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How to Ask for More Responsibility at Your Internship

June 20, 2011

Alex Braun, Editor, Eye of the Intern

By Alex Braun

It can be difficult sometimes to bust out of that mid-summer rut — the point when a really exciting internship fades into a repetitive cycle of mindless tasks. You might figure, “If this is what they need me for, I don’t want to look unappreciative or self-serving by demanding more.”

There’s a fine line to walk, but you should speak up if you’re willing to take on bigger tasks. Here’s how to do it without ruffling any feathers.

1. Make sure you’ve performed well.

Not every assignment will be the best use of your talents, but you need to earn your opportunities by doing a great job on the boring stuff. A lot of interns make the mistake of assuming they’re riding a wave of goodwill in the first couple weeks on the job. In reality, your employer probably still knows very little about your work ethic, and they might test you with some busywork to see how you handle it. Don’t complain if the internship isn’t living up to your expectations in the beginning. If you do what’s asked of you, you’ll soon have more leverage to push for bigger challenges.

Asking generally for ‘more important’ stuff to do can sound self-serving.

2. Know what you’re seeking and its value to your employer.

Having a plan and doing some background research will impress your boss. Asking generally for “more important” stuff to do can sound self-serving, and creates the impression that you don’t know what “more important” tasks look like at your workplace. Both are big negatives, even if you believe you’re only trying to help.

To explain a project idea, type up an email that starts by identifying a problem you’ve noticed on the job and how you might be able to tackle it. Ask if your supervisor would like to set upĀ  a short meeting to talk things over. Even if your project doesn’t get approved, you should win some points for being proactive and engaged.

3. Don’t make others feel small.

Remember in Gladiator, when Commodus tells his father that ambition is his greatest virtue? Being motivated is great, but reckless ambition is one of the quickest ways to turn coworkers against you. Complaining that your current work is too easy — especially if it’s something full-time employees also do — creates the impression that you have a superiority complex.

Make sure to credit the people around you when they do good work, even if it doesn’t seem particularly difficult to you. And when describing new tasks you’d like to tackle, don’t characterize them as more complex or more vital. That’s for your supervisor to decide.

Have your own ideas about how to ask for bigger challenges at an internship? Share them in a comment!

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