How to Ask for Help at a New Job
The good news is that you landed a fantastic new job. You’re excited about the company and the work you’re doing, and this position is a huge step forward in your career.
The bad news is that this “huge step” is more like a seismic leap: You convinced the hiring managers that you were ready to work at this level, but now that you’re in the thick of it, you’re wondering if you can really hack it.
You know you need to ask for help, but you’re holding back, because you’re afraid it will look like you can’t manage your workload. Don’t worry, the right approach will make you look proactive—and save you a lot of headaches (not to mention time). Read on for your three-step plan to get the help you need.
1. Remember That You’re a New Hire
A former boss opened my eyes to the power of the phrase, “I’m new here.” I worked with stakeholders with complex personalities, and my boss suggested that by asking them to explain why things were done a certain way or why they held a certain opinion—ostensibly because I lacked institutional knowledge—I could make more progress in a relationship or situation than if I dove into the status quo.
Of course, that magic window lasted only so long. Asking someone to explain why something is done a certain way in the first month makes you seem interested in context; asking three months in makes you seem behind the curve.
Similarly, the time to ask for help is sooner rather than later. You may be concerned that you’ll look like you don’t know what you’re doing. But in weeks one, two, and three, that’s okay—after all, you’re a new hire. The issue arises when you try to power through, fall behind, and in month two ask about something you should have been doing all along. No matter if you’ve been killing yourself to figure it out, it will reflect poorly on your confidence, your communication skills, and your productivity.
2. Be on the Lookout for In-House Resources
If saying, “I’m new, and I need help” was easy, everyone would do it. But it’s complicated, because you want to avoid overburdening anyone or wasting valuable capital on obvious questions.
The secret is asking the right person. You may assume I’m talking about your supervisor, or whomever he or she assigned to train you, but that’s often not your best course of action (especially if your designated resource acts like your questions are keeping him from his “real work”).
Much as you can network in three directions—up (your supervisor); down (your assistant); and out (your colleagues)—the person or people who help you may come from any of these groups. Look less at who you’re supposed to ask, and focus on those with whom you click. Maybe there’s a colleague who went out of her way to show you the trick to using the copier, someone who told you that the sandwich shop a block over is far superior to the one in the lobby, or a friendly intern working at the organization for his third straight semester. Someone who goes out of her way to let you know that she remembers what it was like to be new is going to be much more receptive to questions.
3. Make the Most of Your Questions
Now that you’ve found the person (or people) willing to help, it’s time for you to get hyper-organized. You shouldn’t ask him or her a question every time one leaps to mind, and you don’t want to burn valuable time with questions you could find the answers to if you spent a little more quality time with the employee handbook.
Make a list of the problems you’re struggling with, big and small. Write down everything from your computer freezing up to trouble getting someone important to email you back. Then, prioritize the list and pick the two or three problems you need solved first in order to do your job effectively.
Next, casually approach your contact, and ask not for him to solve the problems, but if he would have time to direct you to the right person. (The last thing you want to do is send your friendliest colleague a calendar request and then unload 20 questions—he’s nice, but that’s not his job.) Rather, treat him as someone who could provide you with a little insider info.
Try this, “I’ve been having some challenges both with my computer software, and understanding some of the company lingo. Would you have a few minutes to share the secret to getting on tech’s radar, and suggest someone or something that could provide me with some more background on the language front?” This way, you’re reaching out colleague to colleague, as opposed to asking him to drop everything and help you.
You never want to feel in over your head at work—especially when you’re starting a new job. But the beginning is the time to ask for help. Use the tips above to make the process go smoothly.
Photo courtesy of Betsy Weber.
Sara McCord most often writes about making a better professional impression. She also covers topics specifically for working moms who want to excel in their careers. She's been published on Mashable (where she was a regular career contributor), as well as Forbes, Newsweek, TIME, Inc., and Business Insider. A Staff Writer/Editor for The Muse, Sara has experience managing programs; recruiting, interviewing, and referring job applicants; building strategic partnerships; advising executive directors; and supporting a national network of volunteers. See more of her writing on her website or follow her on Twitter @sarajmccord.More from this Author