What I've learned about being career-minded as an intern

Posted on Thursday, Jul 02, 2015

Have you ever been assigned work that didn’t match your skillset? Or bit your tongue when work was being assigned and got stuck with assignments you weren’t really interested in?

All people can fall into these categories at some point during their careers, but I think we as interns fit these molds even better. Think about it. You are very aware that you are at the bottom of the food chain- your desk is probably within monitoring distance and you may be called upon to get coffee at any moment. When your supervisor walks in, she assigns tasks, and- if you’re lucky- asks which tasks you are interested in. The only responses you can muster are a military-like “yes, ma’am,” “that sounds great, ma’am,” “getting coffee is my favorite, ma’am.”

As interns, we obviously can’t be doing work we love all the time, but we willingly chose our places of work and as such obviously feel that we have some valuable learning to gain from our experiences. Unfortunately, many of us may miss out on fulfilling our own goals for our internships simply because we are afraid to be proactive or don’t know how.  I have found that there are ways, as an intern, to maintain a positive, helpful attitude without compromising your own likes and dislikes. The following are a few tips I’ve learned about how we as interns can be assets to the companies we are interning for while still being cognizant of our own unique professional interests.

First and foremost, be honest with your interests.

If your boss asks you to do a task you don’t really like, you obviously have to follow through with diligence. But, when the opportunity arises, make your interests known.

I have been one of the lucky ones. In my case, my supervisor has point-blank asked me which tasks I am interested in and if I am enjoying my work. Open invitation. You would think. Except that I actually did not take advantage of these opportunities the first couple of times, even when they were so generously offered by someone who genuinely wants me to enjoy my work.

I am learning. I’ve learned to stick with preferences, so my conversation goes less like “I hate Task A…” and more like “I prefer Task B to Task A.” Voicing your interests will most likely land you with more work you enjoy.

Next, leverage you with you.

What I mean by this is that every intern has something unique to offer. Find out where your talents best fit in your place of work and contribute that way any chance you get. For instance, in my internship, I deal with numbers pretty much all day long. But I’m not too bad at editing, so I’ve been able to contribute as a rare influx of presentations has hit my office; I’ve been able to learn a lot from these little projects. Offering and making your skills known is worth a shot. The worst they can say is “no.” Or… “I’d like some more coffee.”

Lastly, be an expert in your area of interest.

This one applies to long-term career goals, but, hey, it’s never to soon to start strategizing.

In my office, as well as most other policy-related offices, there are experts. Here I am referring to “the gal who knows everything about U.S.-Mexico relations” or “the R programming guy.” If you’re interested in a certain area in your office, become an expert on it. If you’re an expert you’re likely to be assigned work that feels more like fun than work. As we move forward and begin our careers, we can hone in on our areas of interest and not be stuck knowing how to do a bunch of things we don’t actually want to do. We’ll be happier while bringing valuable knowledge and assets. It’s a win-win for everybody.

Emily Parrish
Bureau of Labor Statistics- Department of Labor
Washington, D.C. - Summer 2015

Tags: Advice, Career, Strategic, Washington