Being New But Not Green

How can you ask for help when new on the job without appearing too needy or inexperienced? Great question – and it not only applies to young professionals but midcareer pros when they change jobs. In either case, when trying to determine how to ask for help without being an unnecessary pain, consider the following:

• It is best to have done your homework before your start date so that you know the specific areas (e.g., client background, a particular software program) where you will face the steepest learning curves and who can help you with these areas on the job.
• It is also imperative to spend time early on working with the knowledge management system, if they have one. Many firms electronically document many bits of knowledge that obviate the need to ask others for assistance.

When is it time to ask for help?

• When the stakes are high. If the cost of a mistake or late deliverable is huge, risk the social friction and go ask for help.
• Sooner than later. Assuming you’ve made a reasonable effort, don’t allow the clock to tick any longer than necessary.
• When you can build your network. It’s not cliché – it’s true: networking is monumentally vital to professional success. As such, information gathering provides a great opportunity to expand your network and build positive professional relationships.

How do you successfully ask for help?

• Be specific. Don’t ask for help with a contract – specify the specific issue, and do it in ten seconds or less.
• Be prepared. If you know how to do part of the task – do it, and do it before you seek help. Showing up with evidence of an honest effort goes a long way towards reducing any negative perceptions they might have of you.
• Show respect. Demonstrate that you understand how busy they are. Don’t barge in and ask for help on the fly. Instead, ask them when they might be able to spare a few minutes.
• Return the favor. Anytime someone scratches your back, you want to find a time to reciprocate. It’s the right thing to do and it increases the odds they will be helpful to you the next time you’re in a bind.

Dr. Dewett is a nationally recognized leadership expert, professor, author, professional speaker and consultant specializing in all aspects of organizational life. As quoted in the New York Times, BusinessWeek, CNN, the Chicago Tribune, MSNBC and elsewhere. He is the author of Leadership Redefined. Podcasts, blog, free newsletter and more at Copyright 2009 TVA Inc.

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