How being an introvert can help boost your career
Don't let misconceptions about being an introvert hurt your job prospects, says author Jane Finkle. Here's how being an introvert can help you nail a job search.
In her first job out of graduate school, Jane Finkle joined a large team where she found that being an introvert among extroverts had certain drawbacks. “It was a very competitive environment,” she recalls. “In meetings, everyone else was so busy promoting themselves that I never got a word in edgewise.”
Fast-forward about 25 years, and Finkle—who now runs Philadelphia-based Jane Finkle Career Coaching—has packed a wealth of astute advice into a book called The Introvert’s Complete Career Guide: From Landing a Job to Surviving, Thriving, and Moving On Up.
“One of the hardest things for introverts is to learn how to speak up for ourselves and our accomplishments,” she says. “In my coaching work all across the U.S., I find that introverts suffer a lot more stress and anxiety in a job hunt than more outgoing people do. So with introverted clients, one of my main goals is to boost their confidence.”
The tools and techniques in her book come from three sources: her clients’ experience, research on various personality types and traits, and her own background. While trying to change her introverted ways, Finkle writes, she began to notice that “some of these characteristics could actually be used to my advantage.”
To take just one example: Introverts typically listen closely—rather than mentally jumping ahead to how they’ll respond—and consider all the implications of what someone else is saying. Then they tend to think carefully before chiming in with an opinion or suggestion. That analytic bent can make introverts more effective problem-solvers and better innovators than their louder and hastier coworkers.
Finkle asks her introverted clients to conduct a self-assessment designed to identify their own achievements. “Stepping back and taking the time to think about what you bring to the table is the foundation for everything that comes later,” she says. “Introverts often get stuck on what to say in job interviews. But if you’ve clarified your experience and skills in your own mind beforehand, talking about yourself and your contributions gets easier.”
Monster asked Finkle five questions about how introverts can ace a job hunt.
Q. What are the five things you say employers look for on a resume, and why are introverts generally great resume writers?
A. Crafting a great resume takes focus. It can’t be rushed—and introverts don’t rush it. They take the time to concentrate and proofread for any typos.
Keep in mind that the average resume gets read for about six seconds, so you need to get to the point quickly. Hiring managers look for accomplishments that show problem-solving skill and positive results. Then there’s your personal brand. What makes you different from every other candidate? Third, you need to write short-and-sweet descriptions of each role you’ve had so far.
Then, don’t forget to include specific keywords that match those in the job description. Now that so many companies screen applicants using ATS (applicant tracking system) software, this is especially crucial. And fifth, think about visual presentation. Subtle details like blue lines or gray headings can add energy to the page.
Q. In answer to the dreaded “What’s your greatest weakness?” interview question, can you say, for instance, that you often hesitate to speak up in meetings?
A. Certainly! That question is just to show the interviewer that you’re self-aware, and that you’re working on whatever you believe your weakness is. Especially if you’d be hired to work on a team that already has its share of extroverts, being a less talkative, more reflective type may actually work in your favor. Don’t try to come across as more of an extrovert than you really are. Introverts often have a natural demeanor that is calmer and more graceful than other people’s. Go with that.
Q. If you generally dislike tooting your own horn, how do you describe your achievements to a hiring manager?
A. This is one way that careful preparation beforehand really comes in handy. Be ready to give details. Instead of just saying, for instance, “I wrote an HR manual,” include all the specifics that make that impressive: “I gathered data from colleagues in 11 different departments and wrote the company’s first-ever employee handbook, so now all 500 people who work there have it to refer to.” That way, you’re not really bragging at all, but you are stating the relevant facts.
Q. Once you’re hired, how do you get your ideas heard in your new job?
A. It takes practice! But once again, the key is planning. If you want to make sure your perspective is heard in meetings, try to get the agenda beforehand and think about salient questions to ask or contributions you might make. Then, practice diplomatic interruptions, like, “If I could just interrupt for a second, I think it’s important to add…” or, “Pardon my jumping in here, but what about…?” Rehearse these lines ahead of time, and then use them. It may not be comfortable at first, but if you exercise those muscles, you’ll become much better at it.
Q. If you had to name just one advantage that introverts have at work, what would it be?
A. Introverts bring so much to the workplace that we deserve to be confident! The ability to listen well, and think carefully before speaking, are two terrific skills. Introverts also tend to be more sensitive—they make sure no one gets left out of a group project, for example—and we could all use more empathy in the workplace. But probably the single biggest thing is, you really need to be reflective and analytical in order to create or innovate, and employers really want people who can do that. Introverts are valuable commodities.
Tap into your inner resources
As an introvert, you may get overshadowed at work by extroverted and louder co-workers but don’t let that interfere with your career development. Need help with that? Join Monster for free and get weekly emails with expert career advice on networking, professional development, and negotiating. As a member you’ll also get job listings so you can find companies that match your personality and preferred work environment. Finding the right fit is the key to your career success.
Anne Fisher has been writing about career and workplace trends and topics since 1994. She is a columnist for Fortune.com and the author of If My Career’s On the Fast Track, Where Do I get a Road Map?