February 4, 2015

Professional Development

Ask and You Shall (Usually) Receive

By: Roger Custer

Sometimes interns and new employees are hesitant to ask more established colleagues for help.  They don’t want to be a bother or they think it is presumptuous to ask questions or favors from bosses and colleagues.  However, interns and new staff are the ones who need the most help to jump start their career.  Here are some tips for appropriate questions to ask your supervisors and established colleagues.

Businessman Wearing Cape

1.  How else can I help?  If you complete your tasks early and have time available for additional work, be sure to ask for some.  If your immediate supervisor does not have work at that moment, ask other colleagues if they need help.  Even if no additional work is assigned, your initiative will be recognized by others and you will gain a reputation for being helpful and going beyond what most do.

2.  What are you reading?  Your supervisor is probably reading a book or an article about his or her field that may be helpful for you as well.  The best employees are constantly learning new ideas and best practices in their field that they can apply to their work.  Even if the person isn’t reading anything that day, you could ask what he or she reads in general and broaden the conversation.  This shows your intellectual curiosity, which is a desirable trait for employees.

3.  Will you be my mentor?  Once you identify someone in your organization who you want to be someday, ask that person if he or she will meet you for coffee or lunch.  If that meeting goes well, ask the person to be your mentor and initiate monthly meetings to ask advice and develop a relationship.  If that person does not have time, he or she could help you find someone else who does.

4.  [Interns] Can you help me find a permanent position?  The reality is that your internship ends fairly quickly.  Interns, unless headed back to school, are looking for jobs during their time.  Don’t be afraid to ask your supervisors and colleagues to help you find a job somewhere else.  Chances are they know people who are looking to hire or who can help in other ways.

5.  Could you clarify my expectations?  I’ve had interns and employees who didn’t understand what they were expected to do.  When the deadline arrived, they had not completed the task because they didn’t understand what I asked them to do and did not ask for further details or recommendations on how to complete the work.  There is nothing worse for a supervisor than when an employee is unsatisfied simply because they do not communicate clearly with the boss.  The boss needs to improve on clear communications, but the burden is on the employee to find solutions when they don’t understand.

These are only some of many questions you can ask your supervisors and colleagues that can help you get ahead.  Don’t be afraid to be bold, honest, and up front about your career because people want to help you.  They won’t know how to best help you if you don’t start asking them.

Roger Custer is executive director of America’s Future Foundation.