The Job Search for Introverts

Silent Joe

In Elementary School, I was such an extreme introvert that my third grade teacher dubbed me “Silent Joe.” It seems that I was so quiet she didn’t even know my real name was Donald, but that didn’t bother me. I was actually quite happy with not being known. That way, I wouldn’t be called upon to actually speak in public—a potentially scary, embarrassing, and humiliating event. As I grew older, I remained an introvert. Interacting with people, particularly large groups of people, was particularly daunting and necessitated time to recover and decompress. However, like most introverts, I developed strategies to be able to function in the real world.

What Is an Introvert?

For the purposes of this piece, I am using the definition provided by the classic Myers-Briggs personality assessment, which we also use in career advising:

“People who prefer introversion are energized and excited when they are involved with the thoughts, images and memories that are part of their inner world. Introverts often prefer solitary activities or spending time with one or two others with whom they feel an affinity, and they often have a calming effect on those around them. . . . People who prefer introversion may:

  • be seen as calm and ‘centered’ or reserved
  • feel comfortable being alone and like solitary activities
  • prefer fewer, more intense relationships
  • sometimes spend too much time reflecting and not move into action quickly enough
  • sometimes forget to check with the outside world to see if their ideas really fit their experience”

(from Looking at Type: the Fundamentals by Charles R. Martin, PhD)

So, if this describes you, please read on. If it doesn’t describe you, please read on as well because this post might help you better understand a friend, your partner, or a colleague. According to Myers-Briggs, about 39-47% of the population are introverts. Also, keep in mind there is a range of introversion as illustrated by the following joke:

(Please note that we only have one joke in career advising as we are not a very funny profession.)

Joke: How can you tell who the introverts are at a networking event?
Punchline: They are the ones looking at other people’s shoes.

The Job Search Problem for Introverts

It has been estimated by many studies—and confirmed by my own experience—that about 80% of job-seekers gain employment through some form of networking, referrals, and recommendations. This is a huge problem for introverts because networking is daunting, intimidating, and scary. Also, introverts tend to think that they are imposing on other people, which is probably classic projection. Another problem is that, according to one of the definition points listed above, introverts “sometimes spend too much time reflecting and [do] not move into action quickly enough.” You need to be very agile in the job search process and move quickly when an opportunity presents itself. As the old saying goes: “Strike while the iron is hot.”

Making Networking Palatable

I personally think that the worst type of networking situation and the most difficult one for introverts is the networking reception—a large group of strangers in a noisy place balancing food and drinks and trying to make networking connections. This is an introvert’s nightmare, and you may see an introvert cowering at the edge of the room getting ready to bolt.

Here’s how to get through it and actually have some good results:

  1. Come early so that you can actually have some good conversations before it gets too busy and too noisy.
  2. Attend with a friend so that you can bolster each other.
  3. If possible, seek out a list of participants prior to the event so you can research who you would like to speak to and why.
  4. Set realistic goals.
  5. If it’s an event sponsored by a group, ask one of the sponsors to introduce you. (I’ve done that many times for introverted students at career service events.)
  6. Practice introducing yourself.
  7. Try to turn a large group experience into a one-on-one. If you meet someone of interest get his/her card. Email that person the next day referencing your conversation and asking if you could meet one-on-one. This is called an informational interview where you are able to have a more serious conversation and get your questions answered in a more structured manner.
  8. Know that this too shall pass. There is a saying in the Army for when soldiers are doing distasteful tasks: “Even 100 officers can’t keep the clock from moving.”

Of course not every networking opportunity involves face-to-face interaction. Networking can be done by email or through LinkedIn groups of people with the same professional interests. For introverts, this type of networking may be more palatable, but in my opinion, nothing is more effective than one-on-one, face-to-face interaction.

Introverts & the Job Interview

Congratulations! Your networking or your online job application has resulted in you getting a job interview. This is great, but it can also be challenging for introverts. Introverts don’t like surprises or having to think quickly on our feet. We also, in general, are not so great at speaking about ourselves.

So here are some suggestions on how to ace the interview:

  1. A proven strategy to avoid surprises and having to react quickly is to thoroughly prepare. Carefully re-read the job description point by point and think about how you satisfy each of the requirements. The job description will also be your guide to anticipating the questions that will be asked. You’re not going to be asked some question that’s never been asked in the history of interviewing. However, if you are asked a question that you didn’t prepare for, you can gain some time by taking a sip of water, asking that the question be repeated, or even asking to come back to that question later on.
  2. Although we may not be so great at talking about ourselves, we are good at planning and strategizing. So, think about the points that you want to get across about yourself in the interview, and look for the questions that allow you to make those points. Also, prepare illustrative stories that put you in a good light and demonstrate why you’re a good fit for the position. Then, look for the opportunity to tell those stories. This strategy puts you more in control of the situation.

Introverts & Negotiating

Congratulations! You aced the interview and now you’ve gotten a job offer. In many jobs, there is room for negotiations about salary, benefits, and working conditions. An introvert, if possible, should try to avoid the quick back and forth of face-to-face negotiations. Introverts need to analyze, plan, strategize, consider, and reconsider. This is hard to do in person, so if possible, do your negotiations by email. An extra added benefit of this is that there is a written record of the negotiation and what’s been agreed to.

The Advantages of Being an Introvert

One of the most important aspects of the job search process is research—research about different careers, research about people who could potentially help you, research about interview questions, research on salaries and benefits. Research is a solitary activity and is something introverts excel at.

Introverts are very good at listening. If, for instance during an informational interview, you hear your contact express an interest in something, try to find an interesting article or source and forward it. This will most likely impress that individual and motivate them to further help you.

Finally, introverts are often considered to be deeper and more thoughtful. “Still waters run deep.” Since we talk less, people tend to listen to us when we do speak. These are perceived strengths and real strengths that are attractive to many employers.