Introverts: Not Necessarily Doomed?

by Vault Careers | February 07, 2012

The death of Steve Jobs might have brought about the end of an era: that of the personality cult.

For the last few years, big personalities and small (initially, at least) companies have dominated the market. Tech jobs—and culture—have created a new idea-central workplace, with an explosion of social media tools that's prompted us to constantly share them. And Steve Jobs, well, he brought about the notion that, to be successful, everybody needs to be the guy with the big, innovative ideas, magnetic personality, and immense powers of persuasion.

But not everybody can.

Do you prefer one-on-one conversations to group chats? Are you better at expressing yourself in emails than meetings? Are you not all that obsessed with the number of followers you have on Twitter?

Chances are, you're an introvert.

Now, in our current age of bull pen offices, brainstorming meetings, and celebrity-status CEOs, you might think that's the kiss of death to your career. Not all of us are fans of glass cubicles, or—shudder—working in groups. But with a recent deluge of media backlash against loud, impulsive people—thanks, recession!—it may be introverts' time to shine. If they can bear the spotlight.

Here's a few signs the times-are-a-changing, with a few ways to adjust your go-to interview answers accordingly.

1. Quieter bosses are getting the spotlight

Take Mark Zuckerberg. This guy isn't just a little introverted—he's actually been described as mildly autistic. But it's worked wonders for his company. Since quieter, more thoughtful bosses tend not to dominate or drown out their employee's ideas as much, Zuckerberg's personality has attracted proactive, confident workers—and as illustrated by Facebook's wild success, that's definitely a good thing.

Tip: This is the new "team player": live and let live. Emphasize in an interview how you've brought out the best in coworkers, and they in you. Not everybody has to be everything at once, especially if they can trust and ask a lot of their team.

2. Everybody's talking—few are listening

It's tough to stand out when everyone has so much presence, internet and otherwise. We've hit a critical mass of people putting their messages into the world. That's why there's plenty of room for a good listener and critical thinker. Even Steve Jobs had Tim Cook, and Apple was all the better for it.

Tip: Take a moment to think before you speak in an interview, and choose your words carefully. Showing you're hearing and processing what the interviewer has said will help you stand out from a mass of anxious, bragging candidates.

3. It's not a market for risk-taking

As psychologists note, extroverts are more likely to focus on the rewards, rather than the risks. As Time mentions in its recent article about introverts, the bankers behind the 2008 collapse were no shrinking violets. They were impulsive and reward-focused. Now that we've all had a taste of that bitter stuff called "consequences," well-thought out ideas are in demand.  And the quiet, well prepared employees who have worked out their plans before the meeting are just the people to deliver them.

Tip: It's a great idea to go into an interview with an understanding of the company's challenges. While you're doing that, demonstrate a knowledge of risks and consequences for your solutions, and how you can minimize them.

Not sure which category you fall into?

As experts point out, shy is not the same as introverted, and there are different degrees of it. Some people are classified as "ambiverts," which means they oscillate between social and self-contained.

But for the truly shy, don't worry too much about making a grandiose impression in the interview. By making good eye contact, smiling, listening, and presenting your ideas with a little confidence, you'll do fine. And if the tide continues to turn against big personalities, you may even find yourself in high demand.

Read More:

How to Fight Interview Stress and Fright
The Fortunes of Solitude (Fast Company)
Shhhh! The Quiet Joys of the Introvert (Time)
Quiz: Are You An Introvert or an Extrovert? (Time)

--Cathy Vandewater, Vault.com

Filed Under: Interviewing | Job Search | Networking | Workplace Issues


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