This blog is the second of a two-part series called, “You Got the Position: Now What?” We’ll focus on what you as a millennial should do to maximize your position once you attain that awesome job or internship.
You’ve landed the job, you’ve made an effort to put your best self forward in the first few weeks, and now you’re settling into the workplace.
It may be a three-month internship or a yearlong entry-level job. Regardless of the timespan, you know you have to make the most of it. There are a lot of articles out there on the subject. Do the work well! Make connections! Have fun! While they provide important advice, I want to provide some more precise methods and advice to making the most of your time.
The following tips are a mix of pieces of advice from Business Insider and U.S. News infused with my own personal insights. Because I’ve been there. I’ve held part-time jobs and four internships (three of those unpaid), and would not be where I am now without putting in that time. What got me through some great and not-so-great jobs and internships was keeping in mind that every position was a catalyst for the next position, and, ultimately, my overall career.
My biggest piece of advice to you is – no matter how mundane – take the job seriously, because you never know where it’s going to land you next.
- Gain trust early on. This is more than making the first impression. Show your supervisors and coworkers that you’re reliable. You get the job done, you can meet deadlines, and you’re ready to accomplish any task thrown at you. Whether you come in as an intern, or entry level, you have to prove yourself in the work world. Now’s the time. If you show you can do the small tasks, your supervisors are more likely to assign you more interesting, complicated tasks as time goes on.
- Do every task with grace. If you’re starting out in the internship world, you’re going to have your fair share of mundane, mind-numbing work. There will be times when you think to yourself, “I went to college for this?” “I came all the way out to Washington, D.C. to file paperwork?” Like I said, I’ve been there. I’ve had my fair share of filing, answering phones, delivering packages, greeting visitors on the Hill, and even doing supply inventory. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, I promise. You may feel at the bottom of the ladder now, but everyone had to start out somewhere. Find purpose in the mundane tasks and do them with a smile. We all need a sense of humility to earn our way to the top in government. Know that accomplishing these tasks with grace will get you noticed by your supervisors and will eventually pay off.
- Use downtime wisely and ask for work. Chances are they might not always have work for you to do, especially if it’s an internship. Don’t use that time to check social media or sit around twiddling your thumbs. Use every moment you have on the job to learn about the organization you’re working for. Read up on the organization website and use it as a time to learn. Take initiative and ask your supervisor what you can help with. Let them know you’re not working on anything. Most of the time, they will find something for you. If this persists for a week, and you feel like you’re not doing anything, tactfully talk to your supervisor about it and let them know you need more assignments. They should be ready to adjust because they know it’s important you get something out of the position, especially if it’s unpaid.
- Communicate with your supervisors. It’s important to communicate regularly with your supervisors about your needs, your work, and how you’re coping. If you feel that you might not make a deadline, let them know ahead of time. They will appreciate it as a sign of maturity rather than you missing a deadline without mentioning it. Be sure to ask questions if you don’t understand what’s being asked of you for a task. It’s better to ask lots of questions and do the task correctly than to go ahead and do it incorrectly when you’re not sure. Also be honest and own up if you mess up. It’s a sign of growth and everyone in work will fail at times. Don’t try to make excuses or cover it up.
- Ask for feedback. Asking your supervisor for feedback on how you’re doing shows you’re interested in growing. Show that you’re open to critique and want to improve. As an intern, you may not have a formal review until the end of your term, so ask for feedback on a regular basis. The feedback also helps to start uncovering your strengths and what you need to improve on.
- Learn from your coworkers. There’s a lot you can learn about from fellow interns and colleagues. Ask your co-workers about their own careers, how did they get into the field? Why did your fellow interns go for the position? What do they like about it? What advice do they have for you?
- Know your strengths and weaknesses. As you learn from your feedback and fellow coworkers, take note of your own strengths and weaknesses. What do you find comes easily to you? Maybe writing or interpersonal skills. What do you find challenging? Maybe data analysis or attention to detail. Here at GovLoop, we have a motto: Improve 1% everyday. Use the time at your position to find out what you like and don’t like and use it as an opportunity to learn at least one thing or improve at least 1% on your skills everyday.
- Be flexible. Tasks may change from day to day. In government, sometimes you never know what’s going to come up in the workday. If learning new tasks everyday or not knowing what’s coming the next day stresses you, this is something you may need to work on. It’s important to be flexible on the job. One day you may be writing a memo, the next day you’re doing data analysis or editing videos. It’s good to take the new tasks in stride, learn the new skills, and adapt. Government is all about adaptability.
- Take initiative, but accept guidance. Employers are impressed by your willingness to sign on and help and take initiative. But don’t just sign up for everything. Don’t take on a task if it’s not necessarily asked of you. You are ultimately there to learn from more experienced individuals. Make sure you wait for their directions and take their guidance. Because there’s nothing worse than having many jobs done poorly or not according to their standards because of overconfidence.
- Socialize with a filter. Definitely take the time to get to know your colleagues. Join the intern happy hours and events, but remember that it’s still a work event. Even if your colleagues are drinking heavily, limit yourself to one, maybe two. Be careful about the amount of personal information you share with your supervisors and colleagues. While it’s good to get to know one another, and while you may eventually become friends, it’s always better to keep the relationship professional during the duration of your time there. Socialize with a filter, just in case.
- Gain a better understanding of your interests in government. Use this valuable time to see where you want to end up. Do you like the position? Or does the environment make you want to work somewhere else? Try working in some different places between the federal, state, and local sectors to see what you like better. After working on the Hill a couple of times, I felt I didn’t like the competitive atmosphere compared to the sense of camaraderie I felt working at State. It may be different for you, but use that time to identify where you can see yourself in the long-term.
- Show your gratitude. No matter how great or terrible the experience was, always be sure to show gratitude for the opportunity. Be thankful to your employers going out. It’s important to leave a lasting, positive impression. One of the most important things you’ll get when leaving is a recommendation for the next job. Leave thank-you-cards with your information as employers appreciate that you valued your time with them, even if it may not have been your favorite job.
For more guidance on entry-level positions, check out GovLoop’s New and Improved Guide to Internships and Fellowships in Government for great research and information on finding entry-level positions in government.
For more reading about millennials in public service, check out this weekly GovLoop series, First 5: Advice from millennial to millennial