Anna McCorquodale: 4 Things I Learned How to Ask For This Year

4 Things I Learned How to Ask For This Year:

I am now a little over one year into my Fellowship and I am so happy to be a part of a flexible and innovative professional opportunity. An incredible strength of the Fellowship is lack of rigid structure that allows you to jump on big projects, choose professional next steps, and learn from a large group of people who are each experts in their fields. But none of this works if you don’t know what you want, and (possibly more difficult) how to ask for it. So here are just some of the things I’ve learned how to ask for in the past year:

Consistent Feedback. In the beginning of your career it is tempting to jump head first into lots of projects with an optimistic I’ll-figure-it-out attitude. But without insight into how other coworkers contribute to those projects, company-wide accepted best practices, and history of how things have worked (or not worked) in the past, it can be very hard to know if you are on the right track. This is where clear feedback from managers and mentors can prove to be invaluable. Checking in regularly with people who know more than you can help you work smarter, and help your overall professional growth. This can be a 15 minute briefing every morning, a weekly 1-1, a long standing coffee run, a monthly review.. Every team is different. Regardless of what it looks like, asking for a structured way to keep the lines of communication open can help you in enormous ways!
A project that doesn’t exist yet. A huge way to add value to your host company and gain new skills is asking to work on a project that doesn’t exist yet. Of course your priority is work that you have already been given, but if you have down time, or if you think your work could be done more efficiently with a new process, it is absolutely worth asking. If they say no, it might help you understand more about why things are structured the way they are. But if they say yes, projects like this can help you connect to your work, can demonstrate your ambition, flexibility, and work ethic to your supervisors, while allowing you to creatively add value to your company. Whether it’s finally dragging your boss into the age of the Google Form (come on people, it’s time), or creating a new report that helps the company keep an eye on an opportunity for growth, some of my most professionally fulfilling parts of the last year have come from projects I invented myself.
Time off. As a new employee I wanted to prove myself as a hard worker, and had it in my mind that I should always work through lunch, never leave before 5, never take vacation time, etc. Again every company culture is different so specifics may vary, but for most companies I have interacted with, they carve out time specifically for vacation so their employees can recharge, avoid burnout, and continually bring their best self to work. Asking for vacation time does not signal to your bosses that you don’t take your job seriously, it shows that you (like everyone else) need to get distance from your work to be able to produce quality work with a clear mind. *Of course use this in reason. Just as there is such thing as too little vacation is also definitely such thing as too much time off!!*
Help with a project you messed up. Even if you work very seriously, and very intently on everything you do, as a new employee you will inevitably encounter a project at work that you just… mess up. It could be a giving the wrong information to a client, it could be miscalculation on a proposed sales pitch, it could be a really big like 2 week-long project that *you* asked for where you were supposed to pull data from a database to answer a questions about something eating into the company’s profit margin but you don’t know how to pull data from a database so you try to learn SQL in 2 weeks and it doesn’t really pan out and then you try to learn how to use like 20 different fancy Excel functions and that doesn’t work either and here you are 2 weeks later showing your boss like 50 pitiful pivot tables that don’t help to answer the initial question at all…. (#notoverit #toosoon). The point is, you will mess up. But the first step: don’t keep it a secret. No good can come from you trying to pretend that nothing is wrong when that is definitely not the case. By coming clean and telling your coworkers or boss about it, you get started on the solution. When you do face the music and tell the truth, it can be more productive to approach it with an ‘I messed up and need your input on how I can fix this’ lens instead of focusing on the mistake itself. By proving that your mind is already on how to find a solution, you can prove that while you made a mistake, you are ready to take ownership of the mistake AND the solution.