You have just landed the job of your twentysomething dreams, you think. Or at least one that will get you on your way. Now you're going to bury yourself in your work, because you enjoy it.
Then the door opens and a supervisor asks you to pick up his dry cleaning. Or the manager asks you to finish her project, because, well, it will be good experience for you, she says, as she walks out the door to go on vacation.
You want to make a good impression, be a part of the team, be the go-to guy. And if you do that, you can be the superstar and get the projects you actually want to be working on, right?
Well, there is a difference between being managed and being manipulated. You have to know when to say yes, when to say no, and when to bail to keep from sinking in a pile of projects that aren't really yours.
Otherwise you may miss opportunities that are a little more career-enhancing than stapling 3,287 reports together.
`I Want to Help, but . . .'
You're new. You're a temp. You're an intern. How do you let the people who have been around longer know you're there for a reason other than doing their work?
Kate Perrin, president of Professional Solutions, a District-based public relations temp service, said it's not uncommon for companies to ask that an employee handle some extra tasks. "Our temps end up doing [extra work] because they want a happy employer, and we want a happy client." But, she said, "we encourage our temps to let us know if they are put in that position."
The company should not pile on extra work without compensating for it, said Perrin, especially if you are a temp.
"If you're going to be the person who says yes all the time, you're never going to have your own time," warned Lisa Calla-Russ, a recruiter with Snelling Personnel Services. "Actually saying no will help you to gain respect in the eyes of the supervisors."
But there are some workplaces that aren't going to be very accepting of that "No."
Maria Montenegro, a 27-year-old senior account manager at the Widmeyer Baker Group, said overwhelmed interns on the Hill, for instance, are far from uncommon -- she used to be one.
There were times, she said, when younger women especially were asked to pick up dry cleaning, baby-sit, or do something else that obviously is not part of being an intern. "Make it clear that your time shouldn't be spent doing these sorts of things," she said. "If it gets to that, the economy's so good, you can go elsewhere."
Kristin Accipiter, Society for Human Resource Management spokeswoman, said taking advantage of younger Hill workers is just part of the culture. "Bosses there have this mentality that you're lucky to have this job, so you need to be willing to do it."
The Right Impression
Share those dreams, kids. That's what Stephen Bazzetta, career consultant at the University of Maryland Undergraduate Business Career Center, said may be key in making sure you don't get called on for silly jobs.
"I think it helps if students, particularly if they're in entry level [jobs], express their interests without being asked," he said. "They should tell people [at the organization] why they picked that company, even if it's just to a co-worker. It still creates the impression they know what they are doing."
By saying what you hope to accomplish, young workers define themselves as something other than gofers.
"They can do this in the interview process so they make it clear what they want to do," Bazzetta added.
Montenegro says, "Over time . . . you gain confidence and demonstrate your abilities. I think [that puts] you in a stronger position." Once you exude that confidence, managers will trust you for those bigger projects, rather than inflict brain-numbing tasks that aren't part of your job description.
And if you don't think you should be doing some of the piddling tasks you are being assigned, tell someone. But, said Bazzetta, don't whine and kvetch about the annoying aspects of the job.
"Refrain from focusing on the negative," he suggested. "Use persuasive words, like `I think I would be best used doing this. Is it possible that I could do that rather than this?' "
And, he said, use specific examples of projects you have worked on, tasks you have accomplished, to show the decision-makers that collecting the coffee cups for recycling isn't the best way the company can benefit from your abilities.
Do It Anyway
There are many situations in which saying no is not the right way to go.
"If you are confident that you have a good relationship with your bosses, then you have no need to say no," said Juliet Piekarski, a consultant with Watson Wyatt & Co. in the District. "You have to trust that what they're asking you to do will help you and help your business grow. Trust the experience and perspective of the people that you work for."
You can't forget the upside of doing extra work.
"Don't give automatic nos," said Accipiter. Extra tasks "might have some good perks, like making new contacts, getting skills and getting a good reputation with higher-ups."
And if you say yes more often than no, she said, managers won't hesitate to ask you to join in when something good comes along. They might even help you in the future, knowing that you've pulled through for them in the past.
"It has to come back to what's the greater good," said Piekarski. "It comes down to the work environment, and trusting the leadership. [Sometimes] it's a matter of getting the best possible work done for the client."
If you have questions about getting ahead, you can e-mail Amy Joyce at firstname.lastname@example.org