Advice for Interns: How to be Helpful but Not Annoying

Have you ever felt like you're annoying your employer with frequent visits and requests for work? The truth is, you might be.
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My fellow summer interns: Have you ever felt like you're annoying your employer with frequent visits and requests for work? The truth is, you might be.

There's a fine line in the intern world between being the aggressive, determined intern and the bothersome, high maintenance intern. You only have a few months to convince your employer that you want to contribute to the company and that you take your job seriously. But you also only have a few months to make them want to lock their doors and hide under their desks when they hear you running from down the hallway.

I've learned a few rules to keep in mind when approaching assignments and checking in with your superiors.

  1. Give them a minute to breathe. If you get in at 9 a.m. and they are rushing to their office, coffee in hand, at 9:30, it's not a good idea to follow them and ask for work. You are probably in competition with other interns -- but trust me, the "in-your-face" intern does not end up the victor.

  • Come to them with ideas and feedback. The worst thing to do is to walk into your boss's office, throw your hands up in the air and say that you are bored and have nothing to do. If you really do have nothing to do, think of a few things you could be doing and ask them if they want you to perform those tasks. If you worked on an assignment, story or project with them the day before, give them your reaction to it.
  • Show them you can hold up on your own. The best intern in the eyes of employers is the one that can be trusted to act like someone who already has the job. That's not to say you walk around like you own the place, but you show that you can use the training they gave you on day one to make a difference. Employers are bound to hire the person who makes him or herself indispensable to the company by taking initiative and going beyond the tasks set before them and every other intern.
  • Learn the best way to communicate with them and stick to it. Some bosses prefer a morning email while other more chatty bosses like to touch base in person every morning. Odds are, your boss is busy and doesn't want to have to come up with something for you to do every minute of the day. They WILL come to you when they need something, but it helps to run some suggestions by if they don't. Shoot them a text, message, email or stop by for a few seconds to they know you are eager to help them, but recognize when they're on deadline or too busy to tend to you.
  • Go to others in the company if they are busy. Odds are, you are working with a group of people rather than just one superior, and in most companies, there's plenty of work to go around. If your boss is on vacation or out for the day, it helps to make friends with other employees and offer your help. Those relationships can lead to unique opportunities and can show your boss that you care about the company enough to reach out to other employees.
  • Find new ways to be useful with your strengths. If you see something running inefficiently or something lacking, that's your chance to really make your mark. If you are an expert in a certain subject, know a language or a tech skill like video or web programs, make sure you dabble with that before you leave. Soon enough, you could become the "go to" person in that particular subject.
  • Talk to them if they aren't using you to your full potential. Sometimes a boss or company (maybe one with little experience with interns) won't give you much to do simply because they don't know how to best use their interns. Every place as some sort of protocol or chain of command that could be hindering some of your more ambitious assignment requests. In those cases, all you can do is find ways to be helpful, make sure they know you are capable of performing tasks, and talk to your HR rep or your supervisor if you feel they aren't giving you a fair chance. Most likely, it's nothing personal.
  • Sharing is caring. The worst thing you can do to yourself is become the annoying intern among the intern clan at a certain organization. And one of the most annoying things a fellow intern can do is become overly competitive. I'm talking about withholding information, talking badly about one another or inhibiting each other from opportunities. Your best allies will be each other, so instead of treating it like a competition, treat it like a partnership. Intern friends can help each other get assignments, collaborate on bigger projects, and network in the future.
  • Use the Internet to your advantage. You are probably sitting at a desktop with the world at your fingertips through the Internet, and this can be good or bad for bored interns. Some interns can fall into the habit of G-chatting, Facebook chatting or listening to Pandora instead of doing anything constructive. If you are finished with your tasks and they aren't giving you anything else to do, take the rest of your time as an opportunity for personal growth. Blog, Tweet, read the news, share information, send emails, look up scholarships or plan out the rest of your work week.
  • Use caution when frustrated. If you feel that you are doing the best you can but are still annoying your boss for work, do not publicize that frustration -- especially online. Sometimes it's a slow work week at your organization, but that doesn't mean you will be bored forever. They hire interns for a reason and they will utilize you when the time is right.
  • But in the meantime, remain respectfully persistent, maintain good relationships with your coworkers, and make your own mark.

    Note: The author of this post has interned at 7 different sites and is currently an intern in Washington, D.C.

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