You’re given a temporary assignment. Maybe you’re an intern or a fellow. Maybe you’re a new employee who’s been given a wonderful opportunity to rotate through various departments – hopefully making you a well rounded employee down the road.
I had the pleasure of talking with one of my coaching students this morning who is in this very situation. She’s smart, curious and recently graduated from college. The program she’s in is rotating her for 3-4 months at a time through various departments in the agency she works for. She asked me what I would do if I were given the same opportunity at her stage of career development.
Here are the thoughts I shared with her:
- Decide early what you want to get from each rotation. It’s better to have an objective or two than it is to show up for work and wait for someone else to direct you’re efforts. Starting off being goal oriented helps a lot when it comes to filling in the blanks (inevitable when we start a new project in a place we’re unfamiliar with), directing our conversations with people we have not met before, and giving us ideas to share with others about how our talents might be best used.
- Focus on relationships. Get to know people in each rotation. Make ita point to learn (and write down) as much as you can about the people you meet. Know their names, their interests, a little about their family, their position, and a few things about their personality. Send them friendly notes from time to time. Make the note about something that you discovered is interesting to them. After getting to know a few people, ask them who they think is the best person to talk with about X,Y, or Z (see the first bullet about knowing what you want to get out of each rotation). Keep your rolodex active. The people in your network will be one of the greatest assets in your career tool box.
- Be helpful, but don’t expect to blow people away. No one really expects anyone on 3-4 month rotations to complete huge projects. They’re giving you the opportunity to expose you to various aspects of your ecosystem. They’re not sending you on a project completion rampage. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to prove yourself. You may not have this opportunity to build your network so fast again.
She went on to ask me about social engagements. She wanted my thoughts on going out to happy hours with other peers who are also on temporary rotations. Here is what I shared with her:
- Extra-curricular activities can be great. But it depends on the individual. If you’re the type of person who can’t hold their liquor, if you like to dance on the tables, kick off your shoes and smooch with the first person who passes you after your third drink – then happy hours are probably not going to be good for you. If you’re responsible, friendly, and don’t make a fool of yourself, then happy hours can be a fun way to connect with other people. Relationships made after work often last for a long time after a job assignment has ended. I’ve had staffs who used to go out all the time and are still supporting one another as friends many years later.
- Respect chain of command issues. If you’re a supervisor or going out to socialize with a supervisor, be aware of favoritism and the appearance of favoritism. Favoritism can crush morale and your career. Know that supervisors do sometimes have to fire employees. As a supervisor for most of my career, I was always careful not to get myself into a position where friendships could be used as a weapon in the office. “…but Dave… I know I haven’t been performing, I’ve been counseled five times, and all my colleagues are having to pick up after me, but we’re friends, dude! How could you do this to me?!”
- Judgment Counts – Not just your own. Having judgement yourself sometimes means being careful about who you hang out with and where you hang out. I was once invited to a party overseas. I knew many of the people going, and I knew that they tended to get pretty wild when intoxicated. I chose not to go. That party turned out to be the reason for officers being relieved of duty, lot’s of “Extra Military Instruction” and an investigation launched from Washington DC that earned this party the unfortunate title of “Med Hook,” a title borrowed from a similar party a few years later called “Tail Hook.” Had I gone to that party, I would have been scooped up with the rest of the gang and considered guilty by association.
Temporary assignments can be great networking opportunities. They can advance your career and build your network. Have a great time with them, but also have a plan of your own for making the most of them.
What other advice do you have for making the most of temporary assignments?