Like most things, you will get more out of your placement with the more you put into it. Although it can be daunting to ask for additional roles and responsibilities, the rewards are worth it. I hope that this post will demonstrate some of the great benefits to expanding beyond your immediate placement duties, as well as giving some advice on how to find those opportunities.
Know what you want to gain:
The best way to be given extra responsibilities, is to ask for exactly what you want. When asking for a chance to do something different, have a clear reason why you want to do it. It may be that there’s a specific skill you want to work on to boost your CV, or maybe there’s a particular colleague that you want to work alongside and learn from. It’s good to outline any goals like this at the start of your placement, so that you can be on the look-out for opportunities to work on them.
Whatever the reason, if you can communicate it to your supervisor, then you can demonstrate good initiative and that you’ve thought things through. Of course it may be that what you ask for isn’t possible. However, if you’re specific about what you want, it gives your supervisor a good idea of what it is you’re looking for, and they can try and find an alternative. Being clear about what exactly you’re asking for is a good first step at demonstrating your competence.
Find a balance between using your strengths and learning new skills:
It’s useful to know your strengths so that you can offer to help with tasks that you could add value to. However, it is also expected that people will learn and improve throughout their time at work, and this is especially true for placement students. It’s equally important to recognise skills you could develop and learning experiences that would benefit you.
Understanding both your strengths and under-developed skills can help you to recognise the right opportunities for you. It means that your supervisor is clear about what to expect from you – both with how you can contribute but also with where to give you extra support. You won’t make any meaningful contributions if you are too shy to show off your talents, but equally you will waste people’s time if you don’t know what you’re doing and weren’t clear about needing help.
Placement is a great chance to practice existing skills whilst also pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. Look for the opportunities that strike a balance between these two things, so that you make the most out of your placement. Teamwork and collaborative projects are particularly good for this, as your weak points are supported by other members of the team, and you can learn a lot from working with experts.
It’s great to get the ball rolling, but you can still say no:
Being brave enough to ask for chances to expand your responsibilities and skills is a great way to not only increase self-confidence, but also your supervisor’s confidence in your abilities. This usually means that once you have demonstrated an enthusiastic approach to your work, and asked a few times for those opportunities, you’re likely to start being offered them.
It’s important to remember that declining to take on extra roles shows just as much skill as accepting them. Although you will be a valuable team member when you take on extra responsibilities, you will not be useful if you burn out or cannot cope with the workload. It takes courage to be honest about when too much is being asked of you, and employers will value this ability.
Before you agree to something, consider what you will gain from it. If it’s something you’d really like to be involved with but don’t have the time, discuss it with your supervisor, as there may be alternatives. Honesty will always make your placement easier.
Timing is key:
Everyone knows how important time management is, and so it’s no surprise that this is my last piece of advice. Stay on top of your schedule, and regularly update and review your progress, so that you know how much extra opportunities you have time for.
Another consideration is that in most jobs, many of these chances to expand on your day-to-day job will be events planned for the future e.g. conferences, seminars, presentations etc. This means that they will be planned in advance, and so you also have to plan in advance.
Again, it’s a scary prospect to ask for these additional opportunities at the beginning of your placement, but otherwise you may miss out. As I said, if you can clearly explain to your supervisor exactly what you want from your placement whilst you’re still in the first few months, then that gives them time to arrange things. You also get the bonus of being prepared, which always looks good to an employer.
Push past the nerves and just go for it!
So hopefully this advice has helped you to understand the ways in which you can engage with extra opportunities during your placement. Stepping outside of your comfort zone is always a risk, but it really does pay off. The key thing, in my opinion, is to show enthusiasm – if you seem truly excited about what you’re doing, then you’ll have plenty of chances to go beyond your placement.