As a speaker and consultant who spends much of her time interacting with large crowds and meeting new people, it surprises many when they find out I’m an introvert. The term has long been associated with unflattering and maligned traits: shyness, awkwardness, indifference. And when you think about job hunting – full of phone calls, conversations, long days in unfamiliar spaces, and new faces – it seems like a situation that automatically puts introverts at a disadvantage.
But here’s the secret: Introversion is by no means a disadvantage in the workplace. Introversion – and extroversion, its temperamental counterpart – have little to do with liking or disliking people. It’s all about where you get your energy from. High-intensity situations feed the soul and energy reserves of extroverts, while it drains them for introverts. Luckily, I have a few tricks to share that will help you present yourself authentically and protect your energy at the same time.
1. Craft thoughtful, deliberate materials.
The introverted brain thrives on the opportunity to dive deep into a topic, spending long stretches of time dedicated to a task. Take advantage of opportunities like writing cover letters or creating portfolios to do just that. Craft thoughtful, deliberate materials that illustrate your skills and abilities. This way, you can shine before you even walk into an interview.
QUICK TIP: Including a story in your cover letter can break you out of the common habit of simply restating your resume. Bring your accomplishments to life. Find a few stories that you’re comfortable talking about where you excelled at work. Challenge yourself to incorporate at least one of these stories into your cover letter.
2. Balance comfort and poise in phone interviews.
Phone interviews are a double-edged sword, no matter who’s participating. They can be easier because they allow for notes and prompts in a way that face-to-face interviews don’t. However, conversational cues can be difficult to read if you can’t see who’s in the room. Capitalize on your “home court advantage” by keeping things in the room that will help you feel comfortable, like a familiar mug for water or tea, a favorite notebook where you can take notes. But don’t get too comfortable; dress for a regular interview. It tricks your mind into acting as you would in a more professional space.
QUICK TIP: If there are multiple people on the call, get each person’s name at the start of the interview. Then, when composing thank you notes, be sure to thank each person individually. These cards present an opportunity to show your engagement in the conversation.
3. Get details in advance.
Surprises or unanticipated shifts present a shock to the introvert’s system, and they can be difficult to recover from. While they can’t be avoided entirely, they can be managed by requesting a schedule of the interview day. I’ll never forget an interview I went to just after college. I expected to meet different groups of people in the company, but discovered I’d be going on a day-long “sales beat” with the team, watching people sell. I wasn’t dressed for the occasion and was wholly thrown by my circumstances. As a result, I was withdrawn and inarticulate. Present your best self by getting as much advance information as possible.
QUICK TIP: Where you can, coordinate your plans for the day to capitalize on “recharge points.” If an interview will start early in the day, wake up half an hour earlier and savor the downtime. If the day will be long, consider finding a way to get there on your own (perhaps via car, rather than public transit) to allow a little more time for yourself, so you walk into the interview energized instead of drained.
4. Create a “quick charge” strategy.
Even if you have a handle on the schedule and come to the interview “fully charged,” your energy may lag over the course of the day. I advise folks to create short “quick charge” moments for themselves to combat this. Think of it like charging your phone in airplane mode for a few minutes. In the event that you’re asked if you’d like a break, take it. At the conclusion of interview segments, ask if you can have a few moments to collect yourself before the next step. And if no other opportunity presents itself, take a few extra minutes when using the restroom. Creating these small moments will help you be as consistent as possible over the course of the day, even if you’re thrown by a question or if something unexpected comes up that interrupts your focus.
QUICK TIP: If you find yourself stumped by a question, or need more time to answer, don’t feel afraid to take a deep breath or two and ask for more time. Practicing what phrase you’ll use (“Let me take a moment to think about that” or “May I think about that question and come back to it shortly?”) will lower the nervous energy it takes to even ask. And remember: The pause will always feel longer to you than it does to anyone else.
5. Ask questions about the work environment.
I often get asked if there are any jobs that are “bad for introverts.” My answer: NO! No individual skill set, ability, or talent is the exclusive province of any temperament. However, there are work situations that might prove challenging, from person to person. The only way to assess if a work situation will work for your particular brand of introversion is to ask. Some things you may want to ask as you’re assessing the fit of a workplace include:
- What sort of workspace will I be working in?
- How consistent is the routine of the office/the work?
- How are decisions typically made within the team (at meetings, through emails/other communications, independently)?
- What’s the nature of the meeting culture here?
- How is feedback typically communicated (how often, via what medium, from whom)?
These questions can be supplemented with your own, based on your own individual dealbreakers around workspace, schedule, pacing, and culture. By asking these questions early and taking specific note of the answers, you’ll know if a job will be a good fit for you.
QUICK TIP: Where you can, include information about the particular quirks of your introversion. Do you need opportunities to be able to communicate in writing? Share that where you can. Need time to think before making decisions? Say so if possible. The job hunt is a two-way street; just as you’d want a company to be upfront with you about how they work, you should be honest too.
The Well is the digital magazine of Jopwell, the career advancement platform for Black, Latino/Hispanic, and Native American professionals and students. Subscribe to receive weekly stories and advice in your inbox.