Thursday, July 22, 2010

Career Success for Introverts

This week I came upon a pair of Web-based articles on the impact of introversion and extroversion on a person’s career prospects. I have researched and written on this subject (in 200 Best Jobs for Introverts), and so I was disappointed to find that the writer of these articles presents a distorted picture of what an introverted personality is like. She also fails to find any advantages in introversion.

Here are a few choice quotations that show how this writer characterizes introverts:

“Your inability to exude confidence in social situations is a definite weakness. You therefore have to either learn to overcome this anxiety or find a career where you don’t really have to deal with people.”

“If you become flustered and start panicking when you’re surrounded by large numbers of people you will most probably want to avoid developing a career which involves a great deal of contact with the public.”

“If communicating is a real problem it may be worth drawing attention to the fact that you’re shy, rather than pretending to be someone you’re not and being perceived as ‘weird’.”

Contrasting extroverts to introverts, she says this:

“When you’re an extrovert, you tend to have much more confidence than someone who is an introvert, which can really help you pursue the career you want. Instead of being plagued by self-doubt you have a consistent belief in yourself so that you set goals and work towards achieving them, rather than letting yourself get sidetracked by the potential for failure. You may listen to other people’s views and opinions, but you don’t take any criticism to heart, as you are confident to ignore anything you don’t want to hear.”

The essential problem here is that she confuses introversion with social phobia. Introverts are not shy. They do not lack confidence, get flustered, suffer from self-doubt, or panic in social situations. These are all symptoms of social phobia.

Introverts are people who derive energy from solitude and feel a loss of energy in social situations. That’s not the same as being anxious or awkward in social situations. In fact, many introverts are very skilled at social interactions. They simply prefer to work alone.

Based on a fallacious definition of introversion, this writer makes it appear that introverts are ill-equipped for finding and succeeding at jobs. It’s true that the 21st century workplace, more than ever before, emphasizes working in teams, which is not the arrangement introverts prefer. It’s also true that much of the growth of the workforce will be in service occupations, such as health care, that often involve a lot of working with people. Finally, modern technology throws a lot of distractions at workers (e-mail, IM, cell phones) that introverts would prefer to avoid.

Nevertheless, introverts have many strengths that they bring to the job hunt and the workplace. Introverts who know how to use their strengths will have many opportunities.

Introverts make up about 25 percent of the population. (Estimates vary, but I reject the much higher figure from MBTI, which counts everyone on the "I" side of the midpoint as an introvert. In reality, the amount of measurement error in the assessment means that many people near the midpoint could just as easily be on the other side.) Although introverts are definitely a minority, they make up a majority of the gifted population. Many highly successful people are thought to be introverts--even some presidents of the United States.

When introverts are able to focus on the task at hand without interruptions, they often are able to provide very thoughtful solutions to problems. Their patience and persistence enable them to solve problems that take a long time to complete and that require mastery of both the big picture and the details. By avoiding a herd mentality, introverts can produce highly original ideas. The volume of their work output also may be very high, because they don’t have to adjust their work pace to fit other people’s schedules or preferences. Introverts tend to be good writers, because they prefer to give a thoughtful response rather than work out their ideas in conversation. Research shows that multitasking tends to lower productivity, so the introverted workers’ tendency to turn off their cell phones and ignore e-mail arrivals probably makes them more efficient.

When it comes time to find a job, introverts may seem at a disadvantage because networking involves so much social contact. However, 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.

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, introverts can compensate by using their strengths, especially their ability to prepare for the interview. Applying their research skills, they can find out useful information about the employer--and, possibly, the interviewer. They can use a portfolio to provide examples of their best work. Using a thorough knowledge of the business, pointed questions, and specific examples of their work, they can dispel the notion that they are “aloof.”


  1. Thank you, Mr. Shatkin! We introverts can do quite well in the workforce if we don't have to work against pernicious stereotypes. And some of us even do quite well as solo entrepreneurs.

  2. Excellent assessment of the strengths introverts bring to the table! Thank you for this.

  3. I think that the great job for introvert will be the freelance writing. At this work, he or she needs to communicate with people minimum, and this is what every introvert is looking for.