Imagine that you’ve just purchased a new car. Your first “real” car, you’re proud of the time you spent reading up, really doing your homework, and taking to find the right model in the right price range for you. Now, imagine that you’ve just picked up your friend for a ride in your new car, and before you’ve barely pulled out of her driveway, she proceeds to tell you about the car she thinks you should have purchased. She tells you how you could get better mileage if you’d just consider redesigning the engine, and how she’s surprised you didn’t get a car that was red, and on…and on she goes. In the meantime, you’re ready to push her out the door…never mind the fact that you happen to be going 50 mph.

A far-fetched scenario? Hardly. Consider the number of times that any of us is given unsolicited advice, “helpful” opinions, or other ideas that we didn’t ask for, didn’t want, and quite frankly, aren’t always so useful and helpful in the first place. Irritating, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, this type of scenario happens all the time in the workplace, and even more unfortunate, the unsolicited advice often comes from the New Professional. Consider the comments from one manager at a large accounting firm:

“Nothing is more annoying than when a new intern or hire out of college comes in…and immediately starts telling us about his ‘great’ ideas, or about how we can improve such-and-such a thing. Meanwhile, he’s been working for a grand total of 4 months and really has no clue about how our business really operates. It’s just plain arrogant.”
Ouch! Does this mean that we shouldn’t offer our ideas or suggestions for improvement? After all, isn’t that why they hired us?

Well, actually, no, that probably wasn’t why you were hired. In fact, you were probably hired to help the team run a few yards, rather than score the touchdown. You were hired to do your job, at least for the time being - not the job of your boss, the CEO, or anyone in-between. And when people try to do that, even when they have the best intentions, it bugs the folks at work.

This isn’t to suggest that your efforts, initiative, and go-getter attitude aren’t appreciated. In fact, New Professionals are hired precisely because organizations love their energy, enthusiasm, and fresh approach to work…but organizations also tend to reward humility, patience, and a respect for their process, no matter how slow, annoying, or just plain wrong you think their process might be.

How to demonstrate patience and humility? It all starts by admitting what you don’t know. Inside the classroom, you’re given ample opportunity to ask questions and get answers. In the working world, that’s not always the case. Supervisors can be extremely busy and have deadlines of their own to manage, and may assign you work without giving you lots of guidance.

Rather than ask for clarification or help, new professionals can sometimes feel like their questions are excessive, or dumb, or that they are simply being a bother to their bosses, so they clam up, deciding to just figure it out on their own. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a problem-solver, but if you’ve got questions, and didn’t get a chance to ask them, you owe it to yourself to get the help you need to get the job done right. Don’t try to be a hero and do it all on your own if you’re stuck. After all, you’re new and you’ve probably never done this kind of work before, so give yourself a break. However, there is an art to asking questions:

• First, respect your supervisor’s time, and make sure you’ve done your homework first and exhausted other channels (reading through company information online, asking less-swamped employees for help, etc.) before you approach him or her.

• Next, be organized with your question. Make it short, sweet, and get to the point. Long voice mails and wordy emails are unnecessary, time-consuming, and probably won’t get read, anyway. Less is more.

• But finally (and most importantly), ask questions and offer solutions at the same time. Don’t simply kick a ball into your supervisor’s corner and expect them to do the thinking for you. It’s up to you to show that you really have thought the issue through and done your thinking before approaching them

What else to do in the meantime as you wait for your ideas and initiative to really get noticed? Hang tight, trust that your good work (with a little self-promotion along the way) will get rewarded, and forge ahead.

Author's Bio: 

Elizabeth Freedman is an expert in career and workplace issues. She is the author of Work 101: Learning the Ropes of the Workplace without Hanging Yourself and The MBA Student’s Job-Seeking Bible, and was a 2005 finalist for College Speaker of the Year, awarded by the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities. Elizabeth runs a Boston-based career-development and coaching firm; clients include PricewaterhouseCoopers, Thomson Reuters and The Gillette Company. To bring Elizabeth to your next association event or workplace meeting, please visit