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I started a new job several weeks ago and like with any new job, I have no idea what I'm doing.

I have a "mentor"--somebody on the team who's designated to helping get me up to speed with everything--and I bug them a lot. Some days I'm able to muddle through things on my own, but others I rely pretty heavily on my mentor.

I know that he has a lot of work he needs to get done too and while I'm sure he and the rest of the team expected his output to drop for the first few months I'm here, there are some days I worry that I'm relying too much on him.

Please note that I'm aware that this is a new job and this is all expected, but logically there must be some amount of help that is too much to be asking for. When getting ready to ask a question, how can I figure out how close I am to that line? That is...

When getting ready to ask my mentor a question, how can I tell whether or not they feel I'm relying too heavily on them?

  • Do they have any form of documentation on all this? If not, now would be a nice time to start one. Might help the next person. – AsheraH Oct 26 '18 at 4:58
  • @AsheraH there's virtually no documentation on the part of the product I'm working on. – scohe001 Oct 26 '18 at 13:21
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My boss helped me traverse this fine line very well. I used to walk into his office 6 to 10 times a day for the first 3 months of my employment in my current company. He is an incredibly patient and generous and kind man. NEVER had an attitude with me, never acted like I am being a bother.

But 10 times a day, as you could tell, is a bit much. After the first 3 months, he called me in for my 3 month review. We discussed my strong side and my weak side. You know, the usual stuff. He then said that the only thing he has a problem with me was that I go to him too many times in a day. To be clear, asking someone a lot of questions is different than going to that person, physically, too many times.

He suggested I put down an hour or hour and a half every day before lunch. In that 1.5 hour meeting, I write down ALL my questions. I sit with him and ask him every question I have. This way, he expects me only once every day. For an hour every day, but only once. This helps him manage his own time and his own projects easier.

As you said, it is expected of you to ask questions. But if you feel like you're being a bother, understand that you're being a bother by walking up to them 10 times a day, not asking them 10 questions. Walk up to them once or twice a day with as many questions as you want and people tend to not be bothered by that.

If you feel like you're annoying someone with your questions, this is what I'd suggest:

  1. Sit down with your mentor and ask them if they have a preferred time of the day they'd like to answer your questions.
  2. Schedule a time, for every day, with the mentor. Make it known that you will be there from 10 to 11 in the morning (for instance) Monday to Friday every day till you're comfortable with your new position.
  3. Make it known that you're coming in with questions. A lot of questions. And I mean, actually tell them that you are. Tell them that you are still trying to get comfortable in your new position and you'd rather not bother them 10 times a day, so you'd rather do it once a day to answer ALL your questions.

This will definitely be easier on you and your mentor.

Also, to specifically answer your question,

how can I tell whether or not they feel I'm relying too heavily on them?

Right before you ask your question, think about whether you've asked them this question already. Changing a few words around in a question might make it seem like a completely new question to someone new, but to the mentor, it is the same. The question has been answered, according to them. So analyze your question to see if it was in some way or the other answered by them.

After your analysis, if you think your question is valid and has to be asked, but still feel like you're being annoying, start your questions with one of the following:

  1. I'm sorry if I've already asked you this but....
  2. I know you already explained this to me, but I am having a hard time understanding this...
  3. I'm really sorry if I'm asking too many questions, but I just need a little help understanding this...

As you say all those, observe their reaction. Do they just nod? Do they reject your apology? Do they reject your assumption?

  1. If they are just nodding, they are getting kind of annoyed. Leave after you've asked that question. Come back tomorrow.
  2. If they're rejecting your apology (by that I mean, they express disinterest in answering your question right this moment), leave. They've basically told you that they'd rather not deal with you right this moment.
  3. If they reject your assumption (by that I mean, they are telling you something in the lines of "Oh no not at all, ask all the questions you'd like answered"), proceed with your question. Proceed with the question after. Once done, SINCERELY thank them for their time with you. Show them how much you appreciate their patience with you. Even if they are annoyed with you, your gratitude will negate that.

Also, as an addition, try asking broad questions rather than a question about one very specific thing. For instance, Instead of asking

how does the shipping department know what PO needs to be picked?

Try asking

how does the shipping department work?

This achieves two things:

  1. It will answer one or more of your questions.
  2. This will project the image of you trying to learn the process as a whole rather than you expecting them to spoon-feed everything to you.

I hope this helps.

  • 2
    great answer, at the same time you make it known you are coming in with a lot of questions it may be a courtesy to let them know what sort of questions they are so they can prepare a bit as well – BKlassen Oct 25 '18 at 17:16
  • Very good point, maybe sending them an email or just verbally letting them know that your questions are going to be regarding a certain area of the business. – Crazy Cucumber Oct 25 '18 at 18:04
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    Great answer although I'm not sure if broad questions are better than specific ones. In a specific one the mentor knows you actually tried to figure it out but got stuck on a new term or just can't know how a specific step is performed. If you would ask me a broad question I would answer with an "overview" answer without going into such specifics instead. – Imus Oct 26 '18 at 6:14
  • @Imus True. I've just always had good luck with my boss explaining what every step of the way means. Maybe a better of way of doing that would be saying "so I am trying to understand this particular aspect of this department, how does it work". – Crazy Cucumber Oct 26 '18 at 11:29

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