Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Job Hunting for Introverts

An interview with Wendy Gelberg, author of the book, The Successful Introvert: How to Enhance Your Job Search and
Advance Your Career
(October 2008)

Question: Generally speaking, do extroverts have an advantage over introverts in the job search market?

Answer: Introverts and extroverts both have advantages in the job search market – but in different ways. Extroverts typically are energized by social encounters, so they usually thrive in the highly social aspects of the hiring process such as networking and interviewing. Many times extroverts approach the job search process with a high degree of confidence, because they know that social skills are important, and they believe they excel in those areas. Introverts, on the other hand, may feel drained by some of the social demands of the job search process, and thus sometimes feel at a disadvantage.

However, introverts have decided advantages that can give them an edge over extroverts in the process. For example, introverts typically have well developed listening skills. These play a large part in the relationship building and rapport building that are the foundation of successful networking and interviewing. Another advantage is their desire for in-depth knowledge – they are more likely to do the background research and preparation that are so important in distinguishing one candidate from another. Employers are impressed by their comprehensive knowledge of the organization and the problems it faces. A third advantage is the tendency to fully think through an answer before speaking, thus resulting in a carefully formulated response rather than a shoot-from-the-hip answer that is more likely to come from an extrovert.

Question: How does shyness factor into the picture?

Answer: People often confuse shyness and introversion, but they are not the same thing (although we use the words interchangeably in casual conversation). Introversion was described by psychologist Carl Jung to refer to a tendency to draw energy from reflection and the world of inner ideas. It contrasts with extroversion, where people tend to draw energy from interaction with other people and the outer world. The terms do not refer to degree of outgoingness. Shyness refers to feelings of self-consciousness that people have when they fear being criticized, judged, or rejected. Most people have experienced those feelings at some point in their life, but for some people those feelings are prevalent much of the time. The essential point is that people may not be able to choose how they feel, but they can choose how they behave. My book contains a long list of celebrities from many walks of life, including many unexpected names, who have described themselves as shy but who have made choices that have brought success in spite of their shyness.

Question: Does an introvert need to be more extroverted to succeed in the job hunt? If so, how?

Answer: Introverts and extroverts alike will be more successful if they can bring both extroverted and introverted skills to the process. Being versatile – being able to select the skill set that will best help people achieve their goals – is key. For example, the job hunt will most certainly require activities that we refer to as “networking” – but the form that networking takes may be very different for extroverts and introverts. Extroverts might choose to attend networking events with lots of people in attendance, and they may strike up conversations with a large number of people before the event is over. Introverts, if they attend such an event at all, may select a limited number of people to talk with and may have more in-depth conversations. Or they may avoid large gatherings all together and focus on cultivating existing relationships one-on-one, which is a more comfortable format for more introverts. The format doesn’t matter – what matters is not conducting a search in isolation.

Question: Are there certain jobs that are more suited to introverts? Should
one consider this when looking for jobs to apply for? For example, do
introverts make good managers?

Answer: It’s often the case that introverts are drawn to occupations that are less demanding socially, but some introverts defy expectation and pursue occupations that are highly social. It’s possible for introverts to succeed in any occupation (and my book provides a list of introverts from the world of show business, journalism, business, history and politics, and sports) – but they may need to manage their energy flow and build in “recovery time” to balance the more socially demanding activities. Introverts can be highly effective leaders and managers – for example, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are thought to be introverts.

Question: Any idea how many introverts and extroverts there are,
percentage-wise, in the US? Is it 50/50?

Answer: The answer to this question may surprise people. It is just about 50/50, with ever so slightly more introverts in the population (50.7% introverts, 49.3% extraverts in the population as a whole, with slightly more introverts among men – 54.1% introverts vs. 45.9% extroverts – and fewer among women – 47.5% introverts vs. 52.5% extroverts). (Source: Myers, I. B., McCaulley, M. H., Quenk, N. L., & Hammer, A. L. (1998). MBTI Manual: A guide to the development and use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (3rd ed.). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.) These statistics are especially surprising in a culture like ours that places such a high value on extroverted behaviors. Understanding the attributes associated with both introversion and extroversion will enable people to make choices that will serve them best in different situations in both the job search and in their careers.

Wendy Gelberg's book is excellent! I highly recommend it for introverted and extroverted job seekers. If you're an introvert, you'll get excellent advice on how to navigate your job search successfully. If you're an extrovert, you'll learn how and why introverts (perhaps the manager who interviews you!) behave the way they do.

Thank you for this interview, Wendy!


Tiffany Williams said...

I believe that introverts and extroverts both have advantages and disadvantages in the job search market. A position in sales is probably more appropriate for extroverts because of their better social skills, but introverts may research and be able to retain more information that a customer needs. Needless to say, I feel that with proper training, anyone could work in sales or any other position.

Vector employees are trained in highly effective and innovative programs to instill confidence, knowledge, and work on their communication skills. Most companies do train employees so both introverts and extroverts should not have anything to worry about. They should just be themselves and not give up.

Louisa said...

I enjoyed your post. You always hear people giving advice that they need to put themselves out there, but I like your perspective that introverts have advantages as well. I work for a staffing company, Hollister (www.hollisterstaff.com/?=451) and deal with both introverts and extroverts and have seen a lot of the patterns that you have mentioned in your post. Thanks for sharing this!

Susan Ireland said...

Louisa, do you see a trend as to what positions introverts and extroverts lean toward, or perform well in?