Sometimes it is not easy for us introverts. Think of conferences. Think of the activity where you are asked to turn to your neighbour, look deep into their eyes and tell them what you think of them. This is an activity clearly designed by extraverts, which is what virtually all conference organisers are.
Most leaders are also extraverts – people who are people oriented, love company, are action oriented and are often unfailingly optimistic. These are great strengths, but we introverts have particular strengths as well. We can be very reflective, we can concentrate on fine detail for long periods, we are great at strategy, very good at providing considered and balanced perspectives, and we are more attractive and better dressed. OK, I made the last two up, but the rest is true.
There has been a revolution in our understanding of the value of introverts in recent years through the success of books such as “Quiet” (Cain, 2012) – a kind of herogram to introverts. One of my biggest concerns about inequality between introverts and extraverts relates a thing called the job interview. Many organisations use this device to select candidates, and so they should. The accuracy of interviews varies between about 12% and 25%, which doesn’t sound like much, but it’s not bad when you consider that the accuracy of reference checks is around 7% (Robertson and Smith, 2001).
The problem is how people interpret what they see in an interview. Most people want the interview to be engaging, or impressive. They judge them like a movie – did this person “perform” well. In fact interviews should be a process of trying to get the best possible information about what a person has done in the past. Then you should use that information to assess how likely it is that the person can do the job that you want them to do.
The simple fact is that extraverts perform way better in interviews. They are cheerful, confident and garrulous. Introverts are often reflective in their answers and may be confronted by going through a panel interview in front of up to five sets of eyes. Some decades ago two psychologists called Gough and Thorne undertook a very interesting experiment (Paulhus and Morgan, 1997). They asked interviewers to write down an estimate of the intelligence of the candidates they were interviewing. Afterwards they collated all the ratings from the interviewers and then compared them with the candidate’s actual psych test results. They found that the ratings of the interviewers did not correlate very well with the candidate’s IQ scores, they correlated better with the person’s extraversion scores. So, the more extraverted the person, the smarter the panel members thought they were. But they weren’t.
Look, everyone knows someone who is an excellent employee but a terrible interviewee. We also know people who are excellent interviewees and then awful employees. Something is not adding up here. I have two suggestions for you:
- Email the interview questions to everyone before you interview them. I have no idea why people feel it necessary to ambush candidates with interview questions they have never seen before. This helps the glib extravert, but disadvantages the thoughtful introvert who would come up with much better examples if they had time to think about it. There is no evidence that the pressure of an interview is even vaguely predictive of the capacity to cope with the pressure of a job so you can relax on that score. Are you worried about faking – people making situations up to help their candidacy? Simple, probe them about their answers – “how much of this was your work, who did you need to get permission from, what was the budget” etc. You will find out in a couple of minutes if the example is true or not.
- Psych test them. I have clients all the time who are surprised to find that a candidate who seemed great in interview has really low verbal reasoning. This stuff is very hard to judge from interview. And the introvert who presented as a little less forthcoming, isn’t it worthwhile to know that she is really smart and extremely conscientious? And the accuracy of psych testing? In excess of 50% if you are using the right instruments.
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Crown Publishers
Paulhus, D.L and Morgan, K.L. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Perceptions of Intelligence in Leaderless Groups:
The Dynamic Effects of Shyness and Acquaintance
1997, Vol. 72, No. 3, 581-591
Robertson, I. T. and Smith, M. (2001), Personnel selection. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 74: 441–472.