You’re a month into your new summer internship and things are going great. You’ve perfected the whole business attire thing and learned who’s who in the office. No more filing mail or fact-checking stories; your supervisor has finally given you your own assignment to complete! She hands you a packet of information, rattles off a long list of directions, and tells you she’d like the finished product on her desk at the end of the week.
Here’s when the panic sets in. As soon as she walks away, you realize you have no clue what she wants you to do. You look around and realize you’re on your own. Everyone else is busy, effortlessly doing their own thing while wearing 6-inch stilettos. You suddenly wish you would have stuck with your summer job at the local diner.
You know you need help but you don’t know who to ask or even how to ask them so you sit there for hours upon hours pondering what to do. Her Campus doesn’t want you to end up in this kind of a situation, so we’ve talked to internship experts and interns just like you to learn the dos and don’ts of asking for help at an internship.
How do I ask for help?
Be polite and prepared.
Lauren Berger, the CEO of Intern Queen, recommends asking all of your questions at once and having a pen and paper with you so you can take notes. “If your boss asks you to do research, approach your boss and say, ‘I’m having problems; are there any techniques I can use to get this done faster?’” Berger says. Don’t just storm in and complain about not understanding something. “When asking for help, make sure you communicate what steps you have already taken to find the answer and ask where else you should look or who else you should talk to. This shows that you are conscientious and willing to do the work yourself rather than be handed the answer every time. For example, "I looked online and talked to the staff representative, but I'm still not sure of ... Where can I find that answer?" suggests Alaine, a senior at Miami University (OH).
“First, always ask 'Is this a good time to talk about a question I have on xyz?'” says Shelly Marie Redmond, the founder, CEO, and internship supervisor of College Lifestyles. It’s important to be confident and to follow through on whatever method you decide to use to get the help you need.
Know how your boss likes to handle questions.
Kelsey, a junior at Boston University, says, “At one of my internships this summer, we have an IM system so we can all keep in touch with our supervisors. My supervisor loves being asked questions of all sorts, but I think it's important to definitely make sure asking a million questions is alright with yours! I'd suggest starting off a question with ‘Sorry to bother you’ the first few times and then see what he or she says.” Also, be sure to just ask! Does your boss/supervisor prefer you to approach them directly in-person? Should you email them first? IM them? You can ask your boss their preferred method of communication on the first day (or now, if you haven’t asked her yet).
Make your questions matter.
“The general experience I've had at jobs/internships is to not be afraid of asking questions, so long as your supervisor is free,” Annie, a junior at University of Chicago, says. But remember to be a hard worker if you want others to take your questions seriously. “When you show an appreciation for a company/organization, help flies in your direction. But if you are in and out, late on assignments, and bragging about your 14 other internships and night out on the town—it is a lot harder to get help,” Redmond says.