how can I contribute more at meetings when I’m new to my job?

A reader writes:

I’m several weeks into a job, and I feel like I should be bringing more to the table. I have about 1.5 years experience in the overall industry (and in post-college work in general) but I’m brand new to the niche my company focuses on. The company is small and everyone except me has anywhere from 2-20 years experience doing exactly what we do. I don’t know much about how the industry/my company works yet, and I’m fairly new to the city as well, so I’m in the dark about most of the things they talk about or make references to.

I know this is probably one of those “give it time” situations, but do you have any suggestions as to how I can learn more to contribute when we have meetings?

Yes, it’s a “give it time” situation. It’s really normal that three weeks into a new job, and with less than two years of work experience, you don’t have a ton to contribute at meetings, especially meetings with people with much more experience. Simply listening and taking it all is very normal at the stage you’re in, and I promise you that your coworkers almost certainly don’t think anything of it. In fact, if anything, they’re grateful that you’re approaching it that way, rather than being oblivious to the fact that you might not quite understand how things work yet. The latter is really obnoxious; what you’re doing makes perfect sense.

That said, one option is to talk with your manager after some of these meetings and ask about pieces that weren’t entirely clear to you. For instance: “Susan was talking about X, and I realized I’m not sure how that works. Is there some context you can give me so I better understand it?” You want to use some judgment with these questions, of course; it might not make sense to ask your boss to spend time explaining X to you if X is hugely complicated and will never have anything to do with your job, and you don’t want to pepper her with dozens of questions after every meeting … but pick out the things that seem most important and ask about those.

There might be others you can ask too; it doesn’t just need to be your boss. In fact, a lot of people really like being asked for their expertise and will be happy to talk with you.

But don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s only been three weeks. Most people are still trying to learn names and remember where the bathrooms are at three weeks into a new job. You’re probably going to feel overwhelmed for quite a few weeks longer, and that’s normal. Don’t beat yourself up for it, keep listening, and eventually much of this is probably going to start clicking into place.

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