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(Cinders McLeod/The Globe and Mail)
(Cinders McLeod/The Globe and Mail)

Nine to Five

Help! My office shyness is hurting my career goals Add to ...

THE QUESTION

I am an intern at a financial investment firm. I’ll soon graduate with a degree in business administration, majoring in finance. I have been told by a few people on my team that I do a fantastic job and that the team really likes me. To increase my chances of being hired permanently (they want to hire recent graduates and my department is growing), my co-workers say I should talk to the few people I don’t do a lot of intern work for, so they can get to know me and my abilities.

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I am not necessarily shy, and my friends say I’m outgoing. However, when it comes to interacting with co-workers, I clam up, intimidated. I know I am smart and do a good job, but I need a way to get out of my shell and improve my network skills. Do you have any suggestions for integrating myself with the rest of the team in a non-awkward, manageable way?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Greg A. Chung-Yan

Associate professor, industrial/organizational psychology, University of Windsor

Thankfully, making conversation at work is immensely easier to do than during those other awkward social activities we’re forced to take part in, such as weddings, family reunions, and dating. At work, you automatically have something in common to talk about: work. That’s one big hurdle out the way. Nevertheless, easy conversations with people of higher positional power are a problem many struggle with, especially when they are students or starting their careers.

The easiest ways to take part in any conversation are to ask questions and show genuine interest in others. Get them to talk. Take the opportunity to learn from these people and forget about any political machinations that networking is supposed to advance.

Your intern status is an advantage because it’s expected that you will ask varied questions to help your work and career. This also takes the pressure off you if you think you need to be witty or make Aaron Sorkin-esque speeches. If they are people who have accomplished notable things (Google them), compliment them – but only if you are sincere – and it can be a launching pad to discuss a topic of mutual interest.

If you want to initiate contact with people, ask your co-workers for suggestions about who to talk to and, if possible, have them introduce you. But even an e-mail, asking the person for a meeting to get his or her advice, can work well.

And read Dale Carnegie.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Zuleika Sgro

Human resources partner, talent manager, Questrade.com, Toronto

Be authentic. The work force and “networking” within it can certainly be intimidating even if you are – for the most part – an extrovert. This is a new environment for you and one you will be in for a long time as your careers develops. You should continue to prove yourself through your work and influence others in a way that is organic to who you are.

Don’t talk to senior people simply for the sake of talking to them or with one-way intentions (such as landing a full-time role). Rather, build a “support network” and let people you work with know that you are interested in a full-time position. Tell them you appreciate their support and any guidance they can give you on your work or on obtaining continued assignments. They will be able to help you network by speaking to their network about your intentions and your great work, as well as introduce you to others in the company.

You will find it easier to have conversations with others regarding something you’re comfortable with, such as reviewing a recent assignment. And contact the HR department so you can formally (in writing) let them know that you are enjoying your internship and would be very interested in a full-time role.

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