Why introverts struggle to promote themselves in job interviews

Rona Keller

My career coach, who was helping me make a career transition, spoke some words that nearly caused me to break into a cold sweat:

“The best jobs come from networking. Make a list of the people you know and then connect with them. You’ll need to clearly explain what you’re looking for and ask if they will let you know of any upcoming positions.”


She may as well have told me to walk naked into a room full of strangers. In fact, there was a part of me that almost preferred the naked option to the networking option.

If you’re an introvert like me, promoting yourself can be daunting. Like many introverts, I like to be in the background. It’s nice there. Yet, the funny thing is, I have no problem promoting others.


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So why is it so easy for me to promote someone else, yet when I think about promoting myself, I want the earth to open up and swallow me whole? For that answer, I turned to Kathleen Johnston, Career Strategist/Executive Coach, and the aforementioned career coach who caused my cold sweat.

When I asked Kathleen why it’s so easy for introverts to promote others but hard to promote themselves, she had this to say:

“Many introverts find self-promotion difficult because it requires them to talk about themselves, when their natural preference is to keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves. Introverts may be comfortable promoting others, because it does not involve sharing what feels personal or private. Instead, they’re providing an opinion about something outside of themselves.”

How introverts can become more comfortable with self-promotion

According to Kathleen, understanding yourself is one way to feel more comfortable promoting yourself:

“Ideally, both introverts and extroverts can create opportunities for confidence-building by being clear about their unique characteristics and strengths, understanding how work brings meaning to their lives, and then being very deliberate about how to make that happen.”


Much of what Kathleen had me do when I first started working with her was based on being intentional about what I was looking for, and in order for me to do that, I had to figure out what my strengths are.

I spent a lot of time reflecting on what I’m good at, what makes me productive and what drains my energy. Those exercises helped me package my strengths in a way that felt authentic, which ultimately has helped me feel more comfortable when I have to talk about myself.

Equally as important as knowing your strengths is knowing what kind of work environment provides the best fit. The right environment creates the most comfortable space for introverts to demonstrate their competencies at a standard of excellence that is self-evident, said Kathleen. This basically makes self-promotion unnecessary, which is the perfect situation for an introvert.

Truthfully, I had never given much thought to my ideal work environment, even though it’s been a standard question in every interview I’ve ever had. Prior to being intentional about how I like to work, I gave the standard answer of, “I really enjoy being part of a team,” and left it at that.

After giving some thought to how I prefer to work, I changed my answer to, “I do my best work when I am in an environment that allows me to have some time for reflection.”

I nervously used that answer for the first time in an interview last year and was stunned when one of the panel members responded by not only commending me for giving such a thoughtful answer, but also by telling her fellow panel members that she could relate as a fellow introvert. Talk about a huge confidence booster!




Plus, it also told me that my potential new employer understood introverts. Needless to say, I am no longer nervous about using that answer.

Finally, Kathleen recommends energizing yourself with necessary alone time before engaging in an activity that feels like self-promotion.

Taking the time to be clear about my strengths and the type of environment that suits me took a lot of reflective work and insight on my part, and support from my career coach was helpful. I’m happy to say all of that work paid off. I’m much more comfortable when I’m faced with having to promote myself now because I can do so in a way that feels a little more authentic.

Image credit: Rona Keller

Introverts, can you relate? Let me know in the comments below or post about it on the community forum. retina_favicon1

Read this: Introverts’ top three career challenges


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    9 Comments

    • dokwoods says:

      Which is why an introvert should coin a pen name. Use it as a third person.

    • Helen says:

      I can relate! Hate end year appraisals at work! The thought of having to put my yearly accomplishments on paper and justify them to my boss drains me. I always wonder if it isn’t a subtle form of torture and never put up a fight in defense of my performance when challenged.

    • hazeltrees says:

      I left a fairly well paid civil service call centre job two years ago because I was too afraid to ‘put myself out there’ – I was overlooked three times for promotion/sideways moves (on one occasion they ‘forgot’ to mention it to me) that I knew I would have been good at and would got me away from the constant telephone calls with the general public that filled me with fear every single day.

      Instead, the positions went each time to people who were part of the ‘team’, the big personalities who loved to take part in every team building event (that I avoided like the plague), the ‘bubbly’ personalities that everyone listened to, the ones who always had something to say. I hated being a Team Member, I was so used to being a lone worker in the past, and the strict schedule meant there wasn’t time to reflect on the last phone call, to consider how it had gone – BEEP, the next call was waiting before I’d even put down my pen.

      My manager didn’t seem to realise that I was an introvert, a highly sensitive person, and (like Helen, above) I was incapable of defending myself when critisised, instead taking the comments to heart and mind, and dwelling on them for weeks until I was convinced I was incapable of doing the job.

      I was too afraid and insecure to question why I hadn’t been picked or to promote my worth in any way. I felt like a piece of office furniture and I’d go home at night and cry until bedtime, then go back for more the next day. When six monthly appraisals came around I found it almost impossible to talk about my strengths, concentrating instead on my failings, things I needed to improve on.

      I took a mindfulness course, I volunteered for charity and social events at work, I listened to confidence CDs, I tried what I could to change, but after a long, long time, it dawned on me that I *wasn’t* the wrong person for the job, it was The Wrong Job For Me. As simple as that.

      After two years, I left. It was sudden and inexplicable – I woke up one morning, talked to my fiance about it (luckily money wasn’t an immediate issue), and wrote The Letter. One month later, I walked free from the office knowing that no amount of mindfulness or volunteering would change the fact that I was in a draining, exhausting environment that needed me to be forward, decisive and above all, self-confident.

      Even having the strength to leave that job was a huge confidence booster for me – I didn’t feel like I was running away, instead I felt like I was freeing myself from the mental torture of having to pretend to be someone I really wasn’t.

      Now I work on my two vegetable allotment. Huge wide open spaces, the freedom to come and go as I please, answerable only to the weather. And if plants fail and don’t grow, I know that it wasn’t something I did, it’s just ‘one of those things’ and I learn from it. I’ve had a year of successes and it’s done wonders for my confidence, and now I actually get people asking me for growing advice – asking ME! of all people!

      Looking back on the short essay (sorry!) that I’ve just written, it’s made me realise something else about myself – I have the confidence to talk about myself from behind a keyboard. If I had to verbally explain these things to someone….I’d be a nervous wreck!

      • Mandy says:

        That’s a very inspiring story. I’ve begun to reconsider some of the roles I’ve taken on that make me constantly feel anxious because of the emphasis on constantly interacting with people. Thank you for sharing.

      • Luis Perez says:

        Awesome story, wow, thank for sharing.

    • chloe says:

      what advise would you give to some one who cannot to save their life do presentations in front of 2 people.

      people always tell me that to overcome a fear you should face the fear. but i’ve had so many occasions where i’ve had to to presentations and everytime i mess it up. by body starts to shake, i loose control over my nerves and my head remains facing the paper in my hand. after the presentation i am unable to face anyone and always run outside.

      nor does it matter how many days i spend practicing the presentation i can NEVER confidently present it.

      i’ve never really met anyone like me who so nervous and lacks the confidence to do public speaking. i’ve met alot of other introverts but they all seen really confident and can always clearly explain and put their idea forward. whereas i find it a task to explain myself especially during interviews.

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