Monthly Archives: January 2014

Don’t Be Fooled by the Extrovert Ideal

As Susan Cain, the best-selling author of Quiet, will tell you, we live in a world dominated by the “Extrovert Ideal”: “the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight.”

Accordingly, you’ll find countless articles and self-help books out there whose authors want to wrest the introverts from their comfortable shells so that they might make it in this extroverted world.  Take for example, this recent Wall Street Journal article about how an introverted MBA changed the way he approached projects and interacted with colleagues at work in order to finally land leadership positions for which he was routinely passed over.   The takeaway of the WSJ article is that introverts can stay true to themselves even as they adapt to environments that privilege those with more extraverted sensibilities.  While the article provides some great advice that tries to honor introverted preferences, it seems the responsibility to change still falls squarely on the introverts’ shoulders.

You see, we don’t believe that all introverts need to be more extraverted to be successful, and neither should you.  In fact, we’re convinced that far too often employers get duped into thinking that the extraverted candidate is the best one for the job, leaving a lot of introverted talent on the table.  When you think about it, interviews are largely extraverted exercises, so there’s almost an immediate advantage for those candidates who, like most extraverts, prefer to communicate while talking, work out ideas by verbalizing them, and are more expressive.

In order to make sure you’re not skipping over the best candidate because you’ve let the extravert ideal control your hiring decisions, consider our tips below:

1.       Take a hard look at the position you’re filling.  What kinds of activities/responsibilities make up the majority of the position?  How often will the person be working independently vs. in small groups or large teams?  How critical is it, then, that the person filling this position be extraverted?  And try not to buy into the misperception that introverts aren’t sociable or don’t like people.  They can be very sociable and they do like people!  Based on Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types, the difference between introverts and extroverts is really a matter of energy.  Extraverts derive energy from the exterior world, from people outside of themselves, while introverts are energized by the interior world.  So, while introverts are fully capable of socializing and working successfully in teams, that kind of activity can often drain them if it’s all they do.

2.       Customize the interview process.  At most companies, the interview process is uniform, regardless of the position.  Sure, the questions asked of candidates for a sales position will likely be different from those asked candidates for a position in, say, accounting, but the structure of the interviews will be very similar.  And that structure will require the candidate to talk, a lot, and over an extended period of time, often with several different people.  The problem is that while this structure might accurately test how a candidate for a sales position might perform in the role (because she’ll have to talk a lot), it won’t necessarily give you an accurate picture of how an accountant will perform in his role.  Of course, there’s only so many ways to conduct an interview, but why not tweak the structure a bit depending on what you’re recruiting for?  Ask candidates to prepare presentations in advance of the interview; this will allow introverted candidates to show what they can do when given the time to operate on their own terms and it will allow extroverted candidates to shine as well.  For positions that require candidates to be highly analytical and work independently, you could give them problems to solve on paper or questions to which they can respond in writing.

3.       Consider the personalities of your existing team.  People tend to be drawn to others like them, but the best teams are balanced and diverse.  Extraverts have a tendency to think aloud and are comfortable speaking in groups before fully formulating what it is they want to say.  The talking actually helps them think.  Introverts, on the other hand, tend to wait until they’ve worked out what it is they want to say before speaking.  Of course, there are drawbacks to each preference.  Some extraverts could benefit from taking more time to think about that they want to say before they say it and some introverts could benefit from quickening their process:  they can spend so much time thinking about what they want to say, that they never say it!  The point here is that you often need both to achieve an effective balance.  How many of you have been in the middle of a meeting where three or four people are just talking back and forth, spewing out ideas, but no one’s really listening and then all of a sudden, the quietest member of the group speaks up and says, “well, what about this?”  And everyone pauses, looks at each other, and nods in agreement?  That was most likely the introvert.

Don’t get us wrong:  we love the extroverts and know that they can be better suited to many positions.  And, we acknowledge the existence of an extroverted ideal and believe that some introverts will need to “flex” a bit in order to be successful.  However, they are not the only ones who have to flex and accommodate.  The best teams are comprised of diverse members whose strengths and weaknesses counterbalance each other.  The most successful companies, therefore, will be the ones who see the value in both introverts and extraverts and hire accordingly.