When I teach or present workshops about networking, interviewing, and other aspects of the job search, I can almost always count on at least one person approaching me privately at the end saying, "But I'm shy and these things make me uncomfortable. Isn't there something else I could do to find a job?"
Whether you label it social anxiety, introversion, shyness, or whatever, the bottom line is usually the same: you're uncomfortable in certain social settings, particularly those involving a feeling of being on stage or performing in some way. For the purposes of this post, I'm not going to make a distinction between being "introverted" and "shy" since both traits face challenges in the job market. But if you'd like to read more about the distinction between introversion and shyness, this Atlantic article explains introversion quite well.
Introverts are a minority. Statistics vary, but about 25% of the population are considered introverts. There is no one introvert "type"-- introverts vary in style and intensity. Introverts often feel alone in their desire to be alone-- that's an unfortunate consequence of social dominance of extraversion in the American culture. (Here's a great article about introverted travelers.) For some reason, introversion is often accompanied by shame.
I teach career coaching seminars across the country for NACE, and I love doing them. I always have a great audience of interesting people and we feed off each other's energy. But I am an introvert, and at the end of the day, I'm exhausted, and I want nothing more than to go to my hotel room, get room service, and watch TV. I mentioned this to the group one time-- that I didn't want them to think I was being rude if I turned down a dinner invitation-- I just needed to re-charge my brain for the next day. When I showed up the next morning, two participants approached me and asked to shake my hand. They wanted to thank me for giving them "permission" to go back to their rooms and not feel guilty about it. They noticed that I didn't apologize or put a label on my behavior-- it was just me. And they both described the "luxury" of an evening alone in their hotel room with just the TV and a good dinner. Isn't it interesting that people feel they need permission to be themselves?
The job search process can be stacked in the favor of the extraverted, natural hand-shaker-- the eager "Hi, how are you!" kind of person. Their natural friendliness, comfort with social interactions, and ease of making connections seem to virtually guarantee them the best jobs. There's no doubt that extraverted traits can be invaluable.
A particularly valuable aspect of extraverts is that they tend to "think out loud." If you go to a museum with an extravert, for example, s/he will likely talk all the time. "Look at this- isn't this interesting?" they will say. An introvert, on the other hand, may go quietly through the museum saying little-- often causing their extraverted companion to think that the introvert isn't having a good time. On the contrary, they are absorbing the external stimulus and don't necessarily need the additional verbal discussions-- in fact, talking likely distracts them from their focus on the museum.
Why is this important? In a job interview it is up to you to convey information to the employer. You need to "think out loud"-- that is, you need to tell the employer what they want and need to hear. Reticence, one-word answers, long pauses and silence will likely hurt your chances. Employers want to hear and see enthusiasm, and that can be hard for an introvert to convey.
So does it seem like the job search might be stacked against the introvert? It doesn't have to be.
Here's a secret: social skills can be taught. They may never feel 100% natural to the introvert, but they can be taught and executed successfully. You can learn better responses to interview questions, you can practice networking, and you can put on a front as needed. In fact, many introverts have already learned to do this in a variety of social settings. I liken it to left-handed people (another minority) who have learned to use objects with their right hands even if it's not their preference.
For some creative introverts it helps to think of the job interview as an acting job, or to quote Adler, just "act as if." Introverts are often astute observers of human behavior, so knowing how to "play the game" can help. This does not mean that you go overboard and become something you are not-- but we all have elements of extraversion in our personality and the job search is the time to bring them out.
Just keep in mind that using your less-preferred extravert skills will likely drain your energy-- so find ways to replenish yourself.
In the next post, I will include tips for handling the interview and networking aspects of the job search, but for now, start by analyzing your situation. What traits of introversion fit you?
How might introversion hold you back?
On the other hand, where does your introversion work well for you?
Know your strengths and play to them in the job search. If you're a great writer, then craft a resume and cover letter that will get you the interview. If you don't enjoy using the phone, focus on emails for communicating. But keep practicing those phone skills-- you'll need them for a phone interview.
Be prepared to tell the employer your strengths. You will feel like you're bragging-- but if you don't, who will?
Tell the employer the aspects of the job you will excel in. Introverts sometimes assume that people know what they're thinking or how they feel, so don't make that assumption. Interviewers don't know unless you tell them.
You'll notice I haven't given you a list of "careers for introverts." (Well, OK, here's one.) While on the surface, certain career fields lend themselves to introversion, it never hurts to try playing against type-- you never know what talents you might find in yourself. Common sense would say that an introvert shouldn't go into sales-- but that's not always true. An introverted salesperson might have to overcome some initial discomfort around that cold call or first meeting, but might also be very good at listening to the customer and building up the one-on-one relationship that will ultimately lead to long-term sales. Not all customers want an extraverted salesperson and might actually be more comfortable with the soft-sell approach.
Challenging yourself to take on some extraverted traits in the job search may actually open new doors to skills you didn't know you possessed and maybe even lead to careers you would never have considered.
My next post will have 10 tips for overcoming the challenges in interviewing and networking.