An introverted intern’s guide to just “going for it”
How to take on presentations, 1:1s, and critiques with confidence
Ever heard the phrase “fake it ’til you make it”? As an introvert, it’s practically my motto. It’s what I told myself when I first landed a NerdWallet phone interview — and later, when the interview moved to Zoom. I cranked my energy up to 1,000. I became what I thought was my “best” self.
NerdWallet offered me a UX content strategy internship, and suddenly, that was it. I’d “made” it. No reason to keep straining myself, right? That’s the danger of faking it ’til you make it: it starts to feel insincere. You wonder if your hirers will like the dialed-back, everyday version of you less.
Well, let me tell you: your keyed-up self is not your best self. It’s just a shiny, temporary version of the real you. There’s nothing wrong with being “shiny” during the interview process — most people are. But the substance of your work, the questions you asked: these are the things that got you hired.
So, rest easy. You don’t have to be the bubbliest person in the room. Just stay on your toes. Don’t let yourself draw a line in the sand, dodging social hours or keeping quiet in workshops. As introverts, we’re super aware of our comfort zones. That puts us in the perfect position to take them to the next level.
Tip 1: Go often and go first
Hear of an opportunity to present? Go for it. Notice open slots in someone’s office hours? Show up. Got an upcoming team critique? Bring work. The more you do these things, the less scary they’ll feel.
In my second week at NerdWallet, we celebrated Juneteenth. NerdWallet set a day aside for employee-led seminars related to Black history and experiences. I noticed one group was on the lookout for a BIPOC co-host.
One thing led to another, and I co-hosted a session alongside the directors of User Experience Research and Product Design. It went off without a hitch. I led my own breakout room of around 20 people, answering questions and facilitating conversation.
If I had hesitated even once before taking the opportunity, I probably would’ve chickened out. The fastest way forward is to give yourself a good kick in the pants. That’s why — when it comes to presentations and critiques — it’s best to go first whenever possible. It’ll give you less time to fidget and overthink your words. What’s more, you won’t have to worry about following a “tough act.”
You’ll be the tough act.
Tip 2: Don’t come too prepared
Around the midpoint of my internship, I gave a presentation at a company-wide meeting. I’d practiced obsessively leading up to it. Talking points, mouse clicks, Zoom setup — everything was in its place. I dove into my introduction. Mid-sentence, a chorus of voices interrupted me.
Hundreds of people on the call had unmuted to greet me. It’s tradition at these kinds of meetings, but because I went first, I hadn’t seen it coming. My brain went radio silent.
Although I recovered and finished strong, I could’ve saved myself the stress by practicing way less. You’re more likely to bounce back when you’re flexible to begin with. That goes for 1:1s and critiques too. Loosen up! Be yourself. Practice may make perfect in theory, but it won’t teach you to go with the flow.
Tip 3: Remember to recharge
Step back. Take breaks. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Introverts are short distance runners. In order to make it over long distances (e.g., a Hackathon, a multi-day conference) we have to stop occasionally and catch our breath.
There are times when you’ll have to push yourself past your limits. For me, this meant attending back-to-back-to-back meetings for the opportunity to sit in on live user research interviews. I have no regrets — and I would do it again! — but it definitely wiped me out.
A few rules of thumb:
1) Understand your limits.
2) If you go past them, take it easy on meetings the following day(s).
3) Communicate with colleagues and managers. There’s no shame in needing a breather.
4) Block off time to stand up, stretch, and start fresh.
Tip 4: Be your own cheerleader
Last but not least — give yourself some credit. You didn’t “luck out” with your new position; you worked for it. The same applies for presentations that go smoothly, fruitful 1:1s, and successful critiques.
Arriving at NerdWallet, I was timid about my progress. I rarely shared my successes (even though we have a whole Slack channel dedicated to them). I used phrases like “that’s all” or “it’s not much” to describe my work, playing things down out of habit.
It’s not a great look. Why bother having goals if you can’t acknowledge the ones you’ve already met? If you make “success with flying colors’’ your bare minimum, you’re likely to burn out. Instead, take every opportunity to boost your confidence. Share your wins with your family, your friends, and definitely your team.
But most importantly, share them with yourself. You did it! Get hyped! Use that feeling to power your next sprint into the unknown.
In short, “go for it” your way
Oftentimes, introversion is seen as a liability. Only recently did I stop treating it as something to make up for. Going into this internship — my first ever full-time position — it was always on my mind. I thought I’d fall short of the other interns because my social battery drained faster than theirs.
However, after countless 1:1s, I realized how wrong I was. Look around — there are introverts everywhere. They’re all leading successful lives and collaborating on meaningful projects. How? They’ve made themselves comfortable with change.
So, own who you are. Be who you are — but never stop pushing your boundaries. Take on new challenges. Chase after who you can become. Introverts may be short distance runners, but once we know where we’re going, we’re gone.