Tricia Karp Tricia Karp
03 October 2013

A beginner’s guide to asking for what you want

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This is my intern, Sarah Voigt, who’s working with me at the moment.  She’s a final year journalism and creative writing student.  I thought she might have some useful insights to offer on my favourite topic right now – How To Ask For What You Want.  And she does!  Read on please… Tricia
You have the whole world at your feet.

It’s something I hear every week, from friends, employers, mentors, family.  I’m not saying I’m ungrateful for their support; it’s fantastic.  But it’s also absolutely terrifying.

If it’s all there, how do I decide what to do?  And when I decide, where do I start?  I’m studying journalism, so questions are the tools of our trade.  We use them every day, and sometimes with people who don’t want to be asked.  But when it comes to asking for what we personally need or want, it’s a whole other story.

When you’re in the early days of your career, it’s impossible to find your place in the workforce without asking for what you want.  If you don’t ask, you get ignored, and you lose your chance.  It’s that simple, and that scary.

But how to ask without coming across needy or annoying?   You don’t want to come across like one of those fresh out of University know-it-alls, nor do you want to seem completely useless. Below I’ve outlined five of my personal rules that have helped me through the past four years of gaining traction in the ‘real world’:

1. Get perspective

Think about it this way: if it won’t matter in five years, does it really matter now?  Don’t sweat the small stuff (and all of the other clichés).

Last week Tricia asked me to send out some invitations for her new workshop.  It took me about three hours to send them out over email, and I was so proud of getting it done, at last!  I then got an email from Tricia, reminding me of the list that I was to send them to (Adelaide only).

I realised, to my horror, I’d sent them worldwide (what did I do?!).  I spent all weekend thinking and worrying about it.  I met with Tricia on Tuesday morning, expecting a (deserved) talking to.  But all she said was ‘oh don’t feel silly, it doesn’t matter!’  Now I feel silly for feeling silly.

It really doesn’t matter.  Mistakes happen.  Get used to it.

2. Know what you’re asking for

Make a list, do some thinking, roll a dice or flip a coin.

Just make a decision about what it is you want from someone or something, and you’ll be much clearer in asking for it.  If you don’t know what you want, how on earth is anyone else going to know?

3. Be prepared

For every possible outcome.

You have to make sure that what you’re asking for is reasonable and professional in your circumstances.

What if they say yes?  Are you prepared to take on that responsibility?  Are you ready to take on that level of work?  Don’t take on more work if you can’t handle it.

And what if they say no?  Will you be able to cope with rejection with grace and sincerity?  Will you learn from this and be able to muster up the courage to ask again later on?  Do you understand why they are saying no?

4. Don’t stray from your goal

If you work hard enough, you will be noticed.

And don’t forget the big picture (rule # 1).  Personally, I like to write down what I want to achieve somewhere I’ll see it every day: on my computer desktop, on my mirror, on a post-it on my car dashboard.

5. Know your worth

Yes you’re young.  Yes you’re ‘only’ a cadet/intern/entry-level-coffee-retriever.  But you deserve respect.

If you feel like you’re being swamped with work you’re not prepared or trained to deal with, say something.  If you don’t, and do a bad job, you’re not only going to feel bad, you’ll look bad.  You’re manager can’t read minds. Of course, you can do your best at first try, but you can speak up if you know you’re not ready.

And know your worth in the other sense; any reasonable manager knows that their cadet/intern/entry-level-coffee-retriever isn’t going to know everything.  They will expect you to ask for help when you need it.  If you don’t, they’ll think you’re not interested.  Go the extra mile and be enthusiastic about the work you’re doing, even if it’s mundane.  They’ll love your coffee-retrieving skills!

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