Strategies for Introverts: Easing Career Pain Points
Tips for introverts to get the job and get ahead.
Posted Apr 29, 2019
The interview. The business meeting. The after-work happy hour. The (shudder) networking event.
In many ways, it seems like extroverts have an edge when it comes to professional success. Not because they’re better at doing the job, but because they can excel at talking a good game, speaking up, self-promotion, and schmoozing the boss and coworkers.
But before you collapse into a discouraged slump over all this, remind yourself that introverts’ strengths aren’t lesser, they are merely different. I chatted with career consultant Jane Finkle, whose new book, The Introvert’s Complete Career Guide: From Landing a Job, to Surviving, Thriving, and Moving on Up, is full of encouragement and strategies.
Here are a few of her suggestions for easing some common pain points introverts encounter as they pursue career success.
Pain Point 1: The Interview
Finkle often hears from recruiters that introverted job applicants often simply don’t say enough. “They didn’t come up with examples, didn’t expand, and didn’t tell a story,” she says. “That’s what they [interviewers] want. They want you to tell them your story.”
You don’t have to be a live wire to ace a job interview, but you do have to be engaging. The good news: You can do that just by being your insightful self. First, draw on your introvert strength of preparation.
Start with self-reflection, digging deep to identify two or three “signature accomplishments.” What challenges have you encountered at work, how did you respond them, what decision have you made about your career? What makes you unique? What are your special talents and skills?
Finkle suggests the STAR outline to prepare for questions you anticipate: Situation, Task, Action, Result. Construct a story that sets the scene, explains the task, describe what action you took, and conclude with what the fabulous result was.
And remember: Not all interviewers are great at what they do. You may find yourself in an interview where the person on the other side of the desk does all the talking. “I guide introverts in what I call ‘diplomatic interruption,’” Finkle says. For example, break in and say, “Would it be helpful if I told you about my experience with young children?” If that feels rude, remember that extroverts interrupt each other all the time. It might not seem as rude to them as it feels to you.
If you know you have a tendency to let your mouth run away with you, as we sometimes do when we’re nervous (guilty, guilty, guilty), use your powers of observation and watch for signs that your interviewer’s attention is wandering, such as looking down or sneaking a glance at the time.
If that starts happening, take a deep breath. Feel free to use my favorite line: “But don’t get me started…” with a self-deprecating laugh. Remember that a few beats of silence are OK. So is pausing a second or two before you answer a question, to gather your thoughts.
In a group interview, make sure you don’t look only at one person; shift your gaze from person to person as you talk. And, Finkle says, don’t panic afterwards. “You won’t have any idea how you did. I’ve had experiences where I thought two of those people didn’t like me, they just didn’t smile they just didn’t respond.” This turned out not to be the case. “Be kind to yourself,” she says. “You can’t assess how everybody evaluated you.”
If the interview process is an all-day affair, use that trusty introvert trick and, every couple of hours, take a recharge break in the restroom. If the day includes lunch with members of the team, think about interests you have outside work that might be fun to discuss. It will refresh your brain, and shed light on a different side of you.
Pain Point 2: Being a team player
My idea of being a part of a team is getting my assignment, going to my cave to complete it, then returning to contribute to the whole. Finkle feels essentially the same. “I don’t mind being an independent contributor, but don’t make me meet with all of you for two hours,” she says.
But, she adds, there isn’t a whole lot we can do about that. “Because the work culture tends to be extroverted, we introverts have to learn how to play their game, to some extent.”
To make working with a team easier, make an effort to get to know your team players individually. “Take five minutes every day and talk to maybe one of them. Just a comfortable conversation about the weather, and learning more about what they do,” Finkle suggests. “If you get to know them, you may find it’s easier to work with them in the group.”
And, she says, if and when you develop the confidence and expertise, consider running meetings yourself. “You can have some control, make the meeting long or short, and put the agenda together.”
Pain Point 3: Meetings
Meetings are where egos blossom and people jostle for dominance in front of the boss. It’s pretty easy for introverts to fade into the woodwork in those situations, and that can be hard on career progress.
“One thing introverts can do is get the agenda beforehand,” Finkle suggests. “Stop by the team leader or supervisor’s office and find out what issues are going to be on the table. It can help you prepare if you have time to think in advance. Maybe it will spark an idea, you can think of some questions you can ask, or maybe something is related to a project you’re on.”
Write your thoughts and ideas down in bullet points. “It sticks better.” Organize your thoughts and practice.
If you find yourself struggling to get a word in, remind yourself again that extroverts interrupt each other all the time, and get brave. “I think you have to take a risk if somebody’s talking about something that resonates,” Finkle says. “Say, ‘I don’t mean to interrupt, but there’s a point that’s related to what you’re talking about.’”
Keep in mind, too, that the longer you keep your mouth shut, the harder it might be to open it, so force yourself to break through your silence and say something now and then, even if it’s just, “That’s an interesting way to think about it.”
And if worst comes to worst and you don’t manage to speak up in the meeting, stop by your supervisor’s office afterwards and air your thoughts.
Pain Point Four: Networking
First of all, don’t neglect social media; it’s an introvert’s networking dream.
But don’t kid yourself that it’s all you need. While Finkle says it’s OK to skip the casual Friday night happy hours, there will be office-related events at which you should make an appearance. You’ll probably know which those are.
And then there are those big networking events, the ones professional organizations throw. I hate them and you hate them, but we have to go sometimes.
“Go to two or three a year,” Finkle says. “It’s good to put yourself in that situation and see you can handle it just fine. You can grow when you take risks. Periodically go to a networking event you won’t enjoy, activities where you know the senior leaders will be there. Relationships play such an important role in success. Even when you get the job, you have to supercharge your network.”
Go, but figure out how to alleviate the pain as much as possible. Don’t attend every workshop at the conference. Don’t force yourself to stay through the entire networking cocktail party. Give yourself a goal. “You can make things manageable by saying, ‘If I meet one person who I feel like I connected with or learned something from, that’s enough.’ Or, ‘if I really enjoyed the speaker and there’s parts of what the speaker said that I learned from,’ then you can leave, but you can feel good because you got something out of it,” Finkle says.
Try these strategies to get your career out of the doldrums, but also remember this when you’re feeling beaten down by the effort: “One thing introverts don’t realize is that, in a way, they are more balanced,” Finkle says. Many of us are capable of acting extroverted when we need to, even if it wears us out. And success requires having access to both our introverted and extroverted qualities. “Extroverts are in a culture that supports their temperament and the way they are, and they don’t even think about making changes,” Finkle says. We often have no choice but to push ourselves out of our comfort zone, and that is a tremendous strength.
Now go forth and succeed.