Sometimes it seems like the only way to get ahead is to treat every day like a TED talk: firm eye contact, rigid power poses and painstakingly well-scripted presentations for your boss.
But what about those of us who are the strong, silent type? Is it possible to set yourself apart and position yourself for a promotion when your idea of a good work day is quietly and consistently doing excellent work holed up in your office or cubicle?
As it turns out, it is! In fact, one study found that more than half of CEOs who performed better than expected were introverts, compared to other characteristics like having an Ivy League degree and a “perfect” track record.
If you’re an introvert who’s not content to stay entry-level for the next few years, here are four steps you can take to position yourself for a promotion.
Make Sure Your Career Plays to Your Strengths
If you want more attention for your work, you’re going to have to put up with, well, more attention. But you can limit the intensity of the spotlight you’re in by making sure you’re in a career path that plays to your strengths. Some of the most introvert-friendly careers from Forbes include animal care and service workers, archivists, court reporters and social media managers. This list from Trade Schools also divides jobs by different types of introverts, like “social,” “thinking” or “anxious” introverts.
Can you be successful in any field as an introvert? Certainly! But you might need to make some adjustments. As Susan Cain writes in her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking, “We can stretch our personalities, but only up to a point. Bill Gates is never going to be Bill Clinton, no matter how he polishes his social skills, and Bill Clinton can never be Bill Gates, no matter how much time he spends alone with a computer.”
Network in a Way That Makes You Comfortable
The common definition of an introvert is someone who tends to recharge best through alone time. That means that if you’re an introvert, you likely aren’t inclined to attend every happy hour, lunch and learn, and optional professional development opportunity on the calendar. But that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the career-boosting benefits of active networking. It just means you need to actively compensate with other forms of communication.
Grow your relationships your way: regularly check in on your work contacts with real conversations about important events and interests in a format that doesn’t stress you out, like email, messaging apps or LinkedIn. If you enjoy small amounts of social activity, skip the large group events and suggest more focused get-togethers with people you’re interested in building a relationship with — 1:1 time can be a more powerful networking booster than longer periods of time with larger numbers of people, anyway.
Speak Up & Use Notes
Imposter syndrome and introversion can often go hand in hand, since both traits prefer to avoid excess attention. This can cause you to consistently do excellent, promotion-worthy work that you never quite step up to take credit for, and have great ideas that you don’t reveal during meetings (anyone else sit quietly through brainstorming sessions only to email the team lead ten new ideas once the meeting ends?).
If you want to speak up and get credit for your ideas in person but you know your mind will go blank once everyone’s eyes are on you, give yourself some backup. Attend meetings with thorough notes on what you want to share and refer to those notes as you speak. It can even help to preface your contribution with a phrase that explains that you’re not thinking on your feet such as, “I was thinking about this over the weekend, and I had an idea that we could…” or “Susana said something interesting last week that got me thinking about…” These phrases take the pressure off the moment and give some weight to what you have to say.
Find a Mentor
The workplace is often political, and the health of your relationships can make or break your chance at being considered for a promotion. If you’re the type of introvert who eschews large groups of work friends in favor of a handful of close associates, this can make it harder to move up within a company — unless those close relationships include more senior employees who care about your career and are willing to mentor you.
It can be difficult to find and approach the right mentor for you, but keep in mind it’s not as mercenary as “make a friend who will promote you.” Instead, a mentor relationship allows you to grow as a professional with someone to witness that growth and sponsor you for higher levels of responsibility. In turn, your mentor can pass on their hard-won advice and get support for their own projects.
If you’re an introvert, you’re among the ranks of talented, hard workers like Shonda Rhimes, J.K. Rowling and Michael Jordan. So if you think your introvert status precludes you from a promotion, think again!