The Social Introvert: Rocking the Job Interview

Dear Sophia,

I was wondering if you had any comment about introversion and job interviews. It seems that being introverted is often viewed as a liability, and introverts are often viewed with suspicion in job interview situations.

On one interview, I was invited to meet staff at a party, and I instead wanted to visit the facility library. I did not get the job. It seems like when it comes to knowing what to say in pressure situations, the extrovert would have the advantage.

–Job Hunter

Dear Job Hunter:

To an extent, you’re right: extroverts are at somewhat of an advantage in job interviews because they can be better at selling themselves and putting on a show. The good news, though, is that a study published in the Academy of Management Journal found that while people expect extroverts to energize a team and make things happen, it turns out that extroverts often don’t perform at the anticipated high level. Measuring their long-term performance against that of neurotic people, researchers concluded that the neurotics got more accomplished.

(I know, I know…introversion and neuroticism are not the same things. The researchers compared the two because “extroverts have historically been the people who are at the top of the status hierarchy and neurotics are the people who are at the bottom of the status hierarchy.” Still, we do share with neurotics the ability to put our heads down and get stuff done, and so the research seems relevant.)

Of course, this research doesn’t help introverted job hunters unless hiring managers know about it and factor it into their decision-making. We can only hope that happens as information about introversion gets more widely disseminated.

But what of your experience, Job Hunter?

We could put an “introvert power” spin on this situation and say that you were showing this hiring manager who you are, take it or leave it. We could even say that if the hiring manager didn’t appreciate your interest in the library, maybe this workplace wasn’t a good fit anyway.

However.

It does seem possible that you misunderstood the invitation/command performance. I doubt that when the hiring manager (HM) invited you to meet the staff, it was intended as a strictly social event. The HM might have wanted to get input from other staff members and see how you fit into the corporate culture.

At the same time, you could have taken advantage of the event to gather more information on the job and organization.

I consulted Jennifer Kahnweiler, whose book about introverts in the workplace include The Introverted Leader and Quiet Influence, about your question. She agreed that there was a lot of information you could have gleaned from mingling with prospective colleagues. “Use your introvert strength of preparation to research the key players and their background as well as the hot company issues,” she suggested. “You can also prepare questions and talking points that give you more ‘below the surface’ data about what people like and don’t like about their organization and their jobs.”

Introverts are great listeners; we’re good at drawing people out; and we’re often a lot more comfortable listening than talking. So you can bring those strengths to the party and ask people, for example, why they stay at the company, what the most interesting thing they’re working on at the moment is, or what they find challenging about their jobs and the company.

Kahnweiler suggests you plan some talking points about yourself as well so you can tackle the chit-chat without a lot of humminahummina. What do you want to say about your strengths, your interests, your background, or how you spend your leisure time? Think all this through ahead of time so you don’t feel like you’re on the spot if you’re suddenly dropped in a semi-social situation during a job interview.

I’m an advocate of owning our introversion and selling ourselves on its merits, but sometimes you need to push beyond your comfort zone and get in the door before you can show off what an introvert can do.

Do you have a question for Sophia Dembling? Send her an email!

Share your thoughts.

Let’s keep our discussions reflective, productive, and welcoming. Please follow our Community Guidelines and understand that we moderate comments and reserve the right to delete comments that don’t adhere to our guidelines. You must sign in or sign up to comment.