Suitable jobs for the introverted?
November 10, 2006 7:43 AM   Subscribe

What careers would suit an introverted but intelligent person? I am working through several careers books but have difficulties settling on careers to research further. I have social anxiety as do most of my friends (met through self help sites) and we are mostly in the same boat. Everyone seems to be looking for extroverted types, where do we introverts succeed?

I did a degree in marketing and got good grades but don't really feel I have the visual thinking or creative flair to do well in that field (although I could do a relatively junior post perhaps). Sad to say but I was better at writing essays about marketing than I was about doing it in the real world. However I have been working in marketing and admin posts for a few years until I had to give up my job due to bipolar disorder in April 2005. I was best at working with words and communicating in writing, and had basic skills with web page and Microsoft software but not anything special.

Since I have been out of work for a while I want to pick a career that will suit my introverted and shy personality. I looked up human resources but think the side of me that avoids confrontations would be stressing with dealing with disciplinary and grievance sides of things. My other socially anxious friends tend to be either unemployed or on incapacity benefit or underemployed in a McJob (to avoid interpersonal conflict or even things like answering phones), so SA is definitely an issue that can make or break careers. I definitely feel I am behind my peers in career because of SA, my not having an aptitude for the practicalities of marketing but pursuing it for a long time anyway and also my depression which is now being treated.

Is there anyone out in the green who is very shy but also enjoying their career, or has an SA friend whose personality is a good fit for their career? I should also add that my interests so far tend to have been in basic internet, writing e-newsletters or press releases, or progress reports and suggestions for clients. I feel I have more of a feel for things like communications or social science and don't have an aptitude for maths or computer science. I am going to research several careers before I choose one, and will share any ideas MeFites have with the people at the social anxiety site I frequent since several of us are in the same boat.
posted by AuroraSky to Work & Money (28 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Have you thought about a technical field like electrical engineering or computer science?
I am an electrical engineer doing chip design work and in some of my big company jobs, an entire day could go by without talking to a single person. I am not a particularly shy person, but I have many colleagues who are.
Another bonus for technical jobs - a lot of them let you telecommute, so you can be at home and avoid people there.
posted by j at 7:52 AM on November 10, 2006

I second the computer job suggestion. I have a job in computers right now, and I only have to talk to a very small subset of people around me. And even that is optional. Most people stay in their cubes most the day venturing out only for food and coffee.

I am in software testing (at least for the rest of today, new job monday!). I think it would be easier to get into than something like programming if you don't have a technical degree. It still pays well, and can be fun breaking things.

Key attributes for testing are Logical Thinking, Organization, and Creativity.

Good luck on your career.
posted by cschneid at 8:02 AM on November 10, 2006

I'm sorry that I can't help with what you should do, but I can emphatically tell you that human resources is what you should not do. And that is simply based on the "human" aspect of the job -- let alone the "conflict" aspect (which is often a big part of any HR job).
posted by pardonyou? at 8:08 AM on November 10, 2006

I'm pretty extroverted myself but my workplace is one of the most introverted places. Drives me mad sometimes but I get the feeling you would love it! We are a web development firm.

So I would third the suggestion to make your vocation computers. Good luck!
posted by twistedonion at 8:09 AM on November 10, 2006

There are no careers where you don't have to deal with other people. Engineers can easily end up answering support calls, librarians deal with borrowers, and everyone has to suffer team building exercises.

In fact, programmer's get on far better careerwise when they can network and do all that political, social stuff.

Personally, I find that my capacity to deal with stress is something like a muscle - the less stress I deal with, the less I'm capable of dealing with. For example if you spend some time answering support calls, the first week might be rough but I'd bet answering the phone wouldn't be an issue at the end of week three. So I guess my advice, really, is to stretch your comfort zone a bit, and go get a job. Any job. When you've done it a couple of months, getting a better job might not seem such a big deal.

Now for the bit where I sound insensitive:

By hanging out exclusively with people just like yourself, aren't you reinforcing each other's behaviour? Sitting around telling each other how hard it is out there? Maybe it would help to get away from that environment for a while. Took an evening class or something.
posted by Leon at 8:15 AM on November 10, 2006

You could join the librarian posse. While reference librarians have a lot of contact with the public, you might look into working as a cataloging or acquisitions librarian, or perhaps collection development.
posted by rikhei at 8:16 AM on November 10, 2006

What about marketing research? There is an entire discipline within marketing/advertising which deals with analyzing trends and data gathered from studies, reports, return on investment, etc etc. Someone needs to do the numbers work and analyzing to show why or why not a marketing or advertising campaign is successful and how to leverage trends within that data. This is not something that requires face time - it is analytical. You might enjoy it as it's focused on your background but doesn't come with all the glad-handing and dick swiging that goes with the sales side.
posted by spicynuts at 8:17 AM on November 10, 2006 [2 favorites]

If you find that your social anxiety is interfering with your life, then it could be more than shyness, and you should consider talking to a psychologist or a counsellor. Paxil has successfully treated people with social anxiety disorder, and you may find that after treatment, more prefereable choices open up to you. But you should really see someone. If you are working your career choices around anxiety, then then it is probably "too much",and you don't have to live that way.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:20 AM on November 10, 2006

Ooops, the site changed. Paxil is now here.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:21 AM on November 10, 2006

I'd say contract/freelance programming or writing.
posted by jpep at 9:07 AM on November 10, 2006

Yeah, I'll second rikhei. I was going to say to look into library school for cataloging.

But I also agree with those that say the more you cater to your anxieties, the more anxious you'll become.
posted by MsMolly at 9:08 AM on November 10, 2006

I second the 'become a librarian' comments (providing you like books!) but I think there's another question:

Are you happy being introverted?

If the answer is yes then stop reading here.

If not, seriously consider Cognitive Behavioural Therapy; it changed my life. Also, if you're not happy being introverted then get a job that requires you to have a great deal of contact with people where you are in a superior position - I was a barman for three years and it was an enormous benefit to me.

I'm happy to discuss this further: my e-mail address is in my profile.
posted by alby at 9:20 AM on November 10, 2006

Careers for Introverts & Other Solitary Types by Blythe Camenson.

I borrowed this book from the library and it gave a nice overview of types of jobs that might be a good fit for your personality type. I already work with computers but this book confirmed my suspicion that I may be better off working for myself rather than dealing with an office environment.

I'm printing up my business cards as I type this. :-)
posted by dgeiser13 at 9:52 AM on November 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

You're probably a lot more adaptable then you perceive yourself to be. If in fact you do end up in a job dealing with many people on a daily basis you'll be amazed at how routine it does in fact become by the end of week three. I've been a reference librarian and helping to make a direct impact on helping people find the information they need to live better lives can be incredibly satisfying and I've also been a solitary knowledge worker at a high tech Co. and that was cool too. It's great to not deal with people of work politics (which is the real killer), but then again you get sort of complacent without having someone challenge you a bit.

So the library (non-reference) or the computer field with you...or get thee to a nunnery (or a monastery).
posted by Skygazer at 10:08 AM on November 10, 2006

Or start a business...
posted by Skygazer at 10:09 AM on November 10, 2006

Creative work usually requires lots of time spent alone, but you have to eventually communicate with people to sell your work.

If you can handle talking to people on the phone occasionally, then pet sitting might be good for you.
posted by amtho at 10:31 AM on November 10, 2006

Also, I believe forestry involves lots of time alone.
posted by amtho at 10:31 AM on November 10, 2006

The customer reviews for the book recommended by dgeiser13 had some potentially interesting information, though the most information-packed one was a little difficult to read as it was just one very long paragraph.
posted by amtho at 10:39 AM on November 10, 2006

Copyediting or proofreading. Once you attain adequate expertise, you really don't need to talk to anyone all day. At least that's how it was when I was doing it. And you needn't communicate with writers either, except through notes and queries on manuscripts. You might have to talk to editors and your chief copy editor but that's about it. Pretty much the same thing goes for proofreading. In large cities there are plenty of graveyard-shift legal and financial proofreading jobs available, I'm sure.
posted by scratch at 10:53 AM on November 10, 2006

Just an FYI:

Introverted does not equal shy

It is possible to be introverted and not be shy and have social anxiety. You can be confident and comfortable dealing with people and still be intorverted. You're best bet is to solve your shyness and social anxiety problem through some treatment as suggested above. You need to interact with people whether you like it or not. I personally hate it but I know I need to do it because otherwise I would interact with no one at all and in the long run that would cause major problems. We all need somebody sometime.
posted by Justin Case at 11:10 AM on November 10, 2006

Seconding copy editing and proofreading.
posted by scody at 11:43 AM on November 10, 2006

My last two years as an accountant for a property management firm was about as solitary as I could have hoped for. I talked on the phone for no more than 20 minutes per day. My office mates, all accountants, and I chatted when we felt we needed to come up for air but there were many days when I would only say 'Good Morning' and 'Godbye' to them. Almost all correspondance with everyone else in the company was via email. All in all I probably verbally communicated for 30 minutes per day (unless I was feeling talkative) and the rest of the time was spent crunching numbers.

Accounting can vary quite widely in this respect depending on the industry and type of accounting you do, but we are considered withdrawn nerds for a good reason.
posted by iurodivii at 11:50 AM on November 10, 2006

Leon is wrong. There is a job that you can do alone and not have to deal with another human being.

Become a trader for your own account. You can trade from home and make a lot of money. You come and go as you please and never have to talk to anyone.

Check out Bright Trading or try Elite Trader which is a forum for traders. Bright will train you and give you financing. I know that Schonfeld Tradings's Opus division also trains and backs traders.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:17 PM on November 10, 2006 [2 favorites]

Just to add to the library posse - I've found that my particular brand of introverted means that I don't like to approach people or talk to big groups, but I enjoy talking to individuals who approach me. So having a job where people come to you for help (like reference librarian or, in my case, study abroad advisor) may be the kind of thing you're looking for, depending on your own personal tastes.

I still have to do some public speaking, but I find it important to put myself out of my comfort zone from time to time!
posted by srah at 1:46 PM on November 10, 2006

Could by username possibly be any more fitted for this question? Ok... anyway...

I'm hugely introverted (but NOT shy at all) and find that being a librarian is ideal for me. But, only in tech services, *not* in Reference or Public Services.

Check out the book Do What You Are : Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger for lots more ideas and ways to make your introversion into a plus for your career.
posted by INTPLibrarian at 2:00 PM on November 10, 2006

i agree with dgeiser. i have always been very good at my jobs, but never seemed to feel comfortable, and i always used to make others uncomfortable. my SA cost me several jobs and many lonely nights thinking about how such an introverted person like me could make it in this world.

i think that perhaps the reasons i felt uncomfortable was simply being under someone's eye, having to follow their rules, and not feeling as if my work was important.

to work for yourself is very empowering. though extremely difficult to be successful at (i think 95% of small businesses fail) , it is a challenge that has changed me as a person. i've become less introverted, i have a feeling i'll begin to make money some day, and i am finally doing something with a little bit of confidence and passion.

this might not be a good solution for you. a good business idea takes awhile to find and even longer to actualize into money. but if you can do something like this it might be the best solution to not only your career, but also your SA.

good luck!
posted by localhuman at 3:35 PM on November 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Another voice to the library chorus here. But more specifically I'd say work in archives. Every university seems to have an archive in the basement of their library.
posted by zoinks at 3:39 PM on November 10, 2006

Localhuman seems to be thinking similar to what I am. Don't put SOO much importance on your personality as in finding something that you really LOVE to do. Dealing with people IS part of any job, of course some more than others. Another book I heard mentioned, but have only glanced at, is 48 Days To The Work You Love. Good luck.
posted by JamesMessick at 9:49 AM on November 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

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