Asking Too Many Questions

Tara writes in:

I just graduated from college and got my first job as a Production Assistant for a talk show. I’ve done some freelance PAing and the biggest problem I seem to have is that I can’t find the balance between making sure I get everything right and asking too many questions.

I understand that there are certain times where it’s important to double check with somebody higher up to make sure you’re doing something right. I also don’t want to be the PA who gets sent on a simple task and has to call back to ask a question that really doesn’t matter.

I really want to impress my new bosses because I know how important it is to make connections and be the PA who goes above and beyond, but that also means I’m very afraid of making mistakes. I don’t want to bring back the cheapest garbage bags in the store if the office really needs the heavy duty ones, but I also don’t want to call somebody who couldn’t care less1 what types of garbage bags are there.

Any advice on getting past this?

How do you know when to ask questions? When the AD gives you something to do, you should figure it out, but you also can’t make assumptions, right?

Ugh, this is The Worst.

I think a problem most young PAs have is, they’ve just spent the last three quarters of their lives asking older people questions. If something isn’t immediately clear, their first instinct is to raise their hands.

Instead of asking a question, take the following steps:

  1. Think. Seriously, stop and think about it for a second. Just because the answer to a question isn’t immediately obvious, doesn’t mean you’ll never figure it out. Run the assignment through head, and think logically.
  2. Research. Most questions can be answered via the Internet. The AD is not the Internet, so don’t ask her.
  3. Ask someone at your level. A fellow PA might have more experience than you, or at least have the relevant experience in this particular case, and she’s not going to look down on you for not knowing.
  4. Asking up the chain of command. The AD asked for a coffee, and you realize you don’t know how she takes it. Rather than interrupting whatever important business she’s handling, ask the 2nd or 2nd 2nd AD what she prefers. The second-in-command (meaning APOC in the production office) has probably worked with the boss for a while, and knows her quirks and preferences.
  5. Ask your boss. Only if all else fails should you ask the boss a follow up question.

This is not a fool-proof method, of course. You’ll still fuck it up on occasion. But that’s life. You’ll never be perfect, but you can shoot for a better batting average2 than everyone else.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Congrats on using this phrase correctly. Every time someone says “I could care less,” I want to punch them in their stupid, caring face.
  2. Sorry if I confused you with my football metaphor.
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4 Comments

  1. Honestly, in my experience when it comes to the office just be up front and ask the questions that you feel will help you get your task done correctly the first time. Nothing worse than wasting time and money on a run and getting the wrong stuff.

    As far as set goes other PA’s can answer 99% of questions you might have. And as mentioned in the post if they can’t then the 2nd or 2nd 2nd can. Don’t pester the 1st unless it’s for details that aren’t obvious and only they know.

    In either case just remember it’s less expensive to ask your question than to do it wrong.

  2. I also find that offering a lot of options sometimes helps. For example with the garbage bags, I personally would grab all the different kinds and offer it that way. Typically, people in charge like to make choices and feel like they have the final say. So when they get to choose the final product, I think it makes them feel like they have the power. In summary, I always grab options if I am unsure.

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