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What do you need to unlearn before starting a new job?

Posted by Louisa Benedicto, Hays Canada VP, on Wednesday, Jan 10, 2018

 What do you need to unlearn before starting a new job?Throughout your career you will learn new skills at every stage, but moving from a role where you were a confident expert into a new job that will help you advance can be especially challenging. The opportunities to learn new things is huge, but only if you make the right start.

There’s one thing we can all do, especially in a new role, that will save time, effort, anxiety and misunderstandings.

The key to success? Ask more questions.

Why don’t we ask more questions?

There are, I think, many reasons why we’re afraid to ask questions, but for me it all stems back to my childhood. Like most kids I was pretty inquisitive and, wanting to learn more about the world, I’d be forever asking my parents to explain things to me. My questions would either be answered with a clueless “I don’t know” or a frustrated “just because”. So from a young age I was taught to stop asking questions.

At school, asking questions in class wasn’t the “cool” thing to do. Either that, or we were afraid of looking stupid in front of our peers by asking something obvious. Unfortunately these fears have followed us to the workplace, especially when starting a new role – a time where we are already swamped with “new job” nerves and self-doubt.

To excel professionally we have to learn that it’s not annoying, embarrassing or rude to ask questions.

The case for asking more questions

They say that ‘knowledge is power’ and, personally speaking, I know that I feel much more confident when I know what I’m talking about or doing. The best way to gain knowledge is to seek it from others.

When starting a new job it’s important to ask other people questions, in order to learn and acquire all the information you need to succeed. It also shows your new boss that you’re interested and enthusiastic. I hire dozens of new recruiters every year, and I will welcome all questions, no matter how silly they seem. In fact, when somebody pipes up and asks me something, I can often see the visible relief on the faces of the other new starters, glad that somebody has the guts to ask this question. It’s clichéd but true – ‘there’s no such thing as a stupid question.’

Not only this, when somebody interjects to ask me something during a training session, I know that they are actually paying attention. It helps me realize where I may be being unclear in my explanation, and how I can personally improve this explanation for next time. Just like you, I want to keep learning.

What about as you become more comfortable in your new role, should you stop asking questions then? Absolutely not. When completing an important task or working on a big project, it’s important to clarify objectives and fully understand what’s expected of you. If you don’t, you run the risk of wasting time, missing the mark and disappointing your boss. I’m sure you know what happens when you assume…

Even as we progress and become more senior, we should never stop asking questions. The world around us is always changing so it’s important to keep informed and up-to-date with the latest developments and goings-on. It’s important that a leader stays connected and on top of things to provide direction and support to the team and if you don’t keep up, you run the risk of getting out of touch. This could lead to people losing faith in your abilities or, worse still, having others over-take you.

The art of asking effective questions

So, what have I learnt about the art of asking effective questions?

Ask open questions: If you need more detailed information, or an alternative explanation, ask open questions. These types of questions could begin with “tell me” “describe” “explain” “how” and so forth, and demand an open answer.

Use closed questions when needed: On the other hand, if you just need to get simple yes or no answer, opt for closed, to the point questions such as “are you” “ will you” “ can I” “ should I”  and the like.

However, avoid asking too many closed questions. This will limit the amount of information you gain, and prevents the conversation from flowing.

Ask for an example: If you are struggling to get your head around a concept, or understand how it will work in practice, ask for an example or case scenario, for instance “Could you give an example of how this has been implemented before?”

Use reflective questioning: This is a great way to check your understanding, and clarify what you know in your own mind. These questions could start with “Can I check I have got this right…”

Ask one question at a time: Sometimes we can ask multiple questions in one go, which becomes confusing to the other person, and means they’re likely to only answer the last question you asked.  This results in you losing important information, or having to backtrack and repeat yourself.

Don’t ask a question, and then try to answer it yourself:  For example “what do you want me to do – I think I should do X or Y or…” It might not be either of those options, and it can be very frustrating for the other person trying to answer you.

Take notes: It’s important to take notes so you can refer back later. They say you only remember 25 percent of what you listen to, so that’s a staggering amount of information that will be forgotten.

By focusing more on asking questions and becoming more inquisitive again I gain the knowledge that has helped me to become better at my job, more confident in myself and develop a stronger personal brand in my organization. I hope this helps you to overcome any fears you may have around asking questions, so you too can achieve success, not just when you start a new job, but throughout every stage of your career journey too.
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