So, you’re at a new internship or entry-level job. You may be wondering how you can quickly set yourself apart for more responsibility and autonomy. With little experience and perhaps the least amount of years on earth in your office, you’re up against a lot. Doing odd, messy, or tedious jobs help you get noticed more than you might initially think.
I’ve had three internships in the DC area. DC is basically 1/3 political agents, 1/3 everyday employees, and 1/3 interns. It’s pretty easy to blend in and never stand out. If you just do what you’re told and show up to work, you’ll do fine. You will blur into the history of interns or entry-level employee past, though. Here are a few ways to distinguish yourself:
- If You See A Mess, Clean It Up
It may be someone else’s job to clean up the kitchen, common area, or copy room. However, almost everyone is probably busier than you or working on harder deadlines than you when you’re new. Especially as an intern, you’ll have some downtime between jobs. Instead of counting the ceiling tiles, go check out if there’s anything can be tidied up. Odds are, they want a certain closet, shelf, or fridge cleaned out, but it hasn’t been a priority. Of course, make sure you’re allowed to touch the things you’re cleaning up or a good intention might lead to a stern talking-to. If you’re not sure, ask your supervisor. A safe option is usually wiping out the common fridge or counter space. I once took on the task of throwing out all expired common foods—it was easy and much needed.
- Experiment With Processes
When you’re given a task, especially a tedious one, try switching it up to find easier, more effective ways to get it done. If you’re given something like entering data, as interns often do, it can be pretty boring. Try learning more about the platform you’re using while you’re at it. This could open up more opportunities to diversify your task and improve the timing. For instance, I have had research projects where I’m looking up hundreds of contacts, bios, or phone numbers. Fooling around with typing a chunk out then making phone calls, opening multiple windows and typing, searching by categories, list making, or starting a pattern have helped me trial-and-error develop systems for tedious jobs.
- Imagine The Bigger Picture
All employees perform better when they have an idea of how they fit into the bigger picture of the company. Sometimes this is hard to envision when you have a task that seems menial. Spend some time figuring out how your assignment contributes to the overall mission or goals of the company. For instance, calling a list of media sources or donors, or shredding trash documents might be the last thing you want to do, but you can usually draw it back to the “why” of the entire organization. If you can’t, ask your supervisor in a polite way how he or she thinks your task helps their job or the goals of the operation. Perhaps, if your task truly isn’t useful, you and your supervisor will trim or cut the task to make it more relevant. Requesting tasks that help you grow in a specific area can also lead to assignments that grow you and your organization. Most supervisors truly want to see you benefit from the experience. Knowing how you contribute to the team will keep your attitude up and set you apart. There have been times my “small job” led to big media hits or donations. Other times, my supervisor has cut a task down to low-priority.
- Don’t Wait for An Assignment
When there is a chance to offer yourself for a task, do it. Often, an email will go out to all staff for and event or job that needs a few hands. Volunteer yourself. This may mean staying after hours, coming in on a weekend, or forgoing some plans. Not only will you be helping out the staff, you will probably also learn something you wouldn’t in your normal role. Also, take initiative when you’re between tasks by asking your supervisors and co-workers if they could use some help on a project. Going beyond your duties will put you on the map for your team. I’ve met some of the most interesting people bar tending or coat-checking at events I wasn’t assigned to cover.
- Don’t Discount Your Skill
You might get used to hearing that you have little to offer the workforce. That’s not true—all of your skills can be showcased. One that is easy to implement is social capital. Whether mobilizing volunteers, reaching out to media contacts, or connecting a personal contact with a product, you can contribute in a meaningful way. There have been times I thought I was just a lowly intern, then realized I had a real connection to reporters and fellow interns around the country. These connections have led to real results. If I discounted these real-life relationships, or other skills, I might not have had an opportunity to become an asset to my company. Take caution to not assume you’re higher profile than you are, but also realize how much you could contribute with your unique network and skill set. Implementing your strengths in your work is more than most bother to discover.
Pro tip: Don’t end up becoming less efficient by doing non-essential tasks. Best results come from proper prioritization and well-handled free-time. Sweeping is only helpful if you’re not using it to avoid actual work.