Where I mix career information and career decision making in a test tube and see what happens

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Workplace Success for Introverts

In last week’s blog, I presented an updated list of the best jobs for introverts. (“Best” means those occupations [a] not requiring a large amount of social contact and interruptions and that [b] also have the highest economic rewards.) I felt the need to update this list because my YouTube video about this subject has drawn more than 40,000 views since I first posted it, plus many comments.

Many of the comments on the video were by introverted people who feel discouraged by their workplace experiences. For example, one wrote, “I applied for a job at Macy’s and Nordstrom, and they both give personality tests designed to SPECIFICALLY weed out the introvert! I was able to beat the test because I knew what they were doing, but still, you’d think they would want to weed out some ex-cons, child molesters, undercover terrorists...but noooo, they want to get those strange ‘introverts’ before we even make it to the interview!”

One of the reasons I wrote 200 Best Jobs for Introverts was to suggest strategies that introverted people can use to succeed in a workplace that often does not feel welcoming. Here are some to consider.

Try to negotiate arrangements with co-workers so that you’ll have times when you’re not interrupted except for emergencies. Perhaps you can get your boss to allow you to work at home for one or more days in the week. But in any such arrangement, accept the fact that at other times, when you are easy to access, you will have to make accommodations for people who interrupt your work. In meetings, ask for ground rules that allow everyone to be heard and try to schedule time-outs that will allow you to gather your thoughts.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is not doing the job well, but getting the job. The most effective way of finding a job—networking—is a technique that introverts may resist using because it involves so much social contact. Introverts can network successfully by concentrating on the strengths that they bring to the task: their understanding of themselves, their ability to articulate their skills, and their ability to cultivate relationships over time.

Finding a job opening is only half the battle; you still need to convince the employer to hire you. Introverts may be highly effective at crafting the perfect resume and cover letter, but they run the risk of being misunderstood in job interviews, especially if the person interviewing them is an extrovert. The interviewer may perceive them as “guarded,” “reserved,” “standoffish,” “private,” or “too serious.”

Again, you can compensate by using your strengths, especially your ability to prepare for the interview. Apply your research skills and do a thorough job of finding out whatever you can about the employer—and, if possible, the interviewer. Jot down some notes that will suggest intelligent questions you can ask about the business and your future role there. Assemble a portfolio that will provide examples of your best work. Your thorough knowledge of the business, your pointed questions, and your specific examples of your work will help dispel the notion that you are “aloof.”

You should also apply your strengths to the question of choosing a career goal. Remember that research in books or on the Web is not thorough enough for a decision of this importance. When you have identified a job that looks promising, you should visit a workplace and observe the workers, their tasks, and their surroundings. Prepare some questions to ask workers or the people who educate and train workers. They probably won’t mind if—in true introverted style—you cut through the chit-chat and move quickly to your specific questions. You’ll save them time from their workday and you’ll find out what you need to know about the job.

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