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Even an Introvert Can Nail an Interview

9 easy tips for self-presentation for those who hate self-presentation

Have an interview for an important job, school application, or other chance to improve your life? The good news is you’ve made it this far. The bad news, if you’re an introvert, is that you now will have the limelight turned squarely on you. To avoid having a deer-in-the-headlights look on your face under all that scrutiny, you can take advantage of these 9 simple tips. Even if you’re an extravert, or just someone who gets nervous about your self-presentation skills, these tips will help you relax and enjoy the experience and maybe even get that opportunity you seek.

In an earlier blog, I summarized several general interview strategies. Here I’d like to focus on the strategies most beneficial to the introverted people made uncomfortable by the prospect of an interview. It’s important to keep in mind that introverts aren’t necessarily shy nor do they dislike people. The key feature of the introvert’s personality is a preference to work alone, to have time for quiet reflection, and not to be overly effusive or open in expressing feelings. These are not qualities that necessarily work well in an interview situation, but they don’t have to be fatal flaws, either.

In the typical one-on-one interview, the questioner shakes your hand, looks you in the eye, and asks you to be seated. The interview begins with questions asking you about why you’re interested in this opportunity and then proceeds as he or she either reads off a series of pro forma questions or asks you a few questions and spends most of the time on follow-up. In a much more stressful group interview (many interviewers, one applicant), everyone fires off questions in an order that may not be clear to you. Some interviewers may just stare at you while others dominate the conversation. In the worst case situation, an interviewer looks bored, checks email, or (worse still) falls asleep, possibly even deliberately just to shake you up.

As an introvert, you probably imagine the situation with far more dread than will be warranted by the way it goes. The idea of being the center of attention, even if it’s only a one person scenario, makes you uncomfortable and anxious. Once you get going, though, you may find that you not only survive, but enjoy the experience. The trick is to get over the hump of imagining the worst and allowing yourself both to relax and also to make those critical first few seconds of the interview count as much as possible in your favor.

Because people make important judgments in their initial interactions, you want to look as eager as the most outgoing extravert about what will happen in the next 10, 20, or possibly even 60 minutes depending on the context of the interview. Yes, that confident handshake and direct eye contact you’ve heard about are indeed critical. You can recover from an interview that starts out on the rocky side, but it’s much less stressful and more to your advantage if all goes well from that first moment.

Let’s get to it, then. We’ll go through the steps you need to take right from the first moment the interview presents itself until that final good-bye handshake when you walk away, confident that you nailed it:

1. Accept the interview invitation with enthusiasm. Whether on the phone or in an email, express your pleasure at being given this opportunity. Don’t express even the slightest self-doubts or anxiety.

2. Ask in general terms what will happen during the interview. Without sounding scared, get as detailed a sense as possible and practical about what to expect. The more you can visualize the situation ahead of time, the more prepared you’ll be to enter it in a good frame of mind. Don’t get overly picky but just try to get an all-around sense of the pace, timing, and nature of the interview itself.

3. Scope out the situation in advance. If possible, try to get a sense of what the interview location looks like. Find out how long it takes to get there from where you live or are staying, and also check out the weather forecast. There’s no need to add anxiety about being late or arriving in a pool of sweat or drenched from the rain to the worries you already have.

4. Find out who’s interviewing you. If you have a name, or names, do some detective work and learn about the backgrounds of your interviewers. Knowing who they are will also help make the situation more concrete in your mind. In addition, this knowledge can help you avoid inadvertent bloopers such as assuming they went to college when in fact they didn’t, or making incorrect assumptions about their age relative to yours. Again, you may not be able to find out this information, but such knowledge can be power when you’re looking for ways to connect more effectively during the interview.

5. Know your stuff. Now that you’ve done the background work on the situation and the people, it’s time to focus on the content of your interview. If you’re being asked there because you bring some particular expertise, make sure you have the material solidly under your belt. If it’s a general topic that you’re expected to know about, study up as much as you can and perhaps ask a friend to drill you. If you’re a true introvert, this aspect of the interview can play to your strengths. Once you get talking about substantive material with which you’re familiar, you probably will naturally become more engaging, animated, and convincing.

6. Don’t worry about being worried. It’s natural to become preoccupied when faced with the prospect of an interview. If you’re a bit worried, so what? It’s only logical and reasonable. The strain of trying not to worry can be mentally exhausting and will take energy and attention away from the task at hand.

7. Remind yourself that it’s okay to be introverted. Here I’m afraid I must state the obvious: We can’t all have the same personalities. You are introverted, someone else is extraverted, and that’s the way it is. Don’t assume that the extravert will always trump the introvert in an interpersonal situation. You may have the quiet contemplative style that the interviewer is seeking. Introverts can be great leaders, particularly when matched with the right type of team. It’s possible that the interviewer actually prefers someone with your personal style and maybe, just maybe, is an introvert as well.

8. Roll with the punches during the interview. Engaging with the content of the interview, focusing on the questions instead of your feelings, and feeling comfortable in the room are all ways to prevent an interview from going south. However, from time to time, a mistake may occur. That rain you thought wouldn’t fall has come down in torrents, there was more traffic than you expected on the way there, and the interviewer isn’t the person you expected to meet. You may not get off to the ideal start in those first 2 seconds, and perhaps you even forget something you thought you knew. Don’t start analyzing these or other unanticipated problems. Instead, keep your mind and energy focused on the questions and answers. The less you let your mind wander to these problems, the less the interviewer’s attention will drift off as well.

9. Leave on a high note. In the Seinfeld episode “The Burning,” Jerry advises George “When you hit that high note, say goodnight and walk off." Ending on a positive note is perhaps as important as making that great first impression. Don’t drag the interview out past the time that it’s supposed to go, or if that’s not clear, try to read the interviewer to sense when it's reached its end. Say something positive and then leave. Once you have left, be sure you don’t breathe out a huge overt sigh of relief (“Whew, I’m glad that’s done!”) because someone, including the interviewer, may see you. Make a dignified and graceful exit, leaving them definitely wanting more.

If the opportunity you were seeking doesn’t come your way, don’t second guess everything that you think went wrong. Rumination and critical self-talk will only make things worse the next time around. Instead, whatever the outcome, focus on what you did right. Taking those positive self-messages into future interviews will build your self-confidence. Over time, who knows, you may even look forward to the chance to get just a bit of that spotlight focused on you as the next opportunity comes your way.

Follow me on Twitter @swhitbo for daily updates on psychology, health, and aging. Feel free to join my Facebook group, "Fulfillment at Any Age," to discuss today's blog, or to ask further questions about this posting.

Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. 2013

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