Hey New Guy! 10 Secrets to Assertively Ask for Help

The idea of learning in public during your first job means you’ll need to rely, in part, on others to share their experience and knowledge.

Some fields have structure where newness is acknowledged, and learning is fostered in formal training.

For example:

  • In industry trades, apprentices train for up to six years to master their craft under the tutelage of a more experienced crafts-person
  • Teachers have the chance to practice student-teaching with an experienced guide helping them through the introductory classroom experience
  • Doctors spend years in residencies before they can append “M.D.” or other letters to their names

And then there’s you.

For many new careerists, unlike the examples above, there isn’t a clear ramp-up program to get you on your feet. A recent survey revealed that 67% of employees learn about their jobs from co-workers and not from their bosses.

So, it’s inevitable that you will need to pursue the dreaded task of asking others for help. Many young professionals detest having to do so, because it makes them feel dumb.

I’d like to turn that around and talk about how you can feel empowered and confident when you ask others for help! Learning how to do this will speed your induction process and give you a career building skill.

Instead of seeing it as an admission of weakness, see asking for help as an opportunity to reach out and build relationships with others as you learn. Here are 10 secrets for doing so:

1. Assume That People Are Willing to Help You

Don’t you enjoy being asked to share your insight on something or help someone beat a level on Angry Birds? Others do as well. Start by knowing that nearly all people want to share their expertise with you.

2. Don’t Apologize

If you start every request with an apology, how good will you feel about asking? Apology implies that you SHOULD know something you legitimately don’t. It also dis-empowers you and sabotages your confidence. Be polite, be respectful, and don’t start by apologizing.

Listen to the difference between this request and the example in Points 3, and 4.

“Hi John, I’m really sorry to bother you; I know you’re super busy. I hate to have to ask you this question; since I’m new I still don’t know all this, but….”

3. Give Context and Time-frames

If you’re working on a customer issue that’s urgent, say so. If it’s something for the team, let them know. Who will fault you for trying to solve a customer problem or support the team’s mission?

“Hi John, I’m working on the Salk Customer project and I’d like to get this issue resolved for them today so that we’re in compliance with our service agreement.”

4. State the Issue Clearly

Provide the facts, the objective, and the specific issue

“The installation is complete and correct. The software is loading nicely and in compliance with the terms. We need to get the report function working so test reports can be pulled tonight. However, we continue to get an error message when we ask for the report.”

5. Share What You’ve Done to Resolve the Problem on Your Own

This lets people know you are “learning to fish” rather than just asking to be fed the answers. It demonstrates your problem solving capability. It also builds your confidence.

“I’ve tried tweaking the request code, we’ve consulted the manual and called the central help desk; we also had a software guy work on this. It is still not working properly.”

6. Ask a Specific Question – Get to the Answer You’re Looking For

If you ask a vague question, you’ll get a vague answer. It also helps to let them know why you are asking them.

“What else should we try to resolve this issue by the end of the day?” or “What other resources might we access to correct the issue?” or “What technical checklist can we go through to make sure the pieces are all in place?”

“I know you’re a content expert in this area, and I am hoping you can point me in the right direction.”

7. Be Courteous, Respectful, and Appreciative

Ask respectfully. Thank generously. Offer your help to them in return if there is ever an opportunity. Everyone appreciates knowing that they’ve been helpful.

8. Write Things Down

Most people will be happy to help, but if you start asking the same question repeatedly, it’s annoying. Don’t be annoying.

9. Tell Others How Helpful That Person Has Been

This is good gossip. Spread it.

10. Follow Up!

After you’ve resolved the issue, share what you’ve learned, and let your adviser know what happened. It’s proactive on your part, and demonstrates your professionalism. S/he might also earn something from your experience!

What’s your experience been in asking for help? What have you found when you apply a structured and empowering approach, versus one that starts with an apology?


For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Degrees of Transition!

About the Author: Lea McLeod helps recent grads and mid-careerists navigate the job search. And once you have a job, she’ll coach you to the brilliant performance of which you are capable! Her “Developing Patterns of Success” Workshop has been deployed to help thousands of college hires worldwide do just that. She blogs at www.degreesoftransition.com. Follow her on Facebook, and Twitter, too.

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