Internship Blog: From Anxious Mess to Anxious Success?

By Pooja Marwaha

Pooja applied and was successful for our We Can Work internship Evaluation and Research Intern with Skills Development Scotland (SDS). This internship was developed as part of SDS’s annual recruitment campaign Young Talent Internship Programme. This blog was written by Pooja about her experience of her We Can Work internship.

My academic background has had me move around various universities in Scotland, with an undergraduate and two Masters degrees. My professional career has ranged from working as a parliamentary assistant at the Scottish Parliament, to various admin jobs in the private and third sector and working as a research and outreach assistant for a Muslim womens charity.

Although my background sounds impressive, it is filled with episodes of extreme anxiety, fear and panic of getting fired or failing. Before getting the position I am currently in (a graduate research and evaluation intern at Skills Development Scotland), I had countless job interviews, where the interviewers were impressed by my CV and experience BUT I was still unsuccessful in getting the job as I was not able to come across well in the high anxiety situation that is created in an interview setting.

There was also the anxiety-led fear that I was only being invited to interviews so that they could tick some boxes: female, mentally ill, ethnic minority.

Finding advice and hope
After another rejection letter, I was ready to give up when I came across a job advert for a graduate internship in a research and evaluation role. The role was relevant to my education and I had the skills and experience needed for it and best of all – it was specifically targeted to individuals who identified as disabled.
I was ecstatic to be selected for the interview but my anxiety was also all over the place. This was a job I really wanted but I was sure my inability to do well in the interview due to my anxiety would ruin my chance.

However, with the help of Alex from Inclusion Scotland and the guidance and pre-interview support he provided, I was able to get a sense of what the actual interview would be like. He advised on what I needed to brush up on, and what was good to talk about as well as highlighting what stood out from my application to the interview panel. This was a great help as I was able to focus my anxieties on trying to brush up on information about those parts of my experience, rather than guessing what would come up. I felt as confident as I could that I would be able to coherently answer questions and avoid rambling.

For the actual interview, I was able to take in the notes I had prepared from the pre interview chat with Alex and refer to them if I needed them. This was a great calming technique for me to control my anxiety. I had the reassurance that I could refer to my notes if I needed to and that I would not be penalized for using them. Having Alex at the interview helped too as it was like having someone on my side.

The interview, through Inclusion Scotland, was also adjusted compared to other interns who had to do a presentation and a group exercise along with their interview. These were two things that would normally send me into a panic for days before the event, where I would be unable to sleep or eat and I would just be feeling sick with the fear of the unknown. However, due to a more relaxed and less anxious interview process I was able to succeed and was offered the role of the Graduate Intern in the Evaluation and Research team at SDS.

Getting started
My first meeting for in-work support was with my manager and Head of team and Alex to discuss the support I would need to make me feel less anxious at work. This included flexible working hours 8:30-4:30 so I can miss the rush hour on the trains and the ability to work from home. I was also given a work mobile if I needed to make calls as I was not comfortable making them at my desk in earshot of everyone. My line manager made strenuous efforts to ensure I was allocated a desk and that there was always someone from the Evaluation and Research team sitting next to me (thanks, Colin). I now have one less anxiety about booking desks in advance to make sure I have a seat.

The job, the manager, and the team everyone was so welcoming and supportive, and I have been very open about my anxieties and mental health issues with my team and they have all been understanding. I feel very comfortable in my team and I am very happy to be working with my colleagues.

Week One – the most anxious time for me in a new job. A new setting, new people, new everything and the unknown and the fear of doing something wrong and being fired.

In the first week I had back to back meetings and the panic set in. I ended up in the wrong meeting at the wrong time. My manager was able to move one meeting to give me some breathing space. A small act like that was deeply appreciated by me as I was able to step aside and reassess the situation. I now take my laptop with me to meetings so I can check and make sure I am in the right place at the right time.

The opportunity to work from home has also been a godsend. I got very overwhelmed in the first few weeks from social fatigue with meeting all the new people. It was good to be able to work from home and wind down without it impacting my ability to do my job. I could come back the next day fully recharged and enthusiastic to tackle the day’s tasks.

Building my confidence
My role here has made me more confident in my abilities and getting less anxious in situations that would previously send me spiralling into a panic, such as answering skype calls, to sending emails, and taking ownership of my work. and being proud and confident of it.

The training opportunities I have had through the Young Talent team have also helped me, especially the training I have received on presentation skills. This provided me with the ability to rehearse my presentation in a safe space allowed me to be less anxious and receive constructive feedback which I can carry on throughout my career. I have also signed up to do a presentation to some of the directors in the summer and though it is terrifying and I am very nervous about it, I hope it goes well, which it should given all the support I have.

So far in my SDS journey, I have led on several research projects such as conducting a Meta Evaluation, several literature reviews, designing surveys and presenting the results in reports as well as running the Glasgow Evaluation Group. I have also been involved in various collaborative projects working across both the Research and Evaluation teams.

Moving forward
Overall, I would recommend both employers and people looking for work to seek support from Inclusion Scotland. It has been a lifeline in starting my career in social research in a graduate capacity, which I otherwise would not have been able to do.

My hopes for the future include continuing working at SDS in the same team – if the opportunity arises. If not, being more confident in myself to apply for and succeed at interviews for similar roles elsewhere.

I used to be terrified every morning to go to work, engaging in obsessive repetitive behaviours and making sure I took the same exact route to work. However, since working at SDS, my obsessive anxious behaviour linked to the crippling fear of going to work and doing something wrong which would be result in me getting fired, has considerably died down and I am much more relaxed and less tense about going to work in the mornings.

That is not to say I am cured of my anxieties but I am in a more understanding environment, which helps me stay in control of my anxieties.