An Introvert’s 5 Tips for Career Success

The month’s Field Notes contributor, Evelyn Marinoff is a mother of a lovely 6-month old baby boy, a social introvert, an MBA, a blogger, a passionate reader, and a writer in the making. You can find Evelyn at mind-chatters.com and @Evelyn_Marinoff.

While it appears that our extrovert world may finally be slowly shifting toward giving some credit to introverts, let’s face it: many corporations are still a long way from reaching equality between introverts and extroverts. Introverts may be respected for the work they do and usually get a pat on the shoulder, but extroverts are still the ones who command the spotlight and reap much of the recognition. Because of our very nature, we introverts are still widely believed to lack an important part of what constitutes a “modern-day personality”—the gene for career success.

Being an introvert myself, I’ve often been ignored, overlooked, and dubbed “not a team player.” It does hurt. Especially when you are surrounded by over-confident extroverts who have little to no understanding of what makes us different and that being different is not necessarily a bad thing.

Over the years, I have fought my own battle—to measure up, to stand up, and to be heard. I believe there are steps and strategies we can all explore to aim at a successful career and command the respect we deserve. What follows is my own wisdom, which I have collected throughout my professional life as a financial consultant.

We all have an opportunity to make it better for ourselves by simply playing extroverts at their own game. Here are some tips on how to get started:

1. Smile, smile, smile

There is an overwhelming amount of research, studies, and books on the science of smiling (including Charles Darwin’s own The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals). While it’s still unclear why people smile, this simple act is believed to bring great positive effects on our minds and bodies when practiced regularly. According to some scientists, it can even give us a short-term “high.” More importantly, however, in a corporate environment, smiling is one of the brand manifestations of extroversion. Smiling can help us introverts to appear more approachable, social, and upbeat. And who wouldn’t benefit from a better mood? It’s pretty easy too—it’s just a matter of practice.

2. Walk the walk

It’s no secret that straight posture, eye contact, and a head held high are all signs of confidence. It is also a way to make a great impression and to get noticed—the thing that introverts usually try to avoid at all costs. Research supports the idea that non-verbal communication, in the form of posture and gestures, constitutes the largest part of how others see us. More importantly, though, it is related to self-respect and self-assurance. While we don’t necessarily need to show off, we can still demand appreciation from others and assert that we are good at what we do and that we do mean business. Remember that slouching won’t make us invisible—it will only make us look insecure and give us a hefty medical bill from the subsequent back problems.

3. Talk the talk

Experts tell us that to make a long-lasting impression, we should avoid speaking too fast, articulate our words, and pay special attention to our tone of voice. The fear of public speaking and being the center of attention are well-known terrifying situations for most introverts. Undeniably, though, the art of expressing ourselves is a priceless skill. Words constitute a very small—but still significant—part of our communication with the world. The ability to choose the right phrases, as well as the lack of it, communicates to others the story of our personality, of our brand, and of the degree to which we are willing and motivated to succeed. An introvert can master the skill of a great conversation by joining a professional organization such as Toastmasters. Try to view any chance to speak in front of an audience as a challenge instead of a dread, and explore the speaking opportunity as preparation for the times when you will really need this skill in order to shine.

4. Become a social introvert

Just because we are introverts doesn’t mean we are to be glued to our work desks and avoid speaking to others. While we may find it undesirable to “waste time” with small talk, there is no better way to benefit our careers than by engaging in office networking for few minutes a day. At the very least, others will notice that we exist, and we may even make a few true friends along the way. If you don’t know what to say, ask others about themselves—this strategy is always a winner.

5. Play the game

It simply means one thing: learn flexibility. Yes, such advice may feel like going straight against our very nature, and it contradicts everything we stand for, but a little social chameleon-ism can, in fact, bring great benefits. In order to do this, we don’t need to change who we are or betray our principles. It merely involves showing different parts of our personality to different people so that we can better relate to them. Simply put, converse with others about things you know they are interested in. And that is really what adaptability in action is.

Being an introvert in an extrovert-dominated world is still, by no means, easy. Striving for a successful career in such a skewed environment is even more challenging. But the silver lining is that the world is not static. Public opinions have begun to shift. Research tells us over and over that introverts generally perform better and are more reliable and creative than their extroverted counterparts. Until that shift is complete, exercising some social introvert skills that still align with our personality type can help us reap the benefits of our society’s favoritism for the extrovert, outgoing personalities. By pushing ourselves a little more persistently in front of others, we can help people appreciate us for who we truly are and recognize the skills we have to bring to the table.

Field Notes brings you first-hand workplace experiences written by contributors who share their own stories, the lessons they’ve learned, and the unique benefits of a quiet approach to life in the office. Whether you’re an introvert looking to make the most of your strengths or an extrovert/ambivert who wants to learn how your quiet colleagues tick, Field Notes offers real-world insights about taking a walk on the quiet side. Submit your own story and watch this space for more perspectives from your colleagues.

Share your thoughts.

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  181. Adria says:

    It is a good article. Thanks. After confusing myself, now, I know what to name me, I am a social introvert.

  182. Tom Hoad says:

    Errr so the advice here is essentially, be an extrovert… great, thanks!

  183. Zweitse Klous says:

    Evelyn, I’ve worked for decades in large (finance) corporations as an introvert. I even was a manager for several years. I think that in my country (The Netherlands) extroverts don’t rule as absolutely as they do in the US, but in my career I have frequently been told that I needed to be more outgoing, assertive in groups etc. Being forced to explain to a sceptic extrovert boss how your way of doing things can be just as effective is very tiresome, and sometimes I felt really underappreciated. But expanding our repertoire to help us introverts get along better with extroverts, that isn’t a bad thing in itself, and it’s not the same as pretending to be an extrovert. For a real introvert that pretence would fail miserably anyway. Being more adaptable, even if it works only for a short time when it matters, is always useful, whatever you are. A lot of your suggestions make sense. I agree that smiling helps a LOT. And asking others about themselves is definitely a winner. Extrovert persons LOVE to talk. If you let them do the talking and you do the smiling, with the occasional encouraging question, it never fails. Waste of time? That depends on what that relationship is worth to you. It’s not worse than other chores that may be unpleasant but are necessary and useful. I don’t like cleaning but becoming better at it only makes my life easier. 😉 My own breakthrough with public speaking (unavoidable as a manager) came when I learned that it’s OK to make mistakes. That released so much tension. I’ll never be able to charm a hostile crowd (or be a teacher in an unruly classroom), but in most situations people are reasonably forgiving. If you can trust your audience, it becomes a lot easier.

  184. Eric Schneider says:

    I believe these are all great points. As Nidhi said, stretching out of one’s comfort zone now and then is healthy. Doing so can help us grow psychologically, emotionally, socially and intellectually. Tip 4 is a great example. Every day at my office I make the decision at lunch time to either watch Netflix at my desk or sit with coworkers. My inclination is of course to sit at my desk but I know how important it is to connect with others, and, hey, it’s only an hour or less. So I push myself to get up and when people see me joining their table they are smiling and welcoming. It’s a nice feeling. And I don’t have to drive conversation. I can sit and listen and add to the conversation as desired. It’s a tension I’ve struggled with all my life: deciding between alone time or time with people, and sometimes, going against my nature, I choose people for the sake of relationships.

    • yeheskiel pongrekun says:

      I read your words above Mr. Eric, thanks.
      I hope that I could apply it to my everyday life
      Thank you so much, GOD BLESS YOU

  185. Cari Z says:

    I’ve used the “smiling” thing for a long time – ever since I worked as a grocery store checker. Smiling often removes the need to speak without making you look unsociable. I use this a lot – and even though my husband comments that “You didn’t say anything to that person!” I reply, “No, I just smiled.” I also use HIM to speak in my place – he loves to chat and interact with people, so I fade back and let him go at it while I do my quiet thing on the side and smile a lot. If I feel like it, I can always join those conversations or not.

  186. Keith B. says:

    Sounds like you’re telling us to be extroverts. That would be like forcing a left handed person to do things right handed. It could be done, but at great pain and inconvenience and going against one’s nature. Plus it would increase one’s resentment at having to sacrifice his needs to please others. No thanks.

  187. Torri Raine says:

    Thank you, Evelyn, for this! 25 years ago when I was in the corporate world, one of my bosses pegged me not being a team player. She didn’t share that with me, but instead let everyone else know. For that I was penalized by losing my private office and promotions stopped. All these years I have felt embarrassed and hurt whenever I think of it. After all, doesn’t everyone want to be a team player? Now I understand why I was perceived that way, and now I can let myself off the hook… finally. It was her inability to understand that not every person had the same personality type as she did. Thank you for finally giving me a peace about this.

  188. Nidhi Berry says:

    Hi community! This is Nidhi, editorial director for Quiet Revolution. I’m so sorry that this article didn’t resonate with some of you! I can see how this could be interpreted as “squash your inner introvert.” I hope you all know us well enough though to know that we’d never, ever advocate for that. This story was our first in our Field Notes series, which is meant to be personal, intensely individual stories of how people made their personalities work for them in the workplace. The author, an introvert herself, shared some tools she used that helped her achieve success without feeling like she was being fake. Our introversion presents in very different ways in each of us – we’re all so unique! – so this was never meant to be interpreted as universal directions on how to be, especially if these tips didn’t feel authentic to you.

    Some of you think it was meant that way, which must be lack of clarity on our end. So please, forgive us, and know that we want you to present yourself at work and at home in whatever way feels best to you, regardless of your temperament. We always encourage stretching out of one’s comfort zone to accomplish great good (whatever that means to you). But there’s a line between that and outright false self-presentation – we’d never encourage the latter.

    Thank you again for your feedback and passion for these topics – we always want to deliver stories that resonate with you but I know we won’t be perfect all the time. And when that happens, we always want to hear from you so we can learn and grow!

  189. Shannon Richmond says:

    Ah yes…pretend to be an extrovert. It is so frustrating that organisations are still so uninformed about the two main personality types in the world. Having been in church ministry for 15 years I have heard many times that I must speak up more, contribute more etc What is often overlooked is the amount of work that the introvert has already done to advance the issue well past where the meeting inevitably starts. No one stops to evaluate the wasted time in meetings taken up by those who have to process verbally. If only they had read the report beforehand that was circulated by the introvert, the meeting time could be halved. Whilst these suggestions are all true and fine, they fail to acknowledge the real problem and do little to validate the introvert.

    • mimidots says:

      Completely agree, Shannon. I was under the impression that the point of this website was to learn how to succeed as an introvert, not how to succeed by pretending to be an extrovert. What’s interesting is that I think many introverts absolutely abhor being “fake”, and I think some of these things would constitute as being “fake” to an introvert. For example, I do not naturally smile much and smiling when I don’t find a reason to do so would make me feel inauthentic and just downright weird.

      I think this article would be more useful if it highlighted qualities of introversion that we could use to succeed, as opposed to adding extrovert tendencies to our repertoire. I think the latter is a bit obvious and has been written about enough.

  190. Phillip Fine says:

    As much as I hate to admit it, Evelyn, your advice makes sense, even though I’m sick and tired of being told to smile, walk upright, et. al. And, as for Toastmasters, not now, thanks. I’ve got too much on my plate.

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