When you’re new in the workplace, questions are expected. But the way you ask them relies on the kind of general workplace skills outlined back in Module 1 of The Successful Graduate Course. Here are 5 ways to ask a question at work.

It’s worth taking a moment to internalise these question-asking tips (using the common entry-level task of database administration for all our examples):

  1. Ask if it’s convenient
    Everyone responds to interruption differently. Launching straight into your question before your colleague has even looked up from their computer is likely to become annoying, or worse, appear rude. Instead watch for a break in their activity and try something like ‘Is it a good time now to ask you a quick question?’ or ‘Would you have time later today for me to ask a more in-depth question?’
  1. Start with a positive
    ‘This database just doesn’t make sense’ is the kind of comment that only makes you look silly. ‘I can see you’re very competent with this database…’ or ‘I’d like to understand this area of the database better…’ are much improved opening phrases.
  1. Focus, focus, focus
    Your colleagues are unlikely to have capacity to transfer large bodies of knowledge or complex instructions on your first day. When you ask a question at work, make sure it is both specific to your immediate needs and ideally also develops your understanding. For instance ‘How do I search the database by both client location and spend?’ is preferable to ‘How do I find Mrs J A Smith who spent $20 in South Townsville?’
  1. Offer alternatives
    Show that you have tried to find a solution independently before asking. You can do this by simply sharing the options you’ve considered, for example ‘Would you suggest I categorise the location of our new client via their local address, or their head office address?’
  1. Provide a timeframe
    If your question requires an answer within a timeframe, you need to flag this with your colleague in advance, perhaps like ‘I’m hoping to generate this client call list by the end of today, so would it be possible to show me the list export function before lunch please?’

It isn’t complex, but it will mean a lot to your colleagues. And that will only contribute to your success.

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