and studying. I'm going to keep your friend's quote close to me as I continue to learn new things. Aug 22, 2017 at 2:55

I was in a similar situation just under 2 years ago. Got my Masters and my first real career job not just side gigs to pay for survival. I work for one of the largest companies in America, within the top 15 of the Fortune 500 but my department works somewhere between startup and a company with >200k employees. The department is 40 people total now and we have hired a few people right out of school like me. It was a bit of getting used to for me too working vs school. All in all, since I started we have hired 6 fresh graduates including myself. All either MS or PhDs. Only four are left. Two left within three months of being hired and from where I say it look like it was because they could not make the transition from schooling to work.

As Richard U pointed out there is a difference between the two. You probably feel imposter syndrome, as do I still all the time. I think the big to remember is that saying 'i don't know' is ok, as long as it is followed by 'but I work in figuring it out' or 'but I know how to figure out what the issue probably is'. After spending some time on it, it it is ok to say you need help, as long as you can show that you did work on your own toward the goal. Being given new things to do is a good sign. The place you really don't want to be is where tasks aren't given to you because people higher in the food chain don't feel you can even figure out what you don't know. You don't want your tasks to be ones where people higher up feel they are damage limitation tasks, ones where the damage you cause is the damage someone else will fix with the least amount of effort.

One of the two people who left us recently used to not bring up issues or problems he ran into. We run scrum and he would work on things all through the sprint, in the second to last day he would then bring up in standup that he was stuck in all his tasks and had been working on research projects the last week. This is not the guy you want to be. He was someone new tasks weren't given to, his task assignments were damage limitation.

The other thing I want to bring up is employment type. I will assume you are probably salaried. My boss likes to say being salaried has many benefits but also means there is no time limit to a day. That can be taken in two ways, either The first 6 months I was working I spent probably 2 or 3 extra hours a week at work learning our systems, understanding code, trying to extend our products with functionalities (these usually failed but gave me much better insight into how things work, and the two that did pan out looked really good come review time :D )

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