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Interview Tips for Introverts

How to handle the dreaded face-to-face–and nail it.

Your resume looks great, you have polished your cover letter to perfection, and your skillset is a good fit for the job position to which you’re applying. The only thing that stands between you and a new job is the interview. And, for some of us, another barrier is our preference for introversion.

Studies have shown that about 50 percent of the US population may be introverted. With that temperament, preference comes many built-in advantages: thoughtfulness and great listening skills are just two examples. Unfortunately, a typical workplace is built to value gregariousness, comfort in the limelight and an outspoken personality–none of the characteristics that come easily to an introvert. The interview setting seems purpose-built to put an introvert at a disadvantage, with its expectation of a powerful first impression, quick well-composed answers on the spot, and comfort in front of a person you have never met before.

Are introverts doomed to fail at interviewing? Definitely not. However, it does help to start with facing the situation and honestly assessing the way you can come across to people who don’t know you well. The risks here are that you might show up as standoffish, shy or slow to respond. Remember, these words do not describe who you are inside. However, if you come across an unenthusiastic, the hiring manager has nothing else to go on because he or she does not know you on a deep enough level to overlook the first impression.

What is an introverted candidate to do to survive the interview–and get the job? Read on for some tips for interviews.

Prepare for the interview.

And then prepare some more. And when you think you are done, prepare some more. If freestyling your way to an answer is not your strength, don’t put yourself in a position during an interview where you have to do that.

Research typical interview questions, and know your resume and the position description like the back of your hand. I do not recommend memorizing entire responses like a poem – you risk sounding rehearsed and unnatural. However, there is nothing wrong with giving your possible answers some thought and jotting down notes on your strategies. Just don’t script your responses in full sentences, or you might be tempted to read them.  

Looking up the hiring manager via LinkedIn counts as research, as well! This extra step can give you some ideas about his or her background: school affiliation, past jobs and even hobbies. That’s good information to tuck away.

Record a video of yourself in a mock interview.

With a tripod, a cell phone and a helpful friend, you can stage and record a mock interview in under 30 minutes. Yes, it really is that simple. Minimal time and money invested, and great instant feedback on what the interviewer sees.

As you review the video, pay attention to your willingness to make eye contact and smile. Are your shoulders relaxed or stiff? Do you look scared and uncomfortable, as if you are in an interrogation room with a spotlight on you?

Count the number of times you said “um” when you were unsure how to begin your response. If you notice this as a trend, consider spending more time in preparation. Using an opener like “That is a great question,” or “I am glad you asked this” can give you time to think and sound more polished.

A mock interview can give you a brutally honest look at what you need to fix in order to shine in an interview. Be prepared that it won’t be pretty on the first pass, and embrace its lessons. After all, you would rather get these mistakes out of the way without an actual job hanging in the balance.

Be sure that the position is a good fit for your temperament in the first place.

No matter what your temperament is, chances are that any job will require you to flex and step outside your comfort zone at least sometimes. The key is to choose a position that honors your natural preference most of the time. Think of it as an equivalent to standing on your head. With some training, virtually everyone can do it for a short while. However, no one should be expected to stand on their head for 8 to 10 hours a day.

Just be sure you are interviewing for a job that will make the greatest use of your natural strengths. Pay attention to the interactions with your would-be coworkers and manager, take the time to understand the daily responsibilities and workflow and imagine yourself doing the job. Does it offer you a balance of time for private reflection and outside interactions? How much energy will the job take, and how much will you get back from the joy of doing it? As with any personal question, you won’t find the answer on Google, so observe and reflect on making the best use of everyone's time.

Build in some solo time before the interview.

An interview requires a significant energy output for you. Treat it accordingly. If you recharge and prepare best in solitude, be sure to give yourself that solo cushion before the interview to be at your best. Remember that needing quiet time for yourself is not a sign that you are not cut out for the job–it is simply a recognition and an honoring of how you prepare to do your best work.

Remember your strengths.

You are a powerful listener and a great observer. Those are superpowers in an interview setting! Listen deeply. In today’s distracted world, people don’t get the luxury of undivided attention all that often, and the interviewer is bound to appreciate it.

Many introverts are wonderful at forming one-on-one connections with people once they get to know them. Because things have to move fast in an interview, here’s a trick to put your introversion and ability to connect to good use. Go into the conversation pretending that you’ve known the hiring manager for years. It seems silly and simple, but it works every time because you skip the emotionally awkward “stranger” stage. Hiring managers seem to appreciate it–after all, having a stiff and shy candidate is no fun for them either.  

Be prepared for small talk.

Oh, the dreaded small talk. Since you cannot escape small talk in an interview, use this trick: head over to the interview meeting with a 20 to 30 minutes time cushion to find a local coffee shop. Stop in for a cup of coffee and a bite, and then ask the interviewing manager whether he or she has ever been there. You have a conversation topic and an opinion to share in your back pocket–and it’s not about the weather!

Think of aspects of the job that genuinely excite you.

One of the biggest risks with an introverted personality is that you may come across as reserved and disinterested in the position. To combat that, give some thought to the parts of the job that you are truly excited about. Perhaps it is a chance to solve a difficult puzzle, lead a department or make a difference. Whatever you choose, think of that during the interview, and your enthusiasm and energy will shine even if you are naturally reserved.

Don’t brag, inform.

Many introverts are genuinely uncomfortable talking about their success. Whether it’s because of a natural inclination to deflate our contributions, or because of a childhood admonition to not boast, this tendency can put you at a disadvantage in an interview. After all, the hiring manager uses your past success as an indicator of future contributions to his department. If you are uncomfortable with talking about your success (“bragging”), reframe it as reporting the facts, or restating what others have said. Your goal is to inform the hiring manager to make the best decision.  

Allow time to recharge and decompress after the interview.

Build in a post-interview “do not disturb” block of time. Go for a walk, sit in a coffee shop and de-compress or take a nap. The job search is a marathon, and it does not serve you to burn yourself out in the first two miles.

In closing, remember that introversion is not a curse. Just because you are naturally quiet and thoughtful does not mean you are doomed to fail at interviewing. It does mean that you have to prepare, work on your demeanor, and be ready to show up more open and relaxed than you typically would in a first interaction. That effort will take energy, so honor your need to recharge and recover. With these interviewing tips, being an introvert will become a superpower!

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