Job Searching for Introverts

Extroverts might appear to have it easy when it comes to career-building. Many steps in the process – from networking to interviewing to requesting a promotion or a raise – seem to come naturally for high-energy, outgoing people. But for those of us who aren’t as extroverted, these steps can sometimes feel like major challenges – or just plain annoyances. After all, if your work is just as high-quality as that of your more social colleagues, why should it matter whether you can charm a room of strangers on cue?

It may not matter much in a job you’ve held for years – but as you approach new employers, you’ll need ways to turn your introversion to your advantage. So here, career experts share their job-hunting advice for those of us toward the less-outgoing end of the spectrum.

Prepare properly

Although there’s no substitute for a firm handshake and a smile, you can start laying groundwork now to ensure that interviewers take notice of your professionalism. A polished resume – along with some well-organized profiles on social networking sites – can send the clear message that you’re accomplished and hardworking, no matter how little you like to brag in person.

“Get some feedback on your résumé from a trusted colleague or a resume professional,” says Michelle Waguespack of Career Planning Services, LLC. “A well prepared résumé can help you feel more comfortable throughout the job search process – and it’ll help you identify your career goals more clearly.” It’ll also give you and your interviewers some ready-made talking points, which can help smooth those in-person conversations.

The same goes for your LinkedIn profile, as well as your professional (i.e., non-personal) info on any other social networking sites you use. A growing number of employers scout out applicants’ social-network profiles early-on in the recruitment process, whether those applicants volunteer the info or not; so save yourself the worry and make sure your future bosses will like what they find – or at least what they’re allowed to see.

If these steps seem a little stressful, keep in mind that they’ll save you from much bigger stress down the road. Plus, it’ll make the next two steps even easier.

Network intelligently

The word “networking” tends to get thrown around a lot in job-searching contexts, and people aren’t always clear about what exactly they mean by it. Shaking hundreds of strangers’ hands in a packed room isn’t necessarily likely to land you an interview – and if you’re not the outgoing type, that probably sounds like an unpleasant way to spend an afternoon anyway. The good news is, being selective in your networking will actually save you a lot of time and energy.

“Start small,” Waguespack says. “Begin with the people you trust, in your circle of influence – family, friends, and close neighbors.” You may be surprised to find that someone in your inner circle knows of an opportunity that’d be ideal for you. But even if not, this initial round of networking will get you in practice.

If you happen to attend a tradeshow or conference in your industry, make a point of sitting with more outgoing people and joining in the conversations they start. Ask them what they’d do in your place – and take careful note of any tips they offer you. And at the end of the day, don’t forget to give yourself a little reward for stepping outside of your comfort zone.

In-person networking isn’t the end-all, though. Joining Facebook and LinkedIn groups relevant to your industry can connect you with people you’d never have met otherwise – without the high pressure of face-to-face conversations. Don’t ignore your email contacts list, either. Take all the time you need to type up an email requesting advice or information, and fire it off to professionals in your contacts, whether you know them well or not. You’ll be surprised at how many responses you get.

The bottom line is to keep your network growing, even if the pace seems slow. “Set goals to add a certain amount of connections a week, and stick to them,” Waguespack says. “Wherever you go, always keep making new contacts.”

Interview clearly

Once you’ve landed an actual interview, the pressure to appear outgoing can feel like it’s ramping up even more. The truth is, though, that you’ll be doing yourself a favor by simply being authentic and letting interviewers see who you really are.

“The most important thing, in the long run, is the fit between your personality and the company culture,” says Bill Cole, CEO of Cole Consultants. “Even if you successfully cover up your introversion in the interview, you may eventually be discovered to be a poor fit once on the job. So be true to yourself.” You might not land the job you think you want now – but you’re much more likely to land a position you’ll enjoy.

By the same token, you can boost your popularity in any round of interviews by speaking clearly and honestly. “Tell the interviewer how you feel and what you are thinking,” Cole says. “Don’t make them guess.” You may not have a forceful personality, but you can make up for that by being articulate about how your skills will help the company. “The extrovert may be talking about themselves and their record,” Cole explains, “but you, the introvert, will be talking about what you can do for the firm – and that wins almost every time.”

Even if you’re not a typical leader, it’s easy to reframe your introverted qualities as strengths. “Instead of portraying yourself as non-social, describe yourself as a team player who’s also comfortable working independently,” Cole says. Instead of saying you hesitate to speak up in meetings, tell the interviewer you prefer to think before you speak. Instead of saying you let others do most of the talking, say you’re an excellent listener. And so on. You may find that your less-outgoing qualities are exactly the ones an employer has been searching for.

Any major life change – whether career-related or otherwise – involves taking some steps outside your comfort zone. What’s important to remember is that extroverts face challenges of their own – and by facing the challenges that are unique to your situation, you’re honing skills that’ll serve you throughout your life. “As an introvert, you have many unique strengths that extroverts can only dream of,” Cole says, “from staying intensely focused on a project to simply knowing when to keep your mouth shut.” So as you hunt for that next job, make sure you leverage those strengths at every opportunity.

Ben Thomas, a member of the Riley Guide writing team, is an expert on many topics related to the job hunt. You can follow Ben on Google+.