An important topic that I feel many college graduates and new entrants into the workforce need to understand and prepare for is competitiveness in a work environment. This is especially true for internships, sales careers, political/government positions, and many more. Many businesses today directly encourage competition in their work force, sometimes by offering incentives or commissions to those who stand out from their co-workers. Employers that hire multiple interns might only have a limited amount of positions available and your internship is not only about learning, but also about keeping your foot in the door in front of everyone else.
While competition might be an intimidating thing for many people, it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Often times when people think of competition, they think that it’s about others playing dirty and trying to make each other look bad. This isn’t the case. In fact, in a professional work environment, the encouragement of competition can be understood more clearly as an encouragement to do your best and to gauge others’ progress against your own. It is important to me to be enthusiastic and willing to learn and work by volunteering, even if it is for a task you might not like. Interns are often prone to this, but often times it’s a race to see who can be the first to request a job. It can be hard work and a lot of people aren’t used to that kind of a pace in their work environment.
When I was interning in Washington D.C., I learned quickly that you have to be on your toes at all times and seek opportunities and seize them immediately. As an unpaid intern, the staff in the office didn’t really care if we did any work or not because it was implicit that we were all competing for a job and/or recommendation. There were numerous times that the interns would be screening their e-mail until a request would pop up. Using Microsoft Outlook, e-mails were the means of communication and when a request was received, all nine of us interns would send claims almost at the exact same time. Sometimes it was the difference of milliseconds that determined who got the claim to the job.
I also want to stress that it’s also not just about doing every job you can as quickly as you can. It’s important to make sure that the jobs you do receive are done well. Don’t panic if you are tied up in a task and have to let another intern/coworker take the opportunity, there will be more.
Good luck out there!