Interviewing tips for introverts?
August 21, 2005 3:40 PM   Subscribe

How can I, an introvert, learn how to perform better in job interviews?

My problem is not so much being nervous (although there's a bit of that) but of having trouble connecting with the interviewer. I know I've lost out on jobs in the past because I haven't seemed "outgoing" enough on the interview. Sometimes I do ok if I hit a groove, but other times I feel myself disassociating and have a hard time staying focused, feel like I'm looking out of the wrong end of a telescope. I am very often told that I seem "reserved" or "quiet," but I feel kind of ...clownlike... if I try to force myself to be more chatty and emotive in interviews. (Although, like many introverts, I can be assertive and communicative when I'm with people I know well.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
On a long term basis, consider something like Toastmasters which teaches communication skills in general and also offers opportunities to practice connecting and conversation.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:50 PM on August 21, 2005

I used to have this problem a little. The thing that worked for me is that I had someone actually videotape a mock interview with me. As soon as I watched the tape, I knew exactly what was wrong, even though I had been told before without really internalizing the problem.
posted by grouse at 3:50 PM on August 21, 2005

Oh my gosh, watching a tape of myself at a mock interview sounds like death.

I know what you mean about feeling "clownlike" even though I don't consider myself an introvert. I think the biggest part about interviews is remembering that you have to put on an act somewhat. Even if it's not exactly who you are, it's just something that often needs to be done. Don't worry so much about being yourself, but rather what the interviewer wants you to be. You can practice this with other people who can give you tips.

Also - be sure to smile a lot, nod while they are talking or asking you questions, and make good eye contact. Show them that you are a warm and friendly person.

It's also nice to know that sometimes you will hit a groove, but other times the rapport just might not be there and there's not a whole lot you can do about it. Don't fret too much if it happens from time to time.
posted by jetskiaccidents at 3:58 PM on August 21, 2005

I don't think that there's a magic bullet that will help. If you can put yourself in social situations where you don't know any or most of the people involved, however, practice being open an engaging in those settings, and it will carry over into your interviews. I second the idea of Toastmasters - this is a long term issue that you'll have to work fairly hard to overcome.
posted by awesomebrad at 4:01 PM on August 21, 2005

Practice, practice, practice. Apply for jobs and go to interviews even when you don't need a new job -- there's no pressure that way.

Also, take some acting lessons, or at least make an effort to pick up some basic techniques. Learn upper-class behavioral markers. John Molloy conducted an experiment where he sent actors (with high-socioecomic status markers) into interviews for jobs they were terribly unqualified for, and many of them got offers.
posted by kindall at 4:10 PM on August 21, 2005

Great question. I'm an introvert, and in my consulting business I interview people a great deal (I'm involved in contextual user research).

Practice, man, practice.

Introverts do better in "extroverted" situations when there is a role that gives some parameters to follow. You're almost acting as Joe, The Job Seeker, as less as yourself.

The more you interivew, the more you are comfortable with the "material" - discussing yourself, your background, your experience, your goals, your interests in this company, etc. Getting your story down, so you can revisit it easily. Not recite it, but just talk about all that stuff with comfort and ease.

I would look for other everyday life situations that can be possible practices for you. Chat with the checkout clerk at the drugstore - if you can turn the transaction into a one-round back and forth on a social something or other, you have exercised some great control over a dynamic, being just slightly more outgoing than normal.
"How's business today?" or "I can't believe how busy it is in here."

Don't be hard on yourself - recognizing what makes you tick as an introvert is a huge step. The Introvert Advantage might be helpful (I haven't read it). And give yourself time to chill before and after an interview; it takes energy to perform in these settings. Good luck!
posted by stevil at 4:12 PM on August 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

This is going to sound weird, but pretend you're not shy. This is what I do and it works.
posted by elisabeth r at 4:17 PM on August 21, 2005

Oh my gosh, watching a tape of myself at a mock interview sounds like death.

Great motivation for improving it.
posted by grouse at 4:29 PM on August 21, 2005

I second grouse's mock interview on video. If gone over by a half-decent HR type with you, you'll be able to see problems, and fix them fairly easily.

I can massively recommend the quite small book The Perfect Interview, by Max Eggert. It has two key things that can help introverts: it teaches basic awareness of body language (something we Type I's don't often notice), and instructs you in having a mini sales pitch that you somehow have to work into. Yes, it might appear a little cheesy, but you need all the props you can get in an interview.

I've been interviewed a good number of times, and can generally pick and choose which jobs I want out of them. I used to hire people (and was also a union negotiator), and if more people used Eggert's book, we wouldn't waste so much time interviewing disappointing candidates.

I don't necessarily recommend The Introvert Advantage. I've read it, and it could be summed up as "I for one welcome our new introverted overlords (if only they'd stop staring at their shoes)".

Oh, and elisabeth r's not-shy trick works, too. One thing, though; it will wear you out, so if you need to keep it up over a multiple interview session, try to find a quiet place to recharge in between the acts. It gets easier with time.
posted by scruss at 4:48 PM on August 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

Not to derail, but kindall, what do you mean by "upper-class behavioral markers"? Where does one pick them up? Or do you gain them from going to upper-class schools and colleges or having the right family? Google turns up little to nothing.
posted by Lycaste at 7:39 PM on August 21, 2005

I can massively recommend the quite small book The Perfect Interview, by Max Eggert

Is that the same book as this book?
posted by gyc at 7:55 PM on August 21, 2005

Take an acting class. One of the first things you learn in acting is to play an objective - that is, figure out what you want from the other person, and that becomes the energy that drives your scene. You'll be amazed at the difference having an objective makes when you watch other people do scenes in the class. Suddenly people look directed, focused, alive!

When you're interviewing have your objective be that you want the other person to hire you.
posted by jasper411 at 8:50 PM on August 21, 2005

kindall, what do you mean by "upper-class behavioral markers"?

What you want is John Molloy's excellent book Live for Success, which was required reading for a speech class I took at a community college. Molloy actually researched all that stuff and shows you the difference between how a working-class guy (say) relaxes in a chair and how an upper-class man does the same thing. It's a bit dated now, but it still hits the bullseye in a lot of ways.
posted by kindall at 10:55 PM on August 21, 2005

gyc: no, it's this book. There's also a compendium of three of his Perfect books in one -- I think it has the cheesy title of The Best Jobhunt Book in the World, or somesuch.
posted by scruss at 7:35 AM on August 22, 2005

Acting yes, perhaps an improv class, specifically, it's really about learning collaboration and being in the moment, learning to trust yourself and trust others (in terms of acting, not as in fixing some horrible deficit in your self-esteem or something).
posted by stevil at 7:55 AM on August 22, 2005

How you interview depends a lot on the interviewer. In general, there are two classes of people interviewing you:
1) Someone from HR
2) The hiring manager and their peers

For the HR group, the number one thing is BE HONEST. They have to spend a lot of time and money doing background checks and the like to make sure you're telling them the truth. Lying at this stage is always much, much worse than spilling your guts. If you lie, you won't get the job. End of story.

Also, HR people are trained to interview. Be confident, use good posture, and maintain lots of eye contact. In short, appear normal because they're really just looking to screen you. As long as you don't set off any red flags, then you should be okay.

Now, for the hiring manager types, they are not trained to interview. Most likely, they will not be as objective as the HR group. One tidbit I've heard is that they will decide if they like you in the first 3-5 mins and the rest of the interview is just your chance to blow it.

So, the strategy is then just to make a good first impression. The number one thing you need to do is explain what you can do for the manager. The company has a need and you need to be able to explain how you fit that need. Work out your answer (practice it if you need to) before you go the interview. The rest of the interview, follow the manager's lead and just try to fit in. Emulate their body posture.

Lastly, my experience is that you either get along with your manager or you won't. No technique in the world is going to change that. If you don't get along with the manager, seriously consider whether you would want to work for that person. You will have to deal with this person everyday. The interview is a two way street, so use that time to evaluate whether you would be happy working at the company. Feel free to ask questions about daily life in the company. Now is the time for those questions, and not after you've been hired.
posted by Sasquatch at 8:19 AM on August 22, 2005

To more address your original question, my opinion is that you shouldn't act during the interview. If the position requires you to be outgoing and bubbly, but you (as an introvert) are not comfortable being that way all the time, then are you going to be happy in the job? Would the manager be making the right decision in hiring you?

The answer is probably no. There's nothing wrong with you or the job, there just is not a good fit between the two.

The key for you is to answer every question you are asked completely, then come prepared with questions to ask the manager. You don't have to fill all the interview time with questions the manager asks you. Almost every manager will ask if you have any questions. Use that opportunity. Even if you didn't seem talkative during your answers, the fact that you are prepared and showing interest in the job will put you well ahead of the people who are chewing the manager's ear off and blowing a lot of smoke up his/her ass.

Lastly, if you want to go further, the site Interview Mastery is an outstanding resource. Its not free, but it will walk you through every little tidbit of the interview and tell you what you should be doing.

I also agree that videotaping, although painful, is very effective to get rid of all your annoying ticks (umm, ahhs, leg twitching, etc..).
posted by Sasquatch at 8:30 AM on August 22, 2005

As an introvert, for me the idea of "acting" a role has always been the most difficult part of interacting with people.

What worked for me was remembering that the people in front of me are just people. I try to talk to them as people, who are sometimes trying to play their own roles. It's a lot easier and more natural to have a good conversation between people than to create a convincing role. And if you can't have a natural conversation with them, maybe you don't want to work there.
posted by fuzz at 8:59 AM on August 22, 2005

what do you mean by "upper-class behavioral markers"?

One I know is:

lower-class people say "Huh?"
middle-class say "What?" and
upper-class say "Pardon Me?"
posted by Rash at 11:06 AM on August 22, 2005

"Introverts do better in 'extroverted' situations when there is a role that gives some parameters to follow. You're almost acting as Joe, The Job Seeker, as less as yourself."

That is so, so right. I'm a reporter and an introvert, and lots of journalists are introverts. Yet most of us have little trouble calling people or knocking on doors, even to interview relatives of murder victims. It's because we're assuming the role of reporter. We're being our genuine selves, we're not acting, but the role releases us from shyness.

If you're truly introverted, do try to schedule some downtime, even if it means excusing yourself to sit alone in the bathroom for five minutes. It feels horrible, when you're an introvert, to arrive at an office in the morning, go through interviews with one or two people, get introduced to a bunch of people, and then be taken to lunch. An extrovert would feed off that and would feel energetic in the early afternoon. An introvert would feel like he or she had just run a marathon.
posted by Holden at 8:58 AM on August 23, 2005

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