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?