Most of the time, you will inevitably need to clarify elements of the instructions you have received and may have further questions as you progress into your task(s). Do not be hesitant about asking questions – avoiding doing so will lead your supervisor to assume that you fully understand the task(s), which could be your downfall if you then end up producing work that is wrong or off-topic.
Some of the most positive feedback we received related to “asking the right questions”; this not only helped to ensure that we delivered work as expected, but also showed that we had an interest in the context of the work we were carrying out (and therefore a desire to learn and develop).
Communication is key. If you waste two days having gone off on the wrong tangent, you may end up missing an important deadline. You also risk wasting your supervisor’s time (if they were banking on your work to help them complete their own work) and client’s money.
When/how to ask questions
Interrupting your supervisor every few minutes will be counter-productive. Think how you would feel if you were working on something complicated and had to stop every few minutes to answer questions on a different issue. You would lose your trail of thought, work less efficiently and get frustrated.
Where possible, note down your questions and accumulate a list. You can then ask your supervisor when they will have a few minutes to clarify certain elements of the tasks you were set. In more practical terms, as you progress through the task, you could draft the email (as you go along) that you will send to your supervisor once the task is completed. This means you can keep adding in comments/questions so that when you have finished the task, all your questions will have been noted down and the email will be ready to send.
Of course, if you run into an issue that will prevent you from continuing with the task until it is resolved, then ask your supervisor immediately. It is all about striking a balance between your productivity, your supervisor’s productivity and the risk of you going off on a wrong tangent/delivering an incorrect piece of work.
You could check with your supervisor at the outset whether they have a particular preference for dealing with questions – an accumulated list every couple of hours; by email, phone or face to face etc. These are not generally considered to be stupid questions, as many people have different preferences and are fairly stuck in their ways.