Introverts at interview

That Person

Almost every interviewer can tell you that they have, on one or more occasion, come across ‘that person’. The one who laughs just a little too loudly at their jokes and seems to be 100% sure he’s walking away with the job. As much as I hate to admit it, competing against individuals that have the ability to breeze through interviews like this makes me a little nervous. After all, isn’t that exactly what the interviewer is looking for? Someone confident, loud and unforgettable?

Phycologist Richard Nisbett seems to agree in an article he wrote for The Guardian. He argues that the average 30-minute interviewing process, as followed by most companies, frequently fails to identify the best person for the job. Instead, they tend to (overly) favour only one type of person: the extrovert. “Extroverts in general do better interviews than introverts…” writes Nisbett. The problem, however, is that “for many if not most jobs, extroversion is not what we’re looking for.”

He makes an interesting comparison by discussing the way in which talent scouts spot future sports stars. Over a period of time (or several football matches, for example), the scout observes how individuals play on the field, making his/her final judgement based on the talent and skill that’s been demonstrated over an extended time period.

Returning to the analogy with jobs; the 30 minute interviewer frequently makes appointments based on fairly brief conversations that do not really test whether the candidate actually possesses the necessary skills for the job. The talent scout, on the other hand, makes more observations, and is often able to obtain larger amount of relevant information about the sports player; allowing for a thorough, accurate and fairer assessment.

Going back to that nightmarish character that crops up at every interview, it seems (if we follow Nisbett’s rationale) that the interviewing system favours him, not because he’s a better candidate, but because he has the ability and the skills to convince the interviewer that he’s the better candidate. To some extent interviews arguably require you to play a role of sorts, and some people are naturally better at that than others.

First Impressions

It’s true that most interviews are based on first impressions. In those first few minutes, you set the tone for the rest of the conversation and in many cases in that short time the interviewer has already decided whether or not they like you – and let’s be honest, them liking you frequently plays a significant role in the ‘to hire or not to hire’ decision-making process. Executives need social skills, arguably more that of any other level on the career ladder. Amongst other things therefore, your interviewer is judging your personality, and your likeability factor – just as much as they’re assessing your ability to do the job at hand. Can you fit in with the team on a social level? Will everybody in the office like you? Are you easy to work with? Would you be able to connect with important clients, stakeholders, and board members?

Though extroverts may at times have the upper hand,introverts also have strengths that they can use to their advantage in interviews. Many of us confuse introversion with lacking social skills or being shy, but according to Psychology Today “many introverts socialise easily, they just strongly prefer not to.” Psychology Today also informs us that the defining characteristic of an introvert is that they are “energised by solitary, often creative, pursuits.”

So What Does this Mean for Interviews?

Well, one of the characteristics of being an introvert is that they often have great listening skills. This is an important trait to have, and not everyone possesses it. Introverts tend to listen intently and they are less susceptible to falling into the danger of speaking over the interviewer or interrupting them mid-sentence. Introverts also tend to answer questions more clearly and deliberately, ensuring that their responses are focused and precise. They are also prone to answering the question directly, so there is no waffling and fewer unrelated verbal tangents. Extroverts with buzzing minds and who love to speak at a million miles per hour, frequently have to work much harder at answering the questions presented to them. Some extroverts are just fantastic communicators, and can pull this off, but others find it more problematic. At the same time, the ‘like’ factor does come into play, and if the interviewer likes you, he/she can be more accommodating.

Introversion as a Positive Quality

It could be that the interviewer very much appreciates the sense of calm and collectedness that the introvert brings. It might be just what they are looking for. And if the candidate can mention their introversion as a key strength of theirs, including examples of how it has benefited them in the roles they’ve previously worked in, it could add a positive spin to a characteristic that many people (including introverts themselves) often assume is a negative one.

Introverts should find solace in the fact that while they may not be (perceived as) able to express themselves as well as extroverts at interview, achievements do speak for themselves, and can often say more than standard responses to set interview questions. Your qualifications, references and things that you have achieved throughout your career are all important factors that supplement the decision-making process.

Ultimately, when we consider things from a practical and logistical perspective, it is extremely difficult to envisage how executive candidates could be assessed in a similar manner to sportsmen and women, as described by Nisbett. And it is unlikely that a dramatic change to the system will happen any time soon. Even so, while the current interview process could certainly take the strengths and weaknesses of different types of people more into account, there still are ways that introverts can turn it into a system that highlights their strengths, and potentially turn the process more in their favour.

Written by

Cambridge University graduate and professional career sector writer.

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