Skip to content
iSchool student Hairol Ma is interning at Slack in San Francisco, CA.

There’s No Shame in Learning: Asking for Help as an Intern

It’s hard to believe that half of my time at Slack is over — and with that time spent comes many lessons learned. As the part of the content team I get to work cross-functionally with other marketing teams. We’ve recently launched a new advertising campaign and we’re partnering with Fox Sports on covering this year’s FIFA World Cup.

Though many of the other interns this summer have a singular project to complete over the course of a summer (primarily the software engineering interns), due to the cross-functional nature of my team, I’m having a hand in many different projects, and thus I’ve learned to juggle many tasks at once. Something I’ve quickly learned though, is that it’s ok to ask for help.

How to Ask for Help

There’s a difference between asking questions and asking for help. Asking questions (as long as they’re thoughtful and context is well-examined) implies curiosity and an eagerness to learn. Asking for help however, has always had the tendency to make me feel incompetent.

With any internship comes a prideful urge to prove ourselves — and for me, that resulted in a strong aversion to ask for help. When an unexpected assignment came my way with a tight deadline, I accepted it confidently, thinking I could finish it quickly.

Well, I was wrong.

The urgency of the assignment ended up pigeonholing my creative process. When I could have asked for more clarification, I brushed over the details and quickly found myself spiraling into a cycle of producing the same solution, with tiny changes or embellishments here and there.

It’s terribly easy to fall into writer’s block, and with the success of the assignments I had finished prior, I figured I could write my way out of my lack of inspiration. I spent an entire day holed up at my desk, typing minimal variations of the same text and feeling more and more frustrated as the hours passed.

I moved to the cafe, hoping the new environment and a matcha latte would stimulate some creative juices. I moved next to the window, where I stared at birds flying around outside and tried to glean some inspiration. I moved to the library, where I willed words to start appearing on the white wall before me.

By the end of the day I resented the assignment, the deadline, and myself. When I didn’t receive the good feedback I had hoped, I unceremoniously threw myself a small pity party at my desk with a bag of Hot Cheetos and some Peach-Pear La Croix from the kitchen.

Don’t Be Afraid

As I packed up my things and headed out the office, metaphorically kicking myself for being so melodramatic and dreading to go back to the drawing board the next morning at work, my mentor’s voice echoed in my head.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” she had told me.

I reflected on her words on the commute home. On one hand, I wanted to impress my employers and show them the skills I had brought from Syracuse and my experiences outside of the classroom. On the other hand, though I’d spent the entire day working on my assignment, I’d made very little progress, and would have to start over again tomorrow.

I took out my phone and sent a quick direct message on Slack to my mentor, explaining my situation and my roadblocks. She responded almost immediately, letting me know that she truly appreciated that I’d reached out. The next day she carved some precious time from her schedule and sat down with me for half an hour, helping me navigate my obstacles and look at the problem from another perspective.

It only took an hour after our brainstorm session to turn in the assignment.

Why we should ask for help

There’s no shame in reaching out for help during an internship. I’ve always held those reservations even in class — I often prefer to ask professors for help privately after class rather than raising my hand in front of my classmates.

What is it exactly that prevents me from doing such a basic thing? Probably a warped combination of pride and insecurity. Looking back at my first work hiccup, I realized that had I asked for help the moment I began to struggle, I probably could have met the first deadline that was set for me.

Of course we’re well equipped from the experience we’ve gained at school, but no (reasonable) employer expects their interns to perform perfectly right off the bat. That’s why we’re constantly asked what we’ve learned at our internship. Asking for help is not a sign of incompetency, but demonstrates willingness to grow beyond our comfort zones.

It’s the end of week 6 here at Slack, and needless to say, I ask lots of questions and ask for help when I need it.

There’s no shame in learning.

Hairol Ma

Hairol Ma

Hello from foggy San Francisco! My name is Hairol and I’m a rising senior studying Advertising and Information Management & Technology. This summer I’ll be back home in the Bay Area  working as a brand copywriting intern at Slack. Over the next twelve weeks I’ll be contributing to select campaigns, honing my understanding of the Slack voice, and trying every La Croix flavor in the company fridges.

More Posts