why you should ask for help in your new job as a graduate

This lesson was a result of one of the most painful and embarrassing experiences of my career.

As a new graduate, I still wasn’t familiar with office life. At university, you’re responsible for delivering your work on time, but if you don’t, only you suffer. When you start working as part of a team, failure to deliver can affect you, the team, and the business. I learnt this the hard way.

I had only been working as a graduate Subsea Engineer for around a week at my employer when I was handed my first meaningful task. I was asked to calculate, by hand, the centre of gravity of a subsea tree. This is not a task that I’d faced before, and I didn’t have a clue how to start, let alone complete it. In an effort to avoid ‘looking stupid’, I accepted the task confidently from my boss without a single question. I simply said, “I’ll get it done” and walked off to my desk.

After some initial fruitless searches in Google, I quickly became overwhelmed by the challenge. Rather than ask questions to those with more experience, I remained quiet, fearing that I’d look ‘stupid’. The days passed by, where it was easier to hope the problem would go away, as opposed to going back to my boss for help. I was burying my head in the sand. In my head, I thought, “the boss surely knew I wouldn’t be able to complete this task quickly, so I’m assuming I’ve got a month or so to get this done”. I also thought, “he’s probably just given me this task as a learning experience, this can’t be for a client”.

A week later, as I’m coming out of a lunch and learn, in an open plan office, my boss approached me and asked if I’d completed the task. I responded, “I haven’t started yet”. His face changed to a bright red, and I knew at the moment, I’d fucked up. With anger in his voice, he shouted, “I told the client we’d have this across to them today”. Everyone in the office turned their heads towards us. My face turned red in embarrassment. All I could say was sorry, anything else would’ve been an excuse.

I hadn’t asked any questions in the week that had past. I hadn’t asked, “when is this due?”, “why are we doing this?”, “who is it for?”, and importantly, I hadn’t asked for help. Ironically, my desire to not look stupid had caused exactly that.

Since that moment, as my current boss can attest to, I always ask “when is this due?”. If I’m struggling on a task, I make an attempt to solve the problem, but if it’s getting me nowhere, I ask questions. As long as you demonstrate that you’ve made an attempt to move forward, people will gladly help you. So, my advice to graduates, if you’re tasked with something, ask “when is this due?”. If you’ve ticked that box, and you’ve gotten stuck, try your best to move forward, and if that doesn’t work, ask for help.

Don’t fear looking stupid, because if you fail to ask for help, that’s exactly how you will look.

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