Remember when you were just starting out in your industry? Everything was new, and everyone you worked with had valuable insight about your job and how to do it well.
As you gained more experience, you’ve inevitably lost some of that energy and humility you had when you were an intern. And while no one exactly misses going on coffee runs for the whole crew, there are a few things that go hand-in-hand with being at the bottom that you might’ve been too quick to let go of.
For example, when you’re bright-eyed and only have more to learn in your industry, you bring a much different perspective to the table. You’re quicker to ask questions, get to know people, and tackle company problems that intrigue you.
How do you keep that fresh spirit alive? By fostering these four timeless traits throughout your career, no matter where you fall in the hierarchy.
1. Eagerness to Learn
If you’re the type to ask questions, observe and take notes, or generally treat people as though you could learn something from everyone, then you’re probably thinking like an intern.
Muse Full-Stack Engineer Shlomo Dalezman says that’s something he admires most from working with his engineering intern this past summer. “One of the most positive traits he brought to the team was not being afraid to ask for help or to take initiative,” explains Dalezman. “I know sometimes it’s a bit tough because there can be so much going on—and it can be intimidating to ask for help—but it’s a very valuable skill set to have.”
As you become a more senior professional, you’re likely going to run into more and more moments in which you feel as though you should know everything about a problem and how to handle it. But asking for help, however vulnerable it may feel at the time, helps you gain new perspective and add value to the process.
After all, no one likes the guy who acts as though he’s learned all there is to know about his industry. And by being open with your skill level and actively asking how you can improve, you’ll get ahead much faster.
2. Stepping Outside the Assigned Job Duties
How many people do you know who operate only within their job descriptions? When was the last time you heard someone say that a task wasn’t her responsibility? Whether or not something fits the bullet points they read when they got hired, interns are always ready to be team players.
“At any company, there are always things that don’t get done or pushed to the back burner simply because no one has the time to do them,” explains Muse Editor-in-Chief Adrian Granzella Larssen. Improvements that aren’t urgent or mandatory, however ideal, don’t always get tended to in the daily operations of a business. That’s where interns come in. They bring a can-do attitude that can dust off ideas that usually go neglected.
“I’ve had several interns who’ve picked up projects like this, simply by asking something like, ‘Hey, I see that no one’s spending time on the company Pinterest page. I’d love to help out there’ and taking it on in addition to their typical duties,” Larssen says. “I love when people come to the table with new energy and new eyes and a willingness to go above and beyond to learn something new and help the company.”
And I get it—you can’t always stay late putting time and energy into a project outside of your main responsibilities. But if a co-worker needs a hand with his project, or you notice a public workspace could use some reorganizing, it’s definitely worth considering hanging back once or twice a week to make small incremental changes.
Think a new app can streamline a process better in your office? Be open to stepping up and taking that on. It could really add value to your company (not to mention, get you noticed by the higher-ups).
I’m the kind of worker who needs everything in place to start a project, whether that’s quotes for an article, type content for a new design, or anything else. In some ways, that can really speed up the process once you get started, but if you’re not careful, it can also act as an obstacle.
Muse Social Media Manager Allie Hunt weighed in on her intern’s resourcefulness: “When she’s working on a new project, she takes initiative to ask smart and thoughtful questions (to the right people), communicates and collaborates with other team members, and does all the necessary research to make sure the quality of her work is strong.”
Not everyone goes the extra mile to communicate and research every step of the way. And doing so, as Hunt explains, is “a trait that stands out, and really makes anyone such a pleasure to work with.”
4. Building Relationships on Other Teams
According to Larssen, an excitement for a holistic understanding of the company is priceless. “Most of the editorial interns we’ve had at The Muse are eager to learn not only about the inner workings of the editorial department, but also how the business operates as a whole, and they’ve gone out of their way to sit down with and learn from people across the company,” she recalls.
Now think: How many people do you know in other departments of your company, actually? It can feel awkward trying to branch out to other teams, I know, but doing so shows a valuable interest in the company community—in addition to your daily responsibilities. It says: I’m not just here because you’re paying me to be.
“That can be really valuable no matter what stage you’re at in your career—it can help you get perspective on how your role fits in to the broader organization, meet new people or strengthen relationships, and show that you care about the success of the business as a whole, not just doing your job,” explains Larssen.
Are internships going to be the most exciting part of your career? Probably not—but there’s virtue in that phase of life. Being in a learning position on a team forces you to be open-minded and receptive, in a way that age and experience doesn’t always allow you to be. So no matter how far you advance, remember to keep your intern attitude front and center—it can only get you further, faster.
Caroline Liu is a freelance writer, graphic designer, and computer programmer studying at Wesleyan University. She is pursuing majors in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Computer Science in order to bridge her passions for tech, design, and social justice. Learn more about Caroline on her website or follow her on Twitter.More from this Author