In my previous post, I discussed the challenges for shy (or introverted) people in the job market. I offered some general advice, but in this post I'd like to highlight ten things you can do (or think about) that might give you the edge in the very situations you prefer to avoid.
1. First, stop apologizing for being who you are. Work with it-- find your strengths and get to know them so well that they are all you think of when you are in the interview. You may never be comfortable in certain settings-- but you can learn to function well in them, and then you can go home where you are comfortable. A small amount of discomfort and pain and "faking it" can go a long way. You are who you are-- which means you are talented in a lot of areas and you can learn to extravert yourself when needed.
2. Don't defeat yourself or argue for your limitations. Introverts can be particularly hard on themselves, analyzing every moment, being too sensitive to "mistakes" they might have made, etc., all due to being self-conscious when on public display. And unfortunately, unless you're at home you probably feel like you're on some form of "public display." In his excellent book "Feeling Good" (which I highly recommend) Dr. David Burns warns about being a "mind-reader" or a "fortune-teller"-- guessing what people are thinking and/or presuming we know how something will turn out. Remember, when you live inside your head, your head is the only information you're getting-- and it can be wrong. As Dr. Burns says, just because you feel something, doesn't make it true. Or as Anais Nin said, "We don't see things as THEY are; we see things as WE are."
3. Focus on your successes. What have you done well? What are the 3 strengths you want an employer to know about you? How can you craft those strengths into a story that an interviewer might want to hear? I know many introverts who tell wonderful, clever stories. It's that anxiety/audience thing that keeps you from telling them. The more you know about your strengths, the less you'll be tempted to focus on your challenges.
At the same time, it's OK to mention that you tend to have an understated style -- in fact that can be a great response to the typical "what is your weakness?" question. You can say something like "I tend to have an understated style and people don't always know what I'm thinking. So I have learned to make sure I give my feedback explicitly when needed, and encourage people to ask me if I haven't been clear. For instance, if you have any questions for me or if I haven't answered something clearly I hope you will ask me to clarify it." You could also mention that you don't tend to over-talk in situations and make a point of listening to all opinions before you make a decision.
4. Rehearse. In front of a mirror, with a friend, using your computer's webcam (eeewww...I know you probably don't like being recorded but do it anyway.) See, the more you do something, the less foreign and the less nerve-wracking it is. If you tell your interview stories to the mirror, then to the webcam, then to a friend you are not only rehearsing and improving the story, but you are also decreasing your stress level.
5. Practice mindfulness meditation. The world can be particularly stressful for introverts and you need to detox in a healthy way. It's not unusual for introverts to experience anxiety, and mindfulness meditation has been shown to be one of the best ways to handle stress. A few minutes of mindfulness breathing before the interview can be a big help. I highly recommend anything by Jon Kabat-Zinn, particularly his book "Full Catastrophe Living."
6. Keep in mind that most introverts do well in a one-on-one relationship, which is how most job interviews are conducted. You might get tired or overwhelmed when you have several interviews in a row (for instance when on-site for an all-day interview), so take a break and practice a minute or two of mindfulness meditation.
7. Medium-size groups can be challenging for an introvert, so if you're facing a group interview, try focusing on one person at a time. Pay attention to the person asking the question (try not to be distracted by what someone else might be doing) and make sure you answer their question while making eye contact with everyone in the room. Resist a tendency to always look at the primary person while ignoring the other faces in the room. Find the friendly face-- there's usually at least one in the interview room.
8. Always follow up the interview with a thank-you note. It's not unusual to realize after an interview that you should have told the interviewer something you forgot, so use the note as your chance to bring this up. But don't bring it up by writing, "I misspoke" or "I may not have explained this..."-- rather write something like, "I just wanted to add a point to my response about..." Choose your comments wisely. Don't restate or correct everything you said in the interview! Just pick one thing (two at most) that you want to clarify. Otherwise, spend the note reiterating the connection between you and the position, what you learned, and how you're looking forward to the opportunity to work for their company.
9. Prepare for networking events by planning ahead: you're probably not that comfortable with the small talk at these events. Start by finding a comfortable setting-- like the small tables often set up around the room. You can always talk about the food with whomever is at the table. Many introverts have strong passions and can talk about them when with like-minded people. So make it an experiment when you meet someone to see what you have in common. Focus on likely commonalities like TV shows or music. Read a newspaper on the day of the event. Check the headlines for interesting events people might want to talk about. Have some conversation starters ready-- media is always a good start-- TV, movies, music, sports. One of the best books about networking is Keith Ferrazi's Never Eat Alone.
10. Play to your strengths. If you're better online than in person, take advantage of online networking opportunities like LinkedIn, Facebook, and any internet-based gatherings of professionals in your field. Many valuable relationships have been formed, and many jobs have been acquired solely through online networking.
Finally, while introversion may be an innate trait, social skills and appropriate networking and interviewing behavior can be learned by anyone. Find yourself a coach who will help you practice for your interviews and for networking situations.