Student Perspective: Navigating workplace hurdles, proving your competence
August 18, 2009
This entry features guest writer, Abdul Rahman El Husseini, who is a senior electrical and computer engineering student...
Maybe you're worried that one of the tasks you'll undertake as an intern will be making sure the coffee is at the right temperature beside the mouse pad by 7:59 AM right before your manager arrives. Or maybe you envision spending hours at the copy machine, or having to work monotonously for hours on end on other mundane tasks.
What's the reality? Well, besides the fact that every job has its mundane elements, in fact, it's simply more cost-effective to have the least-experienced, lowest paid staff member do the less complex jobs. Someone's got to do them! For example, having to type an inventory of items into a spreadsheet might be something you're assigned as an intern, or manually checking the status of thousands of table loads into a database might be another, checking if all files in a folder have a specific naming scheme -- the list goes on.
One of the real challenges many interns face is proving themselves capable of higher level assignments. "But how can I ask my manager to give me more responsibility if most of what I get is boring, repetitive work?" Easy-do all of your assignments with a focus on quality and timeliness -then ask for more. If you think there's another answer to this question, then you're mistaken! Put yourself in their shoes for a minute: they very likely have a lot of major things that need to be done, but how do they know if they can really entrust that much responsibility to the intern? If your manager perceives you to be careless and inaccurate with basic tasks, why would he/she risk giving you more responsibility?
If you want a challenging assignment (or even if you just want accomplishments for resume bullet points instead of duties) you need to show your manager that you're both capable and worthy. Offer to take care of something a co-worker or manager is working on. Try very hard to exceed their expectations every time and finish every task/project quicker than expected without compromising quality and service.
This brings me to the bigger challenge, namely convincing whomever you're working with that you're fully competent to deal with the added challenge you've negotiated. There's really no secret formula for that besides your reputation for quality work plus clear communication. Ask clarifying questions instead of operating on assumptions. Establish your credibility by demonstrating an attention to detail. I also recommend taking Communications 367 (Persuasive Speech); this class has helped me learn how to frame my points in communicating with people both inside and outside of the workplace.
"Problems are only opportunities with thorns on them."
Authored by an ECS guest.