The Introverted Intern That Could

Despite what you've heard, you don’t have to be outgoing to stand out in your internship.
July 6, 2017
8 mins read

You did it! You landed your dream internship at a company in your industry. It might seem like success is yours, but the real battle is only just beginning; once you have the gig, you have to prove your worth by being the best and brightest intern in the room. This competitive, cutthroat side to college internships is intimidating in its own right, but has been especially daunting for an introvert like me.

Introvert literally means “inward turning,” and is generally used to describe someone who gets more energy from time alone than from social stimulation. Countless articles have been published on how to succeed in internships, but not one of them seemed to be written for someone with my disposition. Many emphasize the need to speak up and ask constant questions, implying that if you aren’t standing out, you’re not doing it right. That’s a viable strategy, but it can be an impossible one for many introverts, who find speaking out of turn and bold action to be painfully uncomfortable.

An introvert socializing (Image via Tastic)

Despite this perception, succeeding as an introverted intern is not impossible. In fact, if used strategically, the introverted skill set can show off your stellar career ability just as much as an abrasive, extraverted approach can. Consider implementing these five tactics so that you can conquer your internship with talent that is quiet but mighty.

Over-Prepare for the First Day

In addition to social situations, immediate change can be difficult for introverts, who generally need time to process events before they feel comfortable. Combat the discomfort of an unpredictable first day by doing all the pre-research you can. Use company websites, LinkedIn, social media and past interns (via email) to learn about the company culture and the intern’s role within it.

Going in with extra info will give you time to mentally prepare for the change and (hopefully) make the first day a little less energy-zapping. By minimizing the surprise element, you can focus on giving energy to social interactions instead of worrying about small details.

Use Listening Skills to Your Advantage

An ability to listen well is often one of the first traits associated with the term introvert. This isn’t true of every introvert-leaning person, but putting this skill to use at your internship can reap great benefits. While many guides stress speaking up and asking questions, the power of observation is often underestimated.

Marcel Schwantes, writing for “Inc. Magazine,” explained that good listening skills in the workplace can lead to productivity, mutual trust, confidence and fewer mistakes. If you’re too intimidated to speak up in a meeting, take good notes and apply what you learn to your work. The payoff isn’t as immediate, but your managers will be impressed if you’re able to quickly pick up on their company culture and values and apply them to your own projects.

Let Your Work Speak for Itself

The quality of your work is one of the best measures of the value you could bring to the company as a full-time employee. Introverts traditionally have a talent for focus, which can lead to better, more detailed projects. An article for “Quiet Revolution” by Jennifer Granneman explained how the specific brain chemistry of introverts allows them to deeply focus on one task for a long time.

Deep reflection can also lead to a greater ability to process information and come up with new, creative approaches based on that reflection. If your office is a loud or noisy place, think about talking to your bosses about working for parts of the day with headphones in. This could give you the time to deeply focus on your work without becoming completely antisocial.

Choose to Be a “Fake Extrovert” with Care

Inevitably, jumping into uncomfortable social situations will be a necessary part of bonding with new employees and making lasting personal connections at your internship. There are times when you can (and probably should) make the effort to be extroverted even if it feels counter to your nature. In her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” author Susan Cain writes about the power of faking extroverted qualities for good causes. “Introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly,” she writes.

The trick is to harness this power strategically and use it in situations that really matter to you. Don’t say yes to every work-bonding event, but do say yes to some and be as present and engaged as possible. Focus on making deep connections with a few guests at the company picnic instead of being the life of the party. If you plan out times to be more outgoing, it will feel more manageable and be less likely to lead to burnout. Additionally, the connections you make are more likely to be meaningful and memorable, making possible future contact (and recommendations) much more attainable.

Small Gestures Always Speak Volumes

Whether you were the loudest person in the break room or the most reserved, attention to personal details will always make you stand out. Send a quick note to a coworker on her birthday or work anniversary. Remember to connect to managers on social media (an interaction that doesn’t require face time!) and keep in touch when positions open up.

Most importantly, remember to say thank you. A fellow college student once gave me the advice of sending a handwritten thank you note after every work experience ends, and I’ve never forgotten it. Taking the time to express your gratitude for the time and energy they invested in your career will ensure that they remember you even after your term has ended.

Above all, resist the temptation to constantly pretend to be loud and aggressive. If you naturally possess these traits, they can work to your advantage, but remember that a mild disposition can be just as useful. If you make an effort to thoughtfully pair your introverted persona with your best work, there’s no telling where your career can take you.

Carli Scalf, Ball State University

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Carli Scalf

Ball State University
English & Journalism

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