It all started when Natalya Williamson noticed her energy dying out throughout the workday. She enjoyed her job, but she found herself hesitating to speak up during meetings and more comfortable sharing her ideas afterwards in a casual conversation with her manager. “Why don’t you speak up in meetings? That’s an amazing idea, why didn’t you say it out loud?” her managers would ask her.
The answer is simple. Williamson, Project Manager of Leadership and Development Management at LinkedIn, is an introvert. And being an introvert in the workplace, a traditionally extrovert-geared atmosphere, can be challenging.
We talked to Kate Earle, Chief Learning Officer of the Quiet Leadership Institute, a company that helps professionals tap into their employees’ potential and better engage them in the workplace, to get the facts on this personality type. Keep reading to learn how to be the most comfortable with your introverted characteristics and let your skills shine through whether you’ve landed your dream job or you’re still looking for the right one.
Related: A Shy Girl's Guide to Networking
1. What is it?
Introversion is not shyness or social awkwardness; it’s rooted in how your brain is wired to respond to stimulus, explains Earle. Introverts have a lower response threshold for stimulus (such as light, sound and touch) and therefore may react by being overwhelmed or may just need more time for deliberation. She further explains that extroverts, on the other end of the spectrum, seek stimulus to energize them and can make in-the-moment decisions or think out loud.
So how do you be your true self at work and perform your best?
“Be conscious of how you like to think, be, work, [and] communicate,” says Earle.
2. How to survive as an introvert during your job search
Introverts have a lot to offer. Thoughtfulness, good listening skills, the ability to work independently, calculating risk involved in a situation and moving slowly through variables instead of jumping in without thinking are a few that are seen as great assets in the eyes of an employer, according to Earle.
Apply to positions you can see yourself at
This doesn’t mean you should only stay in your comfort zone, but feeling comfortable with the position you are applying to as well as your prospective employers, is key. The thought of having your first job at a big company where it seems impossible to stand out from everyone else can be daunting. And job descriptions almost always sound intimidating. But don’t let that deter you from every opportunity. Look for positions where you think you’ll be able to grow and expand your skills, but still feel like yourself.
Know your strengths and be self-aware
When Williamson realized she wasn’t speaking up because she didn’t want to cut someone else off or wasn’t sure if her idea was strong enough, she analyzed the situation. Why do I hesitate to speak up in a group? Why am I losing energy throughout the day? Why am I the most creative and focused when I think by myself with my headphones on? She realized what energizes her may be different than that of her extroverted colleagues. Working in solitude with time to collect her thoughts before responding to a question is how she thinks best. If you are honest with yourself about how you best communicate at work, you can search for and apply to jobs that truly suit you.
Bring an extroverted buddy to networking events
The thought of walking into a room full of people you don’t know can be scary enough, but realizing you need to talk to them and—even worse—sell yourself, can be off-the-charts overwhelming for an introvert. “Bring a handler or have a buddy,” is the best advice Williamson was given about attending networking events. “Bringing someone who is more extroverted can help you navigate through the crowd.” Plus you will feel more comfortable having someone you know there and they can be helpful when trying to start or end a conversation.
3. How to shine in an interview
The best way to build interview confidence is with the right preparation. “Interviews are hard for anyone, but they can be an ideal situation for [introverts],” explains Williamson. “Introverts appreciate structure and like to plan,” which can be an asset in an interview.
Practice until you’re comfortable
Practice interview questions out loud with someone to get used to talking. Set up a mock interview with a parent or friend and tell them to ask you both generic and more thought-provoking questions so you are prepared. “[Introverts] are very good at the interview process because [they] can connect well in an interview or small group setting,” says Laura Bozarth, career coach and founder of Good Girls Health. “Being that [introverts] are also intuitive, [they] can also pick up on when it's time to engage.” Let your instincts guide you in an interview and you’ll know the right time to speak and what to say, especially if you’ve practiced possible answers to questions ahead of time.
Manage your energy
“I don’t believe [introverts] will be mute in an interview,” says Williamson. “They know to turn [on their energy] but they will be drained after.” Introverts can do really well in an interview but it may not be natural for them to talk about themselves. Fear of coming off too strong or wanting to use the right words when describing something takes a lot of thinking and can be mentally exhausting. Practice ahead of time but let your brain rest right before the interview.
Ask for time to think your answer through
You’ve practiced your response to every interview question imaginable, so you know you’re ready for anything. But nothing kills confidence like a question you aren’t prepared for. If you find yourself at a loss for words, try being honest. Earle suggests saying something like: “I love that question, and I want to give you my best answer. Can I have a minute to think about that?” Or perhaps you can even ask to email them later with your response or call them early the next morning to elaborate. “This takes courage but if you’re tuned into your strengths as an introvert, you can advocate for yourself,” says Earle. You will have to freestyle some of your answers on an interview, as you should to avoid sounding too rehearsed, but rather than risk saying a not-so-great response, take time to think.
4. Learn to stand out at your first job
The key to making a great professional impression is knowing yourself and being comfortable with how you communicate and work. “In the office setting, introverts need to be clear about what they need to get the job done and be vocal about it,” says Bozarth. “If they want to work with small teams instead of jumping into a huge presentation immediately [or] if they need a quiet work space, they need to address that.” Being quiet and a good listener may seem like undervalued traits but they are important. Declaring who you are and how you work will help you perform your best, which will result in a more pleasant workplace.
Explain your introversion to your employer
Having a job is just as much about what is right for you as it is for your employer and the company you are working for. Educate your employer on how to reach your full potential by explaining, “I’m an introvert and this is how I work. Don’t interpret my quietness as not being engaged,” says Earle. Williamson agrees, explaining what you need so people don’t take your actions the wrong way helps you tell your story to bosses and colleagues. Williamson suggests saying: “When I have headphones in it’s not that I’m shutting everyone out. This is just what I need to bring my most creative self forward.” Williamson’s favorite ways to recharge throughout the day? “Listening to music is one of my favorite ways to recharge. It's a subtle signal to others that I'm in 'recharge' [mode] and helps me shut out external distracting factors.” Going for a short walk around the building or stepping outside can also have major energizing power, suggests Williamson.
Speak up in the beginning of a meeting
“Introverts analyze not only what they say but also the fact that [they] will have to speak,” says Williamson. Introverts start thinking about when the best time is to speak up and if too much time goes by, they may end up repeating something someone else already said—which can seem like they aren’t creative or don’t have ideas of their own. “With introverts there is always a lot of analyzing while extroverts tend to think out loud,” explains Williamson. “Speaking in the beginning of a meeting lets people know you are present, reducing the anxiety of having to speak, so you feel relieved knowing 'I already said what I had to say.'”
Advocate for others
Even if you don’t share one of your own ideas you can point out someone (probably a fellow introvert) who was trying to speak but may have been overpowered by a more outspoken colleague. Williamson suggests saying something like, “Hey, I think Jennifer has something to say. What was it that you wanted to share?” to let your colleague know you saw they were trying to speak and acknowledges their idea is important too.
'Just be yourself' is advice we’ve heard our whole lives. And it’s both true in theory and liberating in practice. “You don’t have to act like an extrovert to be successful,” says Earle. Bringing your more subtle and cautious introverted approach will be appreciated and admired just the same.