For introverts, job interviews can be like being forced to play dress-up. But you can learn to proudly put on what fits and wear it confidently.
“Tell me about yourself” may be the four worst words for introverts like me to be asked in a job interview.
Suddenly, I’m submerged in harsh, overhead lighting that’s cast directly over my hard-backed chair like a spotlight. I uncomfortably shift positions as my sweaty palms try to find a home on my shaky legs. I silently coach myself not to cross my arms over my chest (that would be bad). Then, from across the oblong table extending for what seems to be miles, I see a devious face holding a silver ballpoint pen. A magic wand, waiting to cast my fate. “Muahaha! Interview, Dear.” And my mind goes blank.
In one particular interview, I knew I had failed miserably after the first question, so I decided to attempt redemption from a different angle. I mustered up all of my courage, and right before walking out the door, turned around and professed in utter honesty the fact that I’m aware that I’m “not the best interviewer.” I pleaded authentically, which quickly transformed into desperation: I have the passion and drive it takes to be a valuable asset to your team, if I would only be given the chance to show you who I am beyond the interview… As you can guess, I was given some sympathetic nods and kindly escorted to the door.
Yes, this is a common theme in my life, prevalent among us introverts — we need time to respond. My epiphanies have impeccable timing and typically occur immediately after my turn is over and the moment has already passed.
This is the stuff of nightmares, especially for introverts. But, unfortunately, it is the sad reality of my own experiences with teaching interviews. Until recently, I believed that it was just me. That I was just bad at interviewing. For years, it has been my biggest struggle as an introvert.
For Years, I Was Able to Skip Job Interviews
I’ve always been confident in my skills within the classroom. In the years following college graduation, I was hired temporarily for one maternity leave after another. But I landed these positions by informal networking and making my rounds subbing within the buildings — not from interviewing for them.
These classrooms were not my own. I never felt at home in them. It was like I was playing dress-up, portraying a role while dreaming and swaying in front of a mirror. Then reality came crashing in again. I looked down to realize the heels were two sizes too big and the blouse loosely slipped off my shoulder. The pearls slid off my neck one by one, bouncing and scattering into every corner of the room as I scrambled to pick them up. One thing continued to stand between me and my goal of becoming a “real teacher” — the interview.
All I can say is that when I’m passionate about something, I am all in, one of my introvert strengths. I would love to show these interviewers, instead of telling them, a piece of my heart and soul — a glimpse of the world through my eyes. Until then, however, these are some common job interview struggles I’ve had as an introvert.
5 Common Job Interview Struggles for Introverts
1. “Tell me about yourself.”
“Tell me about yourself” — this must be the most common interview question that most people probably answer easily. Yet I was always confused by feeling the opposite. (We introverts are private people!) And having to promote myself and highlighting the most important parts, sifting through to showcase what I believe they want to know about me? No, thanks. How can I possibly minimize who I am to fit into a window of under two minutes?
So I end up feeling like I’m dishing out a cheapened, watered-down version of myself. What I do succeed at is internalizing the criticism received and replaying the scenarios repeatedly in my head, building false beliefs of “I’m not good enough.” (I wouldn’t be an introvert if I didn’t overthink things, right?)
What I’ve come to realize: I was always confused by the “Tell me about yourself” question (masked as a statement), thinking that I was missing something. It was scary to me because I was afraid to admit that I didn’t have “the answer.”
I downplayed the things that were right in front of me all along. Maybe, if I dug deep enough, I would mine the glimmering gem that, when held up to the light, would lift me above these insecurities and give me entry into the next level of my career. It turns out I was missing myself all along — and I decided it was time to change that.
As I approach this “question” now, I like to tune more into the things about me that I never used to think were worthy of mentioning, but have come to realize that they are at the heart of who I am. Being extremely self-reflective, dedicated to personal development, sensitive, and empathetic are the things that I am finally learning to embrace. Since I have strengthened my abilities to observe and listen to myself as part of an everyday self-care practice, I can take and apply them to building strong relationships with my students and colleagues. Observing to learn and listening to what is needed are essential to any career, especially teaching. And, as it turns out, these things are a huge part of who I am!
2. “You get too caught up in details.”
As an educator, most interviews ask for what a typical lesson plan would look like. Before I can even say anything, in my head I’m struggling to make a decision on what subject to provide as an example and construct a full layout of that entire lesson. Just because I take time to respond doesn’t mean I don’t have a response.
And then, when I end up opening my mouth to speak, I fumble over my words — common among introverts — sometimes stopping mid-sentence to analyze what I’ve already said and wondering how far off-topic I’ve drifted from the original question.
What I’ve come to realize: As I continue the journey on my path of self-discovery, I’ve come to the realization that this is actually not a flaw to be improved or worked on. Rather, it happens to be one of my most amazing gifts and allows me to see the world intensely and vibrantly. I have learned to embrace this gift and continue to find beauty in all of the details (perhaps just a little more succinctly these days).
While details are part of my gifts, striving for perfection and second-guessing myself are not. I have come to find that these are the two culprits in causing this struggle. Learning to trust myself has allowed me to release these unrealistic expectations that get in the way of the authentic message I wish to convey. My words seem to flow a lot more freely these days because there is no room for perfection or second-guessing when speaking directly from the heart.
3. “You looked too serious, as if you didn’t even want to be there.”
This was actual feedback I received third-hand from one of my interviewers. This is nerves, combined with being put on the spot, combined with the pressure to perform and compete with all of the other candidates who were outwardly projecting natural enthusiasm and appeared to be happy to be there. All things that are out of my comfort zone as an introvert, regardless of how excited I may have felt internally.
In the midst of these awkward moments, I find myself in a tug of war between allowing my natural “serious” expressions to flow and risk being judged for not wanting to be there. Or mustering up the charisma of a forced smile.
For me, landing a seat in a teaching interview was a battle in and of itself. Fortunately, my strong writing skills shined a beacon of light on my application, summoning it up from the piles of potentials. Once there, I felt an extreme amount of pressure to bring to life what was vibrantly communicated on paper; introverts often excel at writing over speaking.
What I’ve come to realize: The simple, yet profound, revelation I’ve had recently that I never took time to consider before is this: Maybe I really didn’t want to be there. And I’m now okay with that. Letting go of trying to convince myself into believing otherwise has been truly freeing. Being completely honest and real with myself has helped me to dig deeper into what I really want to pursue and what will naturally make me smile.
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4. “I don’t want a textbook answer.”
In the midst of intensely studying every possible interview question and my potential responses, I end up losing myself in the process. Blinded by the victory of gaining a seat in the leather-bound chair and trying it on for size, I look around the room, and begin to formulate a plan of how to get these people to “like” me.
Equivalent to navigating the unsure terrain of a first date, maybe I laugh awkwardly at the appropriate intervals within the moments of casual attempts at small talk. Then, for the main course, I give it my all to serve up exactly what I think they want to hear, offering up my plate of meaty verbiage as if it is the filet mignon of responses (when, in my heart, I know I’m a vegetarian).
What I’ve come to realize: Until recently, I have always been focused on making myself into a good fit for “them.” I failed to look past these juicy, ready-made answers and neglected to ask myself: “Is this the right fit for me?” Starting to ask myself this question was vital for me to move past the struggle of tailoring my responses and focusing more on what I wanted to say, regardless of how it may be received.
5. “Sell yourself!”
I’m repeatedly told to “sell myself” — but who’s buying that?!
In the midst of this dog-eat-dog teaching interview world, opportunities tend to happen once a year. In addition to that limited window of job-landing potential, once the jobs are locked in, a wave of openings may not occur for years. (Yes, years!) So I enter the interview room with these feelings of scarcity instead of abundance, as well as an intense need to please my audience. It wasn’t until my most recent interview experience — that took place via Zoom — that something very different happened to this recurring one-sided pattern.
Until then, I wanted the job no matter where it was, because that — to me — defined my success. I rigorously prepared for this interview. Backed by the added security that my computer screen provided, I thought maybe this time would be different.
But what I experienced was little-to-no eye contact, followed by a quick introduction and overview of the position. I felt as if I was suddenly in the midst of an auto insurance pitch, scrambling to hear and make sense of the pertinent details as the terms and conditions were rattled off in one large run-on sentence “…some restrictions may apply.” I was asked a total of three questions, which took up not even half of my allotted time block. I felt a huge disconnect while simultaneously feeling disappointed and cheated out of my time to “sell myself.”
But instead of pondering what I did wrong after I clicked “leave meeting,” I asked myself: Do I really want to work there? The answer came in a red-flashing, flag-waving NO. And in that moment, I realized that I have just as much of a say in the process as they do. The bottom line is: you get what you pay for. All of your time, energy, and value are investments that should not be given away at a discounted rate, even if it seems tempting at the time. Patience is essential in this process. Holding out for the right fit will ensure that the ultimate profits to be gained are appreciation and mutual respect.
What I’ve come to realize: When I started to remove my blinders that had been firmly in place for years, I started to see the abundance that always existed underneath the limitations that were self-imposed all along.
This perspective shift, along with recognizing my own value, has been huge for me. It allowed me to finally realize that the field of education is multifaceted, opportunities are abundant, and, most empowering of all, I am finally open enough to look. Ultimately, I realized my true worth and started asking myself the question: “What do I really want?” And truly listening to that answer is what matters most.
I am no longer playing dress-up in my own life. I am proudly beginning to put on what fits and wear it confidently.
You might like:
- How to Survive a Job Interview When You’re an Introvert
- 7 Tips to Help Introverts Feel More Comfortable During Job Interviews
- How to Feel More Confident and in Control as an Introvert