An internship is an opportunity to gain experience in a work setting and make valuable professional connections for your future. To be an effective intern, you need to adjust to your new surroundings, get to know people, contribute to projects, and make a positive impression on your colleagues — all in a short period of time, usually about 3 months.
For an introvert, who typically likes space for introspection and thrives on building up relationships over time, an internship can present challenges. Here are some suggestions for how to hit the ground running as an introverted intern:
Prepare for meetings
While extroverts thrive on the spontaneous, back-and-forth exchange of ideas, introverts are not as effective when speaking off the cuff. We like to think things through and analyze possibilities in our heads before saying them aloud. Therefore, whenever possible you should research issues and collect your thoughts before meetings. Ask your supervisor what topics will be covered in a meeting so that you can adequately prepare.
Show that you’re paying attention
Maybe big meetings and brainstorming sessions are overwhelming for you — ideas bouncing around, everyone talking at once, total sensory overload — so you remain quiet. Others may perceive your silence as disinterest, when in reality it’s just that this particular type of conversation does not allow you to process information in your preferred way. To counter this perception, find opportunities to show you are engaged. Set a goal to make 2 meaningful comments during each meeting. (The bonus: if you speak rarely, people will really perk up when you do voice your thoughts.) Another idea is to forward to the group a relevant article that you find after the meeting, or initiate an impromptu follow-up conversation with one or two colleagues to show you are invested in the topic.
Share your accomplishments
It’s easy for people to assume that you’re doing nothing if you sit at your cubicle all day and don’t make much noise. Therefore, it’s important that you keep your colleagues in the loop with what you’re working on. If you feel like this is “bragging” about your accomplishments, try initiating a conversation to seek advice. “Sue, I just got a request for another product design from Client X. Do you have any suggestions on putting together a design sheet?” This way, you subtly keep your co-workers aware of what you’re doing, while getting their professional input on your work. You don’t want to be the intern that no one knows exists – or the one that everyone thinks is just surfing the Internet all day.
Focus on one-on-one relationship building
Play to your strengths. If you’re uncomfortable sitting around the lunch table with a whole gang of people you barely know, ask one or two of your colleagues if they’d like to get lunch somewhere else. As you work with people on various projects, pick up on their professional and personal interests, and forge connections based on common ground. Be inquisitive. As an intern, you’re expected to have questions – not just about the projects you’re working on, but about the people you’re working with. You can make friends just by showing a genuine interest in their lives. As an introvert myself, I’ve been much more successful at building strong connections with co-workers by talking with them one-on-one instead of in large groups.
Use e-mail to your advantage
Introverts often say that they’re more comfortable with the written word as opposed to the spoken word, because through writing they can express themselves more fully and articulately. That’s why I think e-mail can be a powerful way for introverts to get their voices heard initially. For instance, if an intern has complex questions about one of her assignments, she can lay out the questions in an e-mail and then discuss them with her supervisor in-person. Or if an intern wants to propose a new project, he can explain his suggestions in an e-mail and invite an in-person conversation on the subject. This way, e-mail is not replacing interpersonal interaction…it’s just being used to help introverts fully express themselves and facilitate more productive in-person conversations.
If you classify yourself as an introvert, I am curious to hear about your experiences with internships. Did you run into any challenges, and if so, did you attribute them to your introversion? What strategies did you use to build connections with co-workers? Did your supervisor value the strengths that you possess as an introvert? What suggestions do you have for introverts about to start their summer internships?
Dan Klamm is the Outreach & Marketing Coordinator for Syracuse University Career Services. In his position, he is responsible for student engagement with Career Services. This includes managing the marketing campaigns for events and programs, leading social media initiatives, and fostering relationships with people across campus to build awareness of the office. Connect with him on Twitter @DanKlamm and LinkedIn.