Job interviews used to be my worst nightmare as an introvert. Now, I approach them with more confidence and ease.
Suddenly, I find myself under harsh, overhead lighting, spotlighting my hard-backed chair. I shift uncomfortably, my sweaty palms seeking a place on my shaky legs. I silently remind myself not to cross my arms over my chest — a bad move. Then, from across the seemingly endless oblong table, I see a face holding a silver ballpoint pen, a magic wand poised to determine my fate.
And my mind goes blank.
In one particular interview, I knew I had failed after the first question. Attempting redemption, I mustered all my courage and, just before leaving, turned and admitted with complete honesty that I’m “not the best interviewer.” My plea, initially authentic, quickly became desperate: I have the passion and drive to be a valuable asset to your team, if only given the chance to show who I am beyond the interview… As expected, I received sympathetic nods and was kindly escorted to the door.
Yes, this theme is common in my life, a trait prevalent among us introverts — we need time to respond. My epiphanies often come just after my turn is over and the moment has passed.
This is the stuff of nightmares, especially for us introverts. Until recently, I thought it was just me, that I was inherently bad at interviewing. For years, this has been my greatest struggle as an introvert.
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The Job Interview Stood in My Way
As a teacher, I have always been confident in my skills in the classroom. In the years after college graduation, I secured temporary positions covering one maternity leave after another. However, I landed these roles through informal networking and substituting within the buildings, not by interviewing for them.
These classrooms never truly felt like mine. It was as if I were playing dress-up, acting out a role while dreaming in front of a mirror. One thing consistently stood between me and my goal of becoming a “real” teacher: the interview.
What I can say is this: When I’m passionate about something, I give it my all, a strength of my introverted nature. I wish I could show these interviewers, rather than just tell them, a piece of my heart and soul — a glimpse of the world through my eyes.
Until then, these are some common job interview challenges I’ve encountered as an introvert, and how I learned to feel more comfortable doing them.
Common Job Interview Challenges for Introverts
1. Answering Vague, Open-Ended Questions
“Tell me about yourself” is arguably the most common interview question, and some people answer it with ease. Yet, as an introvert, I always found it confusing and challenging.
The idea of promoting myself, highlighting what I believe they want to know, and sifting through the most important parts of my life? No, thanks. How can I possibly condense all that I am into a brief window?
So, I end up feeling like I’m presenting a diluted, superficial version of myself. What I do excel at is internalizing any criticism received and replaying the scenarios in my head. It seems overthinking is part of being an introvert, right?
What I Learned
Now, as I face this question, I focus on aspects of myself that I previously undervalued. Being extremely self-reflective, dedicated to personal development, sensitive, and empathetic are some of my best qualities. Observation and active listening are crucial in any career, especially in teaching. And, as it turns out, these attributes are a significant part of who I am as an introvert!
Here are some more things to keep in mind when answering this question:
- When interviewers say, “Tell me about yourself,” what they’re really saying is, “Tell me what brought you to apply for this job, your main qualifications that make you stand out, and perhaps include something that showcases your personality.” But that’s obviously too much to say, so they fall back on this short statement.
- Answer this question by focusing on your professional background relevant to the position, your motivation for applying, your top qualifications for the role, and what interests you about the company. For example, you might say, “I have five years of experience in digital marketing, which matches what you’re looking for. In my last job, I helped increase the website’s visitors by 40%, showing I can get good results. I’m excited about this job because your company is known for being innovative and caring about its employees’ growth, and I really value those things.”
- Keep your answer concise, ideally around 30 seconds or less.
2. Getting Too Caught Up in the Details
As an educator, most interviews inquire about what a typical lesson plan would look like. Before I can even speak, I find myself internally debating which subject to use as an example and how to lay out the entire lesson.
But just because my response is delayed doesn’t mean I lack an answer.
However, when I do start to speak, I often fumble over my words, a trait common among introverts. Sometimes, I stop mid-sentence to analyze what I’ve said, wondering if I’ve strayed too far from the original question.
What I Learned
What I once saw as a flaw is actually one of my greatest gifts. It allows me to see the world intensely and vibrantly. I’ve learned to embrace this gift and find beauty in the details… albeit more succinctly these days.
While attention to detail is my strength, striving for perfection and second-guessing are not. I’ve discovered that these tendencies cause much of my struggle. Learning to trust myself has helped me let go of unrealistic expectations that hinder my authentic message. My words flow more freely now, as there is no room for perfection or second-guessing when speaking from the heart.
Want to grow your confidence, too? Here are some tips to be quiet and fierce at the same time.
3. Looking Too Serious, as If You Don’t Want to Be There
This was actual feedback I received from one of my interviewers. It’s a combination of nerves, being put on the spot, and the pressure to perform and compete with other candidates who naturally show enthusiasm and seem happy to be there. These are all challenging for me as an introvert, regardless of my internal excitement.
In these awkward moments, I’m torn between allowing my natural “serious” expressions and risking judgment for seeming disinterested, or forcing a smile to appear more charismatic.
What I Learned
The simple yet profound revelation I had is this: Maybe I really didn’t want to be there. And now, I’m okay with that.
Letting go of trying to convince myself otherwise has been truly freeing. Being completely honest with myself has helped me to dig deeper into what I truly want to pursue and what will naturally make me smile.
4. Giving Generic, ‘Textbook’ Answers
In my intense study of every possible interview question and potential response, I lost myself in the process. Caught up in the triumph of gaining a seat in the leather-bound chair, I looked around the room, planning how to make these people like me.
It’s like navigating the uncertain terrain of a first date. Maybe I laugh awkwardly at the right times during attempts at small talk. Then, for the main event, I try my best to offer what I think they want to hear, serving up my carefully crafted words. Deep down, though, I know they don’t align with my true self, much like a vegetarian trying to appreciate a filet mignon.
What I Learned
Until recently, I was focused on molding myself into a good fit for “them.” I overlooked the importance of asking myself, “Is this job the right fit for me?” Posing this question to myself was vital for moving past the struggle of perfectly tailoring my responses. It helped me focus on what I wanted to say, regardless of how it might be received.
Do you ever struggle to know what to say?
As an introvert, you actually have the ability to be an amazing conversationalist — even if you’re quiet and hate small talk. To learn how, we recommend this online course from our partner Michaela Chung. Click here to check out the Introvert Conversation Genius course.
5. Selling Yourself
I’m often advised to “sell myself,” yet the question arises: Who’s buying?
In the dog-eat-dog world of teaching interviews, opportunities typically arise just once a year. Consequently, I enter interviews feeling a sense of scarcity rather than abundance, coupled with an intense desire to impress. This pattern persisted until a recent Zoom interview, which marked a significant departure from my usual experience.
Previously, I fixated on securing any job, viewing it as a measure of my success. I meticulously prepared for this interview and hoped this time would be different.
However, the interview was disheartening. It began with minimal eye contact, a brief introduction, and a quick job description, reminiscent of a rushed auto insurance pitch. I was asked only three questions. The experience left me feeling disappointed, and as if I had been cheated out of my time to “sell myself.”
What I Learned
Rather than dwelling on what might have gone wrong, I pondered a different question: Did I really want to work there? The answer was a resounding no.
With time, I started to recognize the abundance that had always existed beneath my self-imposed limitations. It led me to realize that opportunities are plentiful. And, most empowering of all, I am now open to exploring these possibilities.
If you feel the need to “sell yourself,” I’ve found that it helps to focus on your strengths as an introvert. Don’t try to portray yourself as an extrovert. You might say things like:
- My attention to detail is one of my strengths. It allows me to spot errors or opportunities that others might overlook.
- I tend to remain calm under pressure, which helps me make rational decisions during critical times.
- I thrive in independent work environments where I can analyze and solve problems effectively, although I also value collaborative teamwork.
- I excel in deep concentration and can focus intensely on tasks. This helps me produce thorough and high-quality work.
- While I might not be the most vocal team member, I build deep and meaningful relationships with colleagues and clients.
My fellow introverts, what struggles and solutions would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.
You might like:
- How to Advance Your Career the ‘Introvert Way’
- How to Be Quiet and Fierce at the Same Time
- 27 ‘Strange’ Things You Do Because You’re a Highly Sensitive Person
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