Problem: Young professionals often drive their managers crazy by asking too many questions without trying to solve each question on their own.

Solution: Keep a running list of questions as the project progresses, and attempt to identify a possible solution for each question.

Key Skills Exhibited: Problem solving, respect for manager’s time, persistence

Insecurity. Confusion. Stress. Overwhelmed.

These are the common emotions of young professionals as they launch their careers.

Which is why it’s normal, if not expected, that young professionals often ask a lot of questions about how to complete an assignment before diving into the work. 

In college and grad school, students have clear direction on what their assignment is and what the end-product is expected to be. In the working world, this clarity often doesn’t exist.The “real-world” is far more nuanced. And, there’s inherent ambiguity in solving complex problems with no “right” answer.

While there is good reason this ambiguity compels young professionals to seek clear direction on assignments, managers often find themselves frustrated by the amount and frequency of questions they get asked. 

To navigate this delicate balance of gaining the direction needed to complete a project, without driving the manager crazy with constant questions, you need to do three key things:

  1. Gather critical information when the project is assigned

When hearing about a new assignment for the first time, take advantage of the conversation to ensure expectations are understood. Restate your understanding of the project scope, objectives, and timelines. This provides an opportunity for your manager to catch any misunderstandings.

Then, talk through how you plan to approach the project. Share your initial plan for getting started, and confirm that this plan sounds right. 

  1. Take a stab at it

The next step is to just get started. Go for it. Play around with different approaches. Do some research. Generate ideas. Dive into the actual project. 

As questions arise, jot them down in a running list. For each question, come up with a proposed answer to that question to show that you’ve thought through the problem and have given it a try. 

Do not ping your manager or swing by their desk every time a question arises.

  1. Schedule time to ask questions

As you develop a critical mass of questions, or get to a question that truly prevents you from moving forward, schedule 15-30 minutes with your manager to go through the questions that have come up. 

Scheduling time to discuss the questions allows your manager to be fully-focused on you and the project, gives them advanced notice that you will be seeking their advice, and efficiently allows you both to quickly make progress.

For each question you address, be sure to explain your thought process and what your initial thought is on how to solve the problem. 

You might say: “As I was putting together this report, I realized we don’t have any basket data for Acme Corp in Nielsen. I did some research to understand why that data might not be available and if it’s relevant, and found that they keep all of their sales data private. It seems like we can safely assume their basket data is approximately 15% of Johnson & Co’s. Should I take that approach when accounting for their data?”

Key Takeaways

  • Use the initial conversation about an assignment to ensure you’re understanding correctly – Restate the purpose of the project and share your planned next steps
  • Keep a running list of questions you have for your manager as you dive into your work – don’t ask questions every time one pops into your head
  • Take a stab at answering your own questions before asking someone else
  • Schedule time to ask your manager the questions that have arisen as you’ve worked on the assignment, and share your thoughts on possible answers to each question