Interviewing for introverts
In a world where extrovert qualities are extolled, and society rewards those who are gregarious, dominant and comfortable in the spotlight; how can those of a quieter, more reflective disposition make an impact in interview and secure their career advancement.
About half to a third of us are introverts. Susan Cain, author of “Quiet”, talks about the rise in popularity of the extrovert personality type and how its dominance has fed into all parts of our society.
She highlights how a lot of modern infrastructure is now geared around those who enjoy high levels of stimulation and group work. Top US business schools – Harvard and Yale, conduct classes in huge gladiatorial amphitheatres and in Harvard Business School, over 50% of a student’s grade is based on active class participation. Modern architecture reflects this trend with the dominance of open, expansive spaces in homes and work places. Even our class rooms are structured so that children sit in pods which favours group work over individual efforts.
Build on what you have:
In a world where getting ahead seems less to do with talent and more to do with self-promotion, how can you overcome the inbuilt extrovert bias?
A good starting point is appreciating your own qualities and using them to your advantage. Introverts have a preference for reflection over making rash decisions. They enjoy working on specific tasks where they can get totally engaged and come up with creative ideas. They are less ego driven and don’t seek the limelight. They practise delayed gratification and are happy to invest time and effort so as to reap greater rewards further down the line. They are good listeners.
By leveraging on your inherent qualities and getting the necessary training/ mentoring to fill in any gaps you can increase your jobs satisfaction and enhance your value.
A key part of any successful negotiation is active listening, a skill that’s often identified with introverts. Taking a back step, gathering information, analysing what’s being said, knowing when to probe for more information and knowing when to let the conversation flow are skills that come naturally to them.
Empathy and understanding the other person’s point of view are also very important in securing a good negotiated outcome. The mild mannered nature of introverts can work in their favour and allow them to take strong positions without seeming aggressive.
Cairns references Jim Collins, an influential management theorist to debunk the myth that to be a good leader you need to be charismatic and voluble. In his books “Built to Last” and “Good to Great”, Collins examines why some companies achieved “great” results and sustained them over decades, while others in the same industries struggled or subsisted at a mediocre level. He attributes seven key factors to their success including the nature of their CEOs. His findings showed that the best run companies were led by characters who were “self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy” thus highlighting the often untapped strenght in more reflective personality type.
In reality there is no one ideal type of leader. The best leadership style depends on the context and the group being led. Where introverts can add real value as leaders is by using their listening skills to bring good ideas of their team to the fore. As they are less ego driven, they’re happy to let their team use their initiative implementing the idea, are good at giving them credit thus increasing productivity and creating a virtuous circle. Taking time to reflect instead of rushing to action can lead to very strong medium to long term outcomes, as the most recent downturn has taught us.
In the interview
The interview scenario is where we are expected to blow our own trumpet- something introverts are traditionally uncomfortable with. The key to a good interview is not presenting yourself as a super confident, charismatic personality but instead giving strong, specific examples of your achievements and letting your track record win over the interview panel. Of course you need to present well – good eye contact, energy in your voice, being in the moment, but all of this can be learnt.
It’s okay to be an introvert. Cain gives many examples of famous world leaders who enjoyed reflection and solitude – Charles Darwin, Stephen Wozniak co-founder of Apple, Bill Gates, Gandhi, JK Rowling, Abraham Lincoln and Audrey Hepburn. Contrary to current beliefs, there is no ideal personality type. To get ahead and fulfil your potential you need to appreciate your innate qualities and let your gentle nature work in your favour.