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How to Say No Gracefully When You’re an Intern

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If you want to land a job these days, chances are you’ll take on a few internships. In many cases, internships are used as a segue into employment, with 60 percent of internships turning into a job offer.

But internships come with their own set of stigmas.

Case in point: the recent case against Fox Searchlight Pictures. A Federal District Court judge in Manhattan ruled that the studio violated federal and New York minimum wage laws by not paying production interns. While paid vs. unpaid internships are a whole ‘nother story, it does raise the question of whether or not an intern should speak up. As an intern, when should you say “no”? And what are effective ways to do it?

Set boundaries early

Before you start an internship, set your expectations early. For example, checking out the job description or talking to the organization about what your job duties will be can help you to see what you can expect.

If the manager is calling for a 30-hour work week and you can only handle 20, don’t commit. Instead, ask the employer if they can compromise by either reducing the hours or letting you work remotely.

Evaluate what you can handle daily

Once you take the internship, you still have to evaluate what you can handle every day. Some days are inevitably going to be busier than others. However, sitting down with your tasks each day can assist you in pinpointing your workload instead of waiting until you’re up to your ears in tasks.

If you’ve organized your tasks and your workload is absolutely out of this world, bring the full list to your supervisor. Oftentimes, they aren’t aware of what you’ve been assigned. Seeing your entire workload on paper can help them understand why you’re overwhelmed and determine what can be moved around.

Meet with your manager often

As with any job, it’s in your best interest to meet with your manager often. This can either be done on a set schedule, like once a week, or whenever you need guidance. When you meet with your manager, it enables you to lay your worries on the table, show them what you’ve been doing and help them understand your busy workload.

If you’re working on a new account, but don’t have time to do other tasks, meet with your manager and say, “As you know, I’m working very hard on our new account, and we’re making lots of great strides. However, I feel like if we want to continue working at the same level, I may need some of my other tasks moved around. Can we work something out?” This helps the manager to see that you’re not slacking—you’re trying to find out the best way to continue to work well.

Just say something

It can be intimidating being the intern, but sometimes you just have to buck up and say something. Being overwhelmed or not enjoying what you’re doing can put a damper on your work performance, which isn’t good for anyone. For the sake of everyone’s happiness, let your team members or your manager know what’s up to solve any frustrations.

If you have a trusted colleague or someone who knows your manager well, seek their advice. They can fill you in on some tips for how to talk to them effectively, without seeming like you’re complaining or you can’t handle the job. This allows you to go into a conversation with a stronger backbone while framing your concerns in the best way possible.

While you may believe being an intern means you aren’t afforded the same things as a regular employee, know that what you do influences the organization. In the end, implementing these tips about saying no can only help the organization in a positive way.

What do you think? What are some other ways to say no when you’re an intern?

Sudy Bharadwaj is a co-founder and the CEO of Jackalope Jobs, a platform that helps job seekers find a job via their social networks. Learn how Sudy and Jackalope Jobs obsess over job seekers by connecting with them on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • jrandom421

    If you say no as a intern to your boss/mentor, also be prepared to hear, “Your internship is over. Security will escort you out.”