Introverts and the Job Hunt

When I was in middle school I spent a couple of summers working at my father’s engineering firm, where I divided my time between two different jobs:  clerical work as assigned by the office manager, which included filing and answering the phone;  and scrubbing soil tubes back in the lab.  Natural introvert that I am, I much preferred standing at a sink all day in ratty jeans scrubbing dried clay out of metal tubes with a piece of steel wool, than having to wear office clothes and engage in light conversation with the secretaries and others in the office.

Like most introverts, I’ve gradually developed the social skills needed to become comfortable interacting with others, and have genuinely enjoyed later jobs that have involved interaction with people rather than metal tubes.  I’d still rather wear ratty jeans every day if I could.

I worked as a corporate trainer in Japan, teaching business English, mostly to employees in the automotive industries.  I loved my job and my students, and I loved living in Japan and learning the language.   I’ve had several roles in marketing where I had a fair amount of direct client interaction, which I enjoyed a great deal.   It’s easy to talk to someone where there is already a basis for the conversation, even if it is because it they are unhappy about your product, and it’s highly satisfying when you can make it right for them.  I’ve enjoyed developing and conducting sales training, too.

What’s more difficult for the introvert  is situations where there is not already an established basis for the interaction.  A commission-only sales job that required a lot of cold calling would probably be very difficult for me.  I’d probably consider a kidney donation first, quite honestly.

Somewhat to my surprise, I’ve found networking to be much less difficult than I thought.  I’m usually contacting someone I already know, or have been referred to.   Even if I don’t know them, there is already a basis for the conversation, and they know I am not trying to sell them anything or expecting them to offer me a job, merely seeking information.  People like to help, and most are amazingly generous with their time and suggestions.

I do think that introverts can be at a disadvantage during job interviews.  Many extroverts naturally talk through their thinking process, which can work well during an unexpected or challenging question.  An introvert does best when he/she can reflect on a question, then return with a well-thought out answer.  Unfortunately, an interview doesn’t allow the luxury of thinking time.  While being able to think on your feet is an important skill, being able to carefully reason through an issue, and not give an answer until you’ve thought through various possibilities is also important, particularly with difficult decisions, or ones that require analysis.

I wonder if the naturally stressful environment of an interview is really an effective way to judge a candidate’s true problem-solving abilities, at least for some kinds of jobs.  What do you think?

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8 thoughts on “Introverts and the Job Hunt

  1. What an important post, considering all the ways we introverts differ from extraverts in the job search. You hit the nail on the head about the social situations we can and cannot handle (i.e., those that have no established relationship – I have always struggled greatly with those, but couldn’t put into words why. Thank you for giving me that insight). As for interviews, they probably aren’t the best way to assess introverts. I find with a lot of interview prep (days of going over potential questions with a friend and pretending I’m in an interview) I can “look” like an extravert. But if there were WRITTEN interviews, that would be ideal!

    PS – I’m right there with you about the ratty jeans preference!

    • Thanks for the comments. I’ve enjoyed your blog immensely, and feel like I’ve discovered a kindred spirit! You are very insightful, and I’ve learned a lot from reading your posts.

  2. Your question…Is the naturally stressful environment of an interview an effective way to judge a candidate’s true problem-solving abilities, at least for some kinds of jobs?
    I believe the most important factors for effectiveness are the skill of the interviewer and whether the interviewer actually knows what is required for success in the position. One of the common errors I see is interviewers judging candidates based upon faulty job success criteria. Unskilled interviewers do tend to make more errors in judgment for those jobs that do not require significant interaction with unfamiliar people, primarily because they do not know or realize what the job truly requires. They usually make this error by putting too much emphasis on the typical extrovert characteristics for these jobs.

  3. I consider myself a “friendly introvert”, and I agree that we need to develop and practice those social skills which come so naturally to the extroverts.

    • Thanks for the comment, Nancy. I agree completely. I hope we are all friendly introverts, though. We just need time to collect our thoughts.

  4. The last company I worked send an interview pack, even for internal job applications, which explained what the interview would cover and two key questions that would be asked, so I could prepare. Now I’m now back in the job market and will certainly ask, with all the confidence I can muster, if an interview outline is available. I thought it a very sensible system (quite possibly thought up by an introvert) and also makes the interview itself more valuable. Not to say that there weren’t surprises, because there were, but not on key issues.

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