Written on September 07, 2022

Building Confidence at Work, Starting with your Internship

Building Confidence at Work, Starting with your Internship

Where Will an Internship Take You?

Building confidence in a professional setting begins when you’re merely an intern; it sets the ball rolling on a gratifying course. Why?

Internships Promote Confidence

Whether it’s a summer apprenticeship, an extracurricular program during the school year, a volunteer opportunity or something in between, these rookie positions promote a self-confident disposition that is important later in life:

  • Career Decisions - In a 2022 study, researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) found that interning students felt increased confidence in their ability to choose a career path

  • Career Certainty - Those who completed an internship were asked to consider their post-PhD career choice before and after the program. The percentage of those who felt ‘confident’ or ‘very confident’ increased from 58 to 86 percent

  • Job Searching - The study also noted that interning students felt increased confidence as job-seekers

  • Career Planning - Participation in internship programs “forced” students to invest in career planning during the year, since they had to incorporate external deadlines into their schedule

  • Community-building - By nature of these internship programs, students felt a heightened camaraderie with their peers, and met new individuals with similar interests

Tactics for Building Confidence at Work as an Intern

(Note, these tips are helpful beyond your internship. They’ll apply during all stages of your career!)

1. Check In With Yourself Regularly & Remember Autonomy

During the application process, you may have asked your employer how they define their company’s success and what a typical day looks like, in order to gauge the community and culture there. But now that you have a better idea of the company culture and the role, you should think about your desired professional path and define your version of success.

⁠Since every company measures its achievements based on a unique set of values, interns and employees must get into the habit of stepping back and assessing their achievements and long-term goals. Strive to develop this self-awareness from the start. Like the USC study of post-doc students, ask yourself questions like “Do I want to pursue this job?” and “Is it likely I have or can develop the skills to be successful in the job?”—before and after their internship’s completion. 

⁠Some other questions to ask yourself…Have I found an industry that I want to stay in long-term? Do I see myself here in 5 years?

  • Have I forged meaningful connections with my coworkers?

  • What would I change about my role, if it were to become full-time?

  • What do I still have to learn? What do I still have left to give, that will take the company forward?

  • How does my company’s remote/in-person model affect my everyday satisfaction?

  • What would I do next, if a fear of failure wasn’t in the equation?

These questions connote that you’re an individual. Company-wide goals won’t always be your goals. When you consider yourself as a free agent with numerous opportunities, you’ll feel less dependent on company structures and that autonomy will propel your career and your job satisfaction further.

2. Combat Negative Self-Talk

In a similar vein, improve your self-image by changing your inner dialogue. You can do this by 1) identifying and 2) debunking negative thoughts about yourself.

Next time you’re walking to the water cooler, or making small talk before a Zoom meeting officially starts, look out for passing thoughts with a negative tone, or which suggest you’ve done something wrong. For example, if you find yourself wondering “why didn’t that person smile at me?” or “they probably think my conversations are so boring,” have an internal buzzer ready to flag it as an anxious thought. 

Even if it seems silly or redundant, take a moment to actively disagree with the validity of your subconscious self-deprecation. Don’t buy into the negativity; put it to bed, i.e., decide that “the person didn’t smile, they must be having a bad day,” or “if a colleague felt entitled to criticize something as benign as a 3-minute conversation, it’s certainly not because I deserve it.”

When you notice these habitual moments of self-criticism, it’s important to correct them—to “talk back” to them—before you internalize the judgment. You’re then literally supplanting fear and insecurity with reality.

3. Fine-tune Your Strongest Skills

Recognizing your strongest skills is a big part of checking in with yourself and measuring your progress toward larger career goals. That said, it’s worth investing in these skills and building them even more, because it will make you an asset to your team, plus it will feel good.

Everyone has a variety of ‘soft skills’ and ‘hard skills’ that drive them forward at work. Soft skills usually refer to your interpersonal abilities, personality traits and virtues, which are not field specific.

Hard skills are more technical. They pertain to the role you have within a department, and when you list these skills on your resume, it can be objectively verified whether or not that task is actually in your wheelhouse (ie. on the phone with the previous employer listed as your reference, or once you start working and are asked to complete a certain task).

Start by identifying your strong suits - the work credentials which make you an asset to your team - and take initiative to fine-tune them one-by-one. Should you ever have to update your resume, you’ll already be conscious of the skills you ought to incorporate. More importantly, polishing each credential will build self-confidence; you can look into certifying your knowledge of Adobe Photoshop, take the initiative to make a professional portfolio, and more.

4. Learn New Skills

On the flip side, you don’t want to go to work in fear of being called on for a certain task that isn’t yet in your wheelhouse. It can be a really empowering experience to add skills to your resume and expand your horizons.

According to LinkedIn, most employees have an inborn desire to grow: 94% say they would stay at a company longer if there was an investment in learning

Also, nearly a quarter of Millenials and Gen Z-ers say learning is the top item that contributes to their workplace happiness; more than a quarter of them would leave a job if there wasn’t a chance to learn and develop.

Nevertheless, if your job doesn’t offer the opportunity to learn as often as desired, take the initiative to do so yourself. 

5. Identify Role Models; Emulate Confident Peers

You don’t have to pick one role model. As you go about your day-to-day life, pinpoint the qualities that make other people seem confident. If one colleague has good posture, take note. If your best friend is good at making decisions under pressure, aspire to do the same; follow in their footsteps.

Invest in Presentation

No matter their fashion style or identity, note your role model’s professional appearance. You’ll find that dressing up is a palpable tool for asserting confidence and taking your goals seriously. It’s actually empowering; it’s a way of investing in yourself.

Research shows that if you dress well and look polished, you’re more likely to negotiate a profitable business deal. In essence, you shouldn’t ‘look your best’ in order to meet societal standards, but rather to display the high standards you’ve set for yourself.

Improve Verbal Communication

You’ve probably been told not to use the filler words “like,” “umm” and “right” by every English teacher you’ve ever had. The trick is, now that you're older, you probably are on that teacher’s side and want to use them more sparingly. According to the Education Advisory Board (EAB), a great public speaker uses a filler word about once a minute. Meanwhile, the average speaker does so every 12 seconds.

Challenge this! Push yourself to speak up in groups more often, to slowly get past your initial nervousness. Since most filler words are spoken when you’re on edge, you’ll depend on them less with time. Speak slowly, enunciate and give yourself a moment’s pause when needed. Everyone needs to breathe!

Don’t Put Others on a Pedestal

The last thing you want to do is foster a mindset where other people’s successes feel unattainable. Everyone has a personal story about the challenges they’ve overcome—and that includes the people you hope to learn from.

Keep in mind that professional growth is tied to a string of tests and trials. Rather than idolize your confident colleagues, be sure that they’ve faced their share of insecurities and obstacles. No one just wakes up into greatness one morning—they gradually work toward it.

You should look at others, not with despair, but with hope and certainly that you’ll progressively come into your own.