Recruiting Introverts: Why You Might Be Losing Some Of Your Best Candidates

A few years ago, I watched Susan Cain’s Ted Talk “The Power of Introverts” and had one of those rare moments in life where everything suddenly made sense.

Wait…. what? I'm completely normal and just an introvert?

It’s hard to believe I never knew this about myself. The signs were always there: I love to connect 1:1 or in small groups, but dread networking events and ice breakers (just writing those two words raised my blood pressure). I play a lot of video games (alone). I prefer to stay behind the scenes and out of the spotlight. And most telling, I recharge by spending time alone.  I just needed a little education to understand what all of these things meant. Thanks, Susan!

After watching Susan’s Ted Talk, and reading the many subsequent articles about this topic, I am clearly not the only person who felt their introverted tendencies meant something was wrong with them. 

This is because our worlds (and our workplaces) are largely designed around those who need and want a lot of social interaction.

Our recruiting processes and decisions also favor extroverts and it’s not hard to see why. Extroverts are more expressive, boisterous, and easily form connections with others. And our processes are narrowly tailored towards looking at people through the lens of how well they express themselves verbally under time pressure. Given that introverts generally prefer time to think before speaking, this can present quite a disadvantage. 

Yet, a third to half of the population are introverts and according to many studies, teams perform best when there is a balance of both introverted and extroverted members. In addition, whether a leader is introverted or extroverted can impact leadership effectiveness depending upon the type of team that is being led.  

This HBR article says it best:  

Team leaders who are extroverted can be highly effective leaders when the members of their team are dutiful followers looking for guidance from above. Extroverts bring the vision, assertiveness, energy, and networks necessary to give them direction.

By contrast, when team members are proactive — and take the initiative to introduce changes, champion new visions, and promote better strategies — it is introverted leaders who have the advantage.

Let's walk through some ways to fix this.

1. Commit to learning about introverts. 

We are in the people business. It’s imperative that we not only understand the job and company we’re selling but also the complex nuances of the people we are recruiting. For instance, did you know that being introverted is not the same as being shy? Both introverts and extroverts are shy in equal numbers.  

There are a lot of great resources out there about introverts, including Susan Cain’s website, Quiet Revolution. The more we understand about introverts, the more we can recognize this personality trait in candidates and adjust our recruiting process accordingly.

2. Adjust the way you interview candidates.

We spend a lot of time during the interview process asking our candidates impromptu questions either on the phone or in person under time pressure. What exactly does this assess? How well a person answers impromptu questions verbally. 

Yes, this is helpful in understanding how well a candidate thinks on their feet. But this is only one aspect of a candidate that can help determine whether they are going to be great on the job. 

What about assessing how well a candidate prepares for meetings? How well a candidate takes several pieces of information and can clearly articulate their perspective after some thought? How well a candidate expresses themselves in writing?

These are often strengths that introverts bring to the table that are overlooked in the interview process. Here are some suggestions on how to assess these:

  • Before an in-person interview, send some of their questions to them in advance. This helps level the playing field between those who prefer to process before responding (introvert) and those who don’t (extrovert). 
  • Send some questions in writing and ask for a written response. This shows how well a candidate expresses themselves in writing vs. just verbally. Some introverts are much better at articulating thoughts and expressing personality in writing.
  • Ask a candidate to do some research on a topic and do a short presentation on it. This helps assess how well a candidate can organize their thoughts around a subject and present it in a meaningful way. Introverts often don’t love to talk about themselves but can really shine when talking about a topic they are passionate about. 

These tips can help an introvert show off their strengths in the interview process and lead to better, more informed hiring decisions.

As for creating a work environment where both introverts and extroverts can thrive, that’s a post for another day...