Career Success!

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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.”

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Comment by Andy Robinson on July 30, 2010 at 11:23am
That's a new word for me too; had never heard it used before. It's probably the best word to describe me as well. I like it; nice discussion. Thanks guys.
Comment by Marleen on July 30, 2010 at 11:19am
Last post... Ambivert is in the dictionary. I just looked online:

"Ambivert - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster ... a person having characteristics of both extrovert and introvert. Learn more about "ambivert" and related topics at Pronunciation Symbols ..".
Comment by Marleen on July 30, 2010 at 11:16am
Great point. I fall more on the introvert side but for survival purposes I sometimes come off as an extravert. Reality is that people are more drawn to extraverts. To be honest, most of my friends are extraverts. I let them pave the way for me with other friends and I don't have to work so hard. :) I should not be giving away secrets of the trade but...
Comment by Laurence Shatkin on July 30, 2010 at 11:14am
I found it on the Web in several places, including Wikipedia.
Comment by Marleen on July 30, 2010 at 11:12am
I made up that term. I don't know if it is in the dictionary or not. LOL
Comment by Laurence Shatkin on July 30, 2010 at 11:10am
Thanks for your comment, Marleen. I hadn't heard that term "ambivert" before, but I'm glad it exists. It acknowledges the many people (probably most) who fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. My basic beef with the MBTI is its premise that people are best characterized by extremes.
Comment by Marleen on July 30, 2010 at 11:03am
This is a great discussion, Laurence. I am always interested in the topic of introvert. By nature I have always been an introvert, but I can "sometimes" hide it very well. These days I call myself an ambivert because I have traits of both introverts and extraverts. It just depends on the time, place, atmosphere and if I feel comfortable. I don’t fit any exact mold for introverts.

Thanks for your review on the book. I will not be buying or reading it. I don't like when people view introverts as weak and feel that they need to be more like extraverts. We are all different and should learn to deal with different personality types, instead of wanting people to conform to ours.

I do very well on interviews even when I am interviewing with an extravert because I am able to guage mysefl based on the person that is interviewing me. I do this without being fake and I maintain my true personality. When I am interviewing with an introvert, I have to tone down a bit as not to overwhelm them. Just like to you have modify your resume to fit each job, you have to do the same with how you present yourself to each personality type.

Thanks for highlighting the strengths of introverts, so people will have a better understanding.
Comment by Carrie Robinson on July 23, 2010 at 9:53am
The introverts were speaking out yesterday after reading the article. I will check out YouTube! Thanks.
Comment by Laurence Shatkin on July 23, 2010 at 9:40am
This topic never grows old. My YouTube video presentation about Best Jobs for Introverts has received about 12,000 hits in the year it's been on, and it gets a steady trickle of comments. My tweet about this blog posting has received more retweets than anything else I've tweeted. I guess that shows that introverts don't find Twitter too distracting!
Comment by Carrie Robinson on July 23, 2010 at 8:10am
This article has really fueled great discussion in our office!


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