A few years ago, I watched New York Times best-selling author Susan Cain’s TED Talk on “The Power of Introverts” and had one of those rare moments in life where everything suddenly made sense.
Wait…what? I’m completely normal and just an introvert? It’s hard to believe I never knew this about myself. The signs were always there: I love to connect 1:1 or in small groups, but dread networking events and ice breakers (just writing those two words raised my blood pressure). I play a lot of video games (alone). I prefer to stay behind-the-scenes and out of the spotlight. And most telling, I recharge by spending time alone. I just needed a little education to understand what all of these things meant.
After watching Susan’s TED Talk and reading many subsequent articles about this topic, I am clearly not the only person who felt their introverted tendencies meant something was wrong with them. This is because our worlds (and our workplaces) are largely designed around those who need and want a lot of social interaction.
Our recruiting processes and decisions also favor extroverts, and it’s not hard to see why. Extroverts are more expressive and boisterous and easily form connections with others. And our processes are narrowly tailored towards looking at people through the lens of how well they express themselves verbally under time pressure. Given that introverts generally prefer time to think before speaking, this can present quite a disadvantage.
Yet, one-third to half of the population are introverts, and according to many studies, teams perform best when there is a balance of both introverted and extroverted members. In addition, whether a leader is introverted or extroverted can impact leadership effectiveness depending upon the type of team that’s being led.
The following quote from a Harvard Business Review article written by Francesca Gino, professor at Harvard Business School, says it best:
Team leaders who are extroverted can be highly effective leaders when the members of their team are dutiful followers looking for guidance from above. Extroverts bring the vision, assertiveness, energy, and networks necessary to give them direction. By contrast, when team members are proactive — and take the initiative to introduce changes, champion new visions, and promote better strategies — it is introverted leaders who have the advantage.
As someone who has worked in recruiting and talent management for 16 years, I’ve thought a lot about the ways to fix this issue.
1. Commit to learning about introverts
We are in the people business. It’s imperative that we not only understand the job and company we’re selling but also the complex nuances of the people we are recruiting. For instance, did you know that being introverted is not the same as being shy? Both introverts and extroverts are shy in equal numbers.
There are a lot of great resources out there about introverts, including Susan Cain’s website, Quiet Revolution. The more we understand about introverts, the more we can recognize this personality trait in candidates and adjust our recruiting process accordingly.
2. Adjust the way you interview candidates
We spend a lot of time during the interview process asking our candidates impromptu questions either on the phone or in person under time pressure. But what exactly does this assess? How well a person answers impromptu questions verbally? While this may be helpful in understanding how well a candidate may think on their feet, it really only reflects of one of many personality traits that can help determine whether they are a good fit for the job.
What about assessing how well a candidate prepares for meetings or how well they can take several pieces of information and clearly articulate their perspective after some thought? Or, how well a candidate expresses themselves in writing? These are often strengths that introverts bring to the table that are overlooked in the interview process.
Below are a few tips to help an introvert show off their strengths in the interview process and lead to better, more informed hiring decisions:
- Before an in-person interview, send some of the questions to the candidate in advance. This helps level the playing field between those who prefer to process before responding (introvert) and those who don’t (extrovert).
- Send some questions in writing and ask for a written response. This shows how well a candidate expresses themselves in writing vs. just verbally. Some introverts are much better at articulating thoughts and expressing personality in writing.
- Ask a candidate to do some research on a topic and do a short presentation on it. This helps assess how well a candidate can organize their thoughts around a subject and present it in a meaningful way. Introverts often don’t love to talk about themselves but can really shine when talking about a topic they are passionate about.
Recruiters should also think about the tools that can help introverted candidates put their best foot forward in an interview. For most people, an in-person interview is a nerve-wracking experience, but for many introverts, the mere thought can leave them paralyzed with anxiety. Screening a candidate over text message can help put an introvert at ease and let their experience speak for itself.
Here are some of the benefits of text-based interviews for introverted candidates:
- Through a text-based interview platform, the candidate can take all the time they need to clearly articulate their response to a question. Not always quick on their feet, an introvert will appreciate the ability to provide a well-thought out response.
- Introverts tend to dislike small talk and get nervous in situations that necessitate it. Screening a candidate over text eliminates the need for water cooler banter and chit chat, and lets the candidate really focus on explaining their skills and experience.
- Some introverts will spend as much time worrying about the small details of the interview, like what to wear, where it’s happening and who they’re talking to, as they will preparing for the questions they’re going to be asked. Text interviews eliminate the need to focus on the less important details and focus on the task at hand.
- Introverts prefer to be direct and to the point and dislike having to repeat themselves. They don’t want to reinvent the wheel — they would much rather switch gears and tackle something new. An interview over text allows the candidate and the recruiter to eliminate redundant questions and responses.
Introversion is not only a natural leadership trait, it’s a tremendously valuable one. According to experts like Cain, introverts are persistent, diligent and focused on work. By incorporating the advice in this article into your recruiting practices, you’ll avoid losing out on hiring some of your best candidates
About the author: Kelly Lavin is a human resources executive who excels at helping companies hire and retain great people through creative and impactful talent practices. Recognizing the need for a method to boost recruiting productivity, Kelly has teamed up with Aman Brar and Jared Adams to launch Canvas, the first enterprise-grade text-based interviewing platform that enables recruiters screen more job candidates and market employment brands. Prior to Canvas, Kelly spent five years with Apparatus, rising through the ranks from director to executive vice president of talent management.