How does an extreme introvert find a suitable career path?
May 21, 2012 11:31 PM   Subscribe

How does an extreme introvert find a suitable career path?

I'm a 26 year old woman borne of two intersecting cultures renowned for gregariousness who happens to be an exceedingly introverted person. I put up a facade of meekness because being deemed "shy" is more acceptable than being perceived as schizoid. I don't believe that I have social anxiety or Aspergers' syndrome, I just think it's a personality trait that developed over time - I strongly dislike speaking with all new people and most old ones. I actually like writing to them a lot, however, and spent my youth socializing on forums instead of going out with friends. I also find human behavior interesting and took the opportunity to study folks from afar in college.

I languished for about 3 years after finishing my BA at the economy's nadir, in no small part due to a profound dearth of networking contacts and an uncanny ability to bomb interviews. Because of this, I find it impossible to be hired as a single individual. I eventually found a backdoor into the workforce - I can get hired in groups when there's a need to staff positions quickly. The problem is, people only seem to hire in clusters for public-facing positions, where I tend to flounder performance-wise and become frazzled. I speak with people for a living now, and it's gone... as well as can be expected.

It's one thing to dislike your job, it's another to be just plain bad at it, and I worry that both together are unsustainable. I'm very risk averse and don't like the feeling of being on edge all of the time, worrying about losing my job because it's primarily based on a skill I lack. I know that there are people with my disposition who are not marginally employable... unfortunately, they overwhelmingly seem to be well acquainted with higher math - I, OTOH was rescued from nigh innumeracy - and/or are males in professions that tend to prefer males and burlier women than I (CDL drivers, night stockers, security guards, etc.) I would eventually like to have a white collar position, but I am very interested in an easily attainable, interim "behind the scenes" occupation I'm able to fall back on, work comfortably and perform well in in the present, as well as career options for the future. I'm acutely aware that I need to acquire a marketable skill and I may have to train myself... I just need to know what will be a worthwhile and fruitful endeavor in an economy that's experiencing rapid growth in the service sector and off-shoring/automating more and more of the positions that people like myself would take solace in.

Any advice?
posted by Selena777 to Work & Money (16 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried speaking to the Career Services at your college? As an alum, they can help you practice for interviews, etc.
posted by spunweb at 11:54 PM on May 21, 2012

Suggestions: editor, researcher.
posted by mleigh at 11:55 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

It seems that machine transcription is not going to replace humans for at least 20 years (according to my guy who knows more than I do about such things), so if you have superlative language skills, it would combine well with your general interest in human behaviour to get into court transcribing. Not in court, but at home. It doesn't have to be real time (that's a thing to google) or on specialized steno equipment such as e'lan Cybra or Stentura (but it could be well worth your while to take a course in these if you like the work). A lot of court systems use independent contractors working from home on their computers, for transcripts that are required for various purposes. I got into this by taking a test at an agency, after a brave and carefully practised phone call. They don't usually hire people without legal background, but if you are excellent or develop some background, it could work for you. You can look into how transcribing is done in your region. Thing is, courts don't like to farm this work offshore or even out of the jurisdiction (here province, probably state where you are) for security reasons. The thing that got me out of it was bad audio with the new technology, because otherwise it was easy-breezy for me. I couldn't cope with the noise, but maybe you can (others do) or maybe the audio technology system management in your area is good.

BTW, what was your BA in? And what were you very good at or liked a lot? I think it would help people answer your question.
posted by Listener at 12:32 AM on May 22, 2012

A kindred spirit! The way you describe your work issues, you could be me, I'm sorry to say. Have you taken the Myers-Briggs assessment? I tested as a strong INFP. Guess what? We constitute so little of the population, we might as well not exist at all. I have been through more jobs than you can shake a stick at. I'm a hard worker and care about doing a good job (I also have a degree and graduated at the top of my class), but I get overwhelmed by the social dynamics. At my last job, I got fired because it takes me a while to get used to new people and situations. I find that the first few weeks at a new job are physically painful because of all the new sensory input, the expectations, the awareness of my Achilles heel (and fear of how it will be perceived by others), as well as all the new people (and the charge that they give off). I have struggled mightily with this and there are no easy answers. I have taken up writing, but must make a living in the meantime. So, I am going to focus on jobs that revolve around working with animals or helping the elderly. I have also considered cleaning houses. Not glamourous positions, I know, but it is really hard to be creative and strongly introverted in a world filled with and defined by extroverts. I wish you the best.
posted by melangell at 12:56 AM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are also things like Leapforce, where you evaluate search engines.
posted by spunweb at 1:06 AM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ha, Good Question! Wish I knew the answer! Honestly I have also been having the same problem. Can I firstly say your langauge skills are excellent - that shows through in your post - so that is one strength you do have.

So far the ideas I've had for coping as an introvert in a similarly extroverted culture have been:
- avoiding open plan offices (freelance, work from home or ideally a place where I get my own office) Hard to do but great if you can manage it.
- introducing colleagues to the notion of "introvert" and mentioning it if I can in conversation, I guess to try to educate people
- working part time
- using my iPod to shut out excess noise e.g. on the train or in the gym. Earplugs would do as well.
-being strategic about holidays e.g. work during the times when lots of others want leave - like days around easter or school holidays, and take leave when your colleagues are back. That way you can maximise office quiet time while the noisy types are off at the game. If you're stuck for small talk, always ask your noisiest extrovert colleagues about when and where they're going on the next holiday! Similarly work out whether being a morning starter or a late stayer will help either (if you have that choice that is).

Good luck!
posted by EatMyHat at 2:57 AM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

My introverted friend is a copy editor, and she is able to work from home. She hustled for a while to get enough clients, but now she has more work than she can handle.

You have to be very precise to do this, however.
posted by Surprised By Bees at 4:52 AM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

How are you at phone conferences? Not cold calls, but meetings with cow-orkers whom you've worked with in person? I ask because many modern jobs require long hours of solo work, with occasional long phone confs.

Have you seen Susan Cain's The Power of Introverts? It may give you some ideas, and some tools, such as "one third to half of the population are introverts".
posted by at at 6:12 AM on May 22, 2012

Response by poster: Listener -- My BA was a double major in Psychology and Anthropology. I was interested in research Psych, but saw the writing on the wall when it came to university budget slashing and decided to keep my undergrad degree terminal. I'm good at drafting documents. I may have a latent knack for statistical analysis - I can interpret numbers and explain them to other people, I am unable to crunch them, however. Unlike many social science majors who end up being fed by stats for years after graduating, my training in this area was minimal. Your transcription idea sounds great. I had an internship where I transcribed interviews all day, and my productivity was unprecedented. I'm very interested in the legal field - I saw what was happening there and decided not to go to law school, however - and looked into court reporting, but was scared off by the initial cost of the steno machines and the high attrition rate for the NCRA exam. I'm also aware of the shortage in the field, but I thought that was an opportunity exclusively available to stenographers/voice writers. How did you get started?

melangell -- If I remember correctly, I'm an INTJ. Cleaning homes also sounds pleasant, and one of the few positions that ladies often get hired for that suits my disposition. That being said, in my area competition is stiff. Experienced older candidates who are limited to non-interactive service positions due to a lack of English language fluency generally dominate the field. Confronted with a lack of opportunities to be hired onto a cleaning team, I attempted to break into it as a freelance contractor, where I got absolutely 0 clients.

spunweb -- I have spoken to my career services center multiple times throughout my 3 year job malaise, and unfortunately, they weren't a lot of help.

at -- I'm totally fine with the idea of teleconferencing and WFH, it just seems like those opportunities are only available to those with a well-fleshed out skill set.
posted by Selena777 at 7:55 AM on May 22, 2012

Become a bookkeeper or an accountant, though an accountant has to deal with bosses and the like. My terminally shy BIL became and accountant thinking he'd be left alone, but as he's fresh out of college he's finding he's having a lot more contact with people in his large accounting office than he thought he would.

A bookkeeper is left alone a lot (we are the lepers of the business world) usually in an office with a door because they are handling confidential things. If you are not left alone a lot, ask where random invoices are, or why they haven't filed their receipts for their last business trip left and watch people scurry to leave you alone. If you are dealing with people about accounts or whatever it is usually over the phone or by email.

Jobs in the US, don't seem to pay as well or get the same respect as the ones I had in Australia would be the only downside. The pay is OK though and you can always find work. Heck even temping while being shy isn't that hard, no one talks to the temp, they just tell you what to do and pretend you don't exist.

You do not need more than basic math and a good calculator, heck in the world of spreadsheets and Accounting software most of it's done for you anyway.
posted by wwax at 8:29 AM on May 22, 2012

look for technical writing jobs. the salaries tend to be better than in publishing or journalism, and as an INFP, i find the work interesting and fulfilling. i do occasionally have to interact with coworkers, or interview subject matter experts about the technical subjects on which i'm writing, but most of the time it's just me and my computer.
posted by woodvine at 8:54 AM on May 22, 2012

I suspect I (an INTP) am very much like you, OP, in that part of the reason teaching at the academic level drained me of life so quickly was the expectation of warm, collegial relationships with students, which I really couldn't have. In fact, the notion that one is supposed to care about the individual students was one I was obviously bad at faking. Right now, I do bookkeeping/ document drafting/ billing / archiving old files/ whatever else needs to be done in a law office. Part of what makes this job very good for me is that it's a very small firm that does little to no litigation and my coworkers are similarly introverted. The workload is not very heavy, so I have time to work on my writing projects on the side. And since no one ever really sees me, it doesn't matter that I have blue hair.

Unfortunately, this kind of position isn't really one that people specifically advertise. I lucked into it myself. Consider tech processing at a library (cataloging, repairing, preparing the materials to go out on the shelf), medical billing (a friend does this from home), house-sitting, writing jobs. While the idea of freelance writing appeals to me, and I have the background to do so, my anxiety over my disorganization and tendency to procrastinate keeps me from acting on it. If you aren't hobbled in this way, I'd say try some writing or editing gigs and see what you think. The downside to any sort of self-employment is that you have to sell yourself to people, which is kind of a non-starter for me. I actually did quite well as a reference librarian, in part because all interactions were based on a knowledge puzzle (NT! Yay!) and had routine, even scriptable, structures with a clear endpoint. And they were short.

It may take some patching together of freelance opportunities to make it work but you can avoid extroverted careers.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 11:01 AM on May 22, 2012

posted by yoyo_nyc at 12:51 PM on May 22, 2012

For some reason I can imagine you doing technical writing, or even technical or scientific illustration.

There are many entry-level roles in finance which aren't customer facing. And with a little training there are library, archivist and information technology jobs.
posted by inkypinky at 3:33 AM on May 23, 2012

I'm late to this thread, but wanted to add on to what Listener suggested by mentioning that you might look into scoping (it was mentioned in this thread:
posted by indognito at 6:06 AM on May 24, 2012

posted by indognito at 6:07 AM on May 24, 2012

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