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Ask the intern: I don’t have enough work to do

“Hi Fiona, my name is David and I’m about three weeks into my engineering internship in Colombia. I love the company that I’ve been placed with and the work that I’ve been given has been so interesting. The only problem is that I’ve sort of run out of things to do. My supervisor and boss are so busy and I don’t want to pester them, but I really want to make the most of my time here. Do you have any advice for when you find yourself with nothing to do at work?” – David

Hi David, thanks for getting in touch. This is a common problem for many interns. Sometimes supervisors don’t realize how long tasks will take you, or simply just don’t realize that you are sat twiddling your thumbs because they are incredibly busy themselves. Don’t worry! There are several solutions to this problem. I’ll share with you my top tips for when you find yourself with nothing to do at work.

1. Ask your supervisor

Your first move should be to talk to your supervisor. But do tread lightly. You want to come across as enthusiastic and helpful. There’s a fine line between making sure that your supervisor knows you’re free to help out and just simply pestering them. The most important thing is to make a good impression, so make sure that when you approach them you aren’t interrupting something important. Also make sure that you are careful with your wording. “Is there anything I can help you out with?” sounds a lot better that “I’ve got nothing to do and I’m kind of bored”.

2. Find an individual project

If step one doesn’t go so well and your supervisor or manager still has nothing for you, try and find yourself your own project. I’m not saying that you should make a scrapbook of your experience abroad or knit yourself a laptop case, it needs to be work-related. Is there anything that you’ve seen that you think you could improve? Why not work on a proposal? Thinking outside of the box and creating work for yourself will help to make you stand out as an intern. You could even update your company’s social media or check out a new platform that the company could use. Make sure to run everything past your supervisor, but I can guarantee that they will appreciate your entrepreneurial spirit.

nothing to do at work

3. Go above and beyond

Is there a reason that your work is taking you so little time? Could you be going the extra mile to take it from good to exceptional? Make sure that every single task you’re given is completed to the highest possible standard. If there’s a report you need to do, make sure that your presentation is perfect. Is there a more inventive way you can present your data? How about some colored charts? There’s always something that you can do to make sure that your work stands out. It will also take you some extra time and give you some more work to do.

4. See if you can help someone else

Offices can be incredibly hectic environments, with everybody doing something different. If there’s nothing that you can help your supervisor with, why not see if someone needs something. Of course, before you run off and work with someone else, make sure that your boss is OK with it. They may even know of someone who is particularly swamped and be able to point you towards them. Getting to know what everyone does in the office and helping them out will give you great insight on the inner workings of the business.

nothing to do at work

5. Shadow someone

This could be anyone really. Is there someone in the office who has a job that really interests you? Why not approach them and explain that you are really interested in the work they do and that you are considering it as a possible career. Ask them if you can sit in on a meeting, or have them explain a project they’re working on. People love to help out and I’m sure that they will really like you showing an interest. But, make sure you judge their workload. If someone looks busy and stressed, leave them to it.

6. Give it some time

The last piece of advice that I can give you really is to give it some time. Although at the moment it seems like there’s not much to do, it may change pretty quickly. Sometimes a new project starts and it’s all hands on deck. Also, the more that you excel at the tasks that you’re given, the better your reputation will be. Your boss will begin to trust you and see you as an asset and therefore allow you to take part in larger and more important projects. The key is to be as helpful as possible, and people will therefore look to you when they need a hand.

An international internship is an incredible experience which is all about putting yourself out there and learning. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone, ask for things or approach new people. The skills that you learn in this internship, you will build on throughout the rest of your career. Stick at it and make sure that you are making the most of every day in this new, exciting environment.

Now that you know what to do if you really feel like you have nothing to do at work, apply for an international internship today and kick-start your career.

Photo 1. based on Bored, by Sean MacEntee, CC BY 2.0

Image 2. based on scrapbooking supplies, by Shimelle Laine, CC BY 2.0

Photo 3. based on Starbucks, by Amanda W, CC BY -ND 2.0

Photos and blog by Fiona Johnson

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The International Internships Blog is a collaboration by The Intern Group staff, alumni and current participants to give you career advice & tips, program information, & so much more!