Join Africa's fastest growing career community!


What People Get Wrong About Learning on The Job (and 5 Ways to Do it Better)

Learning, in itself, can be a challenging endeavor for some people. But what about learning on the job? Is there a wrong or right way to do it? Read on to find out how best to handle a new role when you don’t know much about it. ​

Article Preview Image

Learning, in itself, can be a challenging endeavor for some people. But what about learning on the job? Is there a wrong or right way to do it? Read on to find out how best to handle a new role when you don’t know much about it. ​

Photo credit: Freepik

Taking on a new role, whether it is at a new company or industry, is often an exciting and nerve-racking venture, especially if the responsibilities of the role are unfamiliar to you. There will always be that moment during your first day on the job where you ask yourself how things work around there. Some large corporations will likely have structures in place to get you acquainted with the job and its responsibilities. However, in some startups, you might be thrown right into the thick of it and expected to take the reins with the role. Nevertheless, the first couple of months are usually dedicated to learning how you fit into the organization’s big picture and finding out what is expected of you on a day-to-day basis, with or without training. This brings up the question: what is the best way to learn on the job? 

Learning, in general, can be challenging, especially since we all have different learning styles. Some people learn by observing and others learn by doing. Regardless of your learning style, there is still a wrong and right way to go about learning on the job when you are trying to prove you are a competent employee. 


Getting it wrong

Missing Orientation

It is normal for most companies to have a training or an orientation process for new employees. No matter how tempting it is to take these sessions lightly, or skip them, don’t. Whoever is training you may or may not be your direct supervisor, but they will still have their eye on you. So avoid doing anything that might cause the training manager to report back to your team members or your boss. 

Expecting hand-holding just because you’re a newbie

In any workplace, there will be established tools and standard operating procedures that help things run smoothly. You might have been shown the ropes through a systematic and organized orientation process, and you might feel expected to absorb everything fast. The fact is, formal training or orientation is not always a given at every company, so if you don’t get one, do not feel frustrated. This just means you will have to be a bit more hands-on in mastering the requirements of the role. 

Lying about your capabilities

A learning curve is always expected in any new job, and supervisors typically understand this. You will eventually be expected or asked to do something you don’t know how to do (yet). You may be tempted to say you can do a certain task on your own, even if you can’t. However, the real power comes in being honest and admitting when you don’t know something. Follow it up by stating that you will find out and get back to them, then do it. 

Doing too much too soon

First impressions are more lasting than you think. So it is important to not take on more than you can handle, even if you are trying to impress your new boss and colleagues. There is a reason why most managers assign small-scale tasks to new employees who are starting new roles. It takes time to become familiar with the colleagues, the company, and the workload. Overextending yourself might lead to mistakes and missed deadlines. When you are starting, just focus on the tasks assigned to you and do them well, then eventually you can take on extra responsibility when you feel more capable. 

Assuming you know everything

Just because you may be starting a new job with a similar title in a new company or industry, don’t assume the responsibilities will be the same as they were in your previous workplace. They might be doing things differently there, or they might have different approaches for the same role. So be humble and take the time to listen and learn before going about the new role. 


Getting it Right

That being said, there is always a better way to do things, and the same can be applied to the principle of learning on the job. Here are five better strategies you can apply when learning on the job. 

Shadowing supervisors or colleagues

One way to get some insight into your new role is to shadow your manager, a team member, or a colleague. Of course, you shouldn’t follow them around every second of the day without notice or explanation. Set up a time that works for them when they are doing something relevant to your new role. If you are a visual learner, a walkthrough like that can help you get more comfortable with the process and give you what you need to get started. It also helps to establish trust with the person as a bonus. Be observant of the entire process and take good notes to get all the necessary information. 

Photo credit: Prostooleh

Don’t be afraid to ask

Asking questions is another good way to learn on the job while establishing a rapport with your new co-workers. This is one of my personal favorites; I always believe in asking questions, whether in or outside the workplace. You can always learn something new by asking people questions. Ask how you can best apply your skills and get feedback, advice, or clarification, without being disruptive to your colleagues; timing is key. Some people are usually afraid of asking questions at work for fear of seeming inexperienced, unwise, or invasive, but it shows your willingness to learn. Instead of making a mistake that may cost the company money and time, ask questions about anything you need to know. 

Some people also learn by talking to others, which is quite similar to the “question-asking” mentality, which involves talking out how things work and visualizing one’s way through the process. Whenever you get the opportunity, take time to talk to people at work and learn more about the company as a whole. This will help you get integrated into the company culture and see the bigger picture and how your role contributes to it. 

Experiment with the job

Have you ever spent any part of your childhood taking apart toys or machines to find out what makes them work? Then this might be how you learn things best, and it can also apply to the workplace. Tinkering with applications and responsibilities at your new job, helps you learn by finding out how structures work through trial and error. Experimentation helps you gain a deeper understanding of the fundamental concepts important to your role, so you may even be able to break them down to others. 

Do your homework 

As much as you may be excited to start your first day of a new job and dive straight into the work, it might take some time to get into the groove of things. The first few weeks will probably include smaller tasks and training sessions, and things will be slow at first. However, this is the best time to learn more about the role and the company. Absorbing as much information as you can when starting a new job instead of trying to get right into the work will pay off eventually. 

Regardless of how demanding your role is, you should always set aside time in your schedule to learn more about your team’s long-term goals, your organization, and your industry. Your workday may not be long enough for you to keep up with your responsibilities while trying to learn everything, so you’ll need to put in the extra work. You can come to work a bit earlier to do some light reading or prep in the evenings for the next day. 

If you are lacking a few skills relevant to the role, then you can take a few online courses to equip yourself with all the information you need to become better at work. As you’re getting feedback about your performance from your supervisor in the first few weeks of the new role, take note of the skills you need to touch up. Research online for applicable courses you can take advantage of your extra time to learn. 

Trial by fire 

This method is probably the scariest for most people, considering it involves being given a task or a problem to handle and left to your own devices from the jump. Some people thrive with this approach, and it just could be the motivation you need to learn. Most early-stage startups use this method whereby everyone is learning on the job, so you have to take initiative with the role. With this approach you will try, fail, test out other ways, and refine the process as you go. 

The most important thing to keep in mind is not to let the new job stress you too much. You shouldn’t expect to take in everything once, especially since it is all new to you, and you will need time. If you start to get stressed, just breathe deeply, collect your thoughts and remember that no one expects you to get it all from the word, “go.” As much as you are coming with a wealth of experience and skills to the company, it will take some time for things to fall into place. 

Written by

Sandra Musonge

Sandra Musonge is a part-time writer at Fuzu with over five years of experience under her belt, helping numerous B2B and B2C clients with their content needs. She writes to inspire and not just to inform. Her educational background in Biochemistry has given her a broad base from which to approach many topics. You can find her enjoying nature or trying out new recipes when she isn't writing.

Give a like!


Sign in to read comments and engage with the Fuzu community.

Login or Create a Free Account