How to ask for help professionally: 6 tips to follow
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Asking for help at work isn’t always easy. It can be intimidating when you don’t know who to go to or the best way to approach someone for guidance.
Check out my step-by-step guide on how to ask for help professionally so you feel more confident the next time you need to ask for extra support in the workplace.
6-step process on how to ask for help professionally
1. Try problem solving before asking for help.
Before you ask someone for help, try to overcome the problem you’re facing on your own. Check all available resources that may provide an answer to your question, such as:
- Previous emails.
- Process documents.
- Notes you’ve taken.
There are going to be times when you don’t have or can’t find an answer to a question on your own.
Consider this asking-for-help example:
As a corporate recruiter, I face many different hiring situations. Sometimes, there are instances that don’t fall perfectly within our general processes. When this is the case, I:
- Reference process documents.
- Think back on what I’ve done in previous situations.
- Apply my knowledge about how the system works.
If I still have questions, I then reach out to a subject matter expert for clarification.
2. Figure out who can help you.
Once you’ve done your research and determined you still need help, think about who can best answer your question.
- What information you need.
- How quickly you need an answer.
- Who will be able to assist you, whether it be:
- Someone on your team.
- Someone within your company.
- An external source.
If you have a one-off question and don’t know who to ask it to, consult your peers or team leader to see if they can point you in the right direction.
3. Determine how you want to ask for help.
Now that you know who you need to reach out to, think about how you can effectively convey your request for help. There are two common ways to ask for help; in real-time, whether that be in-person or virtually, and via email.
Asking for help in real-time
You might consider asking for help in real-time if:
- You want to have a conversation about your question.
- You would prefer to ask your question in real-time.
- You need a more immediate answer.
A great time to ask for help in-person is during a one-on-one meeting with your team leader. Otherwise, if you have a simple question, you can pop over to your co-worker's desk or manager’s office to see if they have some free time to help you.
Asking for help via email
You might consider asking for help over email if:
- You’d like someone to review your work.
- You need instructions sent to you in writing.
- Your question isn’t time sensitive.
Try to send an email during your recipient’s normal working hours.
Pro tip: If you’re sending an email, create a subject line that’s related to your question. That way, your recipient knows what you need before they even open your email. For example, if you need help with the department budget, you might put something like “Seeking review on department budget” as your subject line.
4. Draft your question and process.
It’s a good idea to list what you want to talk about before you put in a request for help. This process can also be a great guide if you plan to ask for help over email.
Provide some context to your question by briefly describing:
- What you’re working on.
- What question(s) you have.
- The challenges you’re facing.
- Things you’ve already tried.
Wrap up by asking how you can move forward with the task you need to complete.
Pro tip: Try not to be too long-winded with your process to not overload the other person with too much information.
5. Take notes.
Once you’ve asked for help and are currently receiving/have received an answer to your question, take notes that you can reference in the future. Notes will help prevent you from asking the same question twice and make you more productive.
You might also consider creating a new process document with the information you’ve received. This can include:
- An outline with bullet points.
- A flow chart.
- Step-by-step instructions.
6. Thank the other person for their help.
Wrap up your in-person conversation or email exchange by thanking your source for their time and support. Summarize what you learned and reiterate how you plan to move forward to ensure you fully understand their guidance.
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