5 Things Introverts Wish Job Interviewers Knew

Have you ever felt like the job interview is institutionalized discrimination against introverts? When I fill out a job application or write a resume, my introvert skills serve me well. I can research thoroughly, carefully consider an employer’s needs and how my skills might fit, and then present that information coherently. I’m often invited to interview for 4 out of every 5 jobs I apply for.

But then the interview arrives. This is when the flip-side of being a reflective introvert becomes clear. My greatest strengths can suddenly appear to be my biggest weaknesses.

The job interview may not be the fairest method of selecting a new employee, but introverts wouldn’t feel like they were being set up for failure if interviewers knew these five things:

1. A panel interview is not the best way to assess our strengths.

As introverts, we do our best work inside our heads. We’re good at planning and considering things from many different perspectives. We can concentrate for long periods of time with great attention to detail. When given time to reflect, we can thoughtfully present an idea or information in a way that others can easily grasp. Many introverts are highly conscientious, so we take the time to proofread our work. Many of us can even be perfectionists, so it’s unlikely you’ll ever hear us say, “that’ll do.”

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Is that the kind of person you want to employ? Well, you might overlook that candidate based on their job interview performance. Interviews don’t do well in assessing these skills. The people who shine are most often the ones who feel energized in challenging social situations. For introverts, it’s overwhelming to be in a high-pressure situation like a job interview, knowingly being judged by strangers when we attribute great importance to the outcome. When over-stimulated, an introvert’s mind might shut down to the extent that it can feel difficult to string a sentence together. If you must hold panel interviews, at least let candidates know who will be interviewing them beforehand. It will help them mentally prepare.

2. We’re not shy or rude. We’re introverted.

When you first meet a candidate, you immediately make a number of assumptions about that person based on your own beliefs. We all hold beliefs about the abilities of individuals that we’re often unaware of. This unconscious bias leads to quick and inaccurate assessments. Then we continue to look for evidence that confirms our initial perceptions. In the context of a job interview, when someone has certain qualities that are indicative of a particular group of people, we may automatically attribute characteristics to him or her that are consistent with our idea of that group.

Many introverts struggle with making small talk. They don’t always come across as warm and friendly at their first meeting; sometimes it takes a while to get to know them. The first few minutes of meeting someone can be quite awkward and uncomfortable, and in these moments, the interviewer might assume a quieter candidate is shy or rude. They may imagine how this could affect their ability to do the job, when in reality, that person is actually introverted with traits that would be hugely beneficial in the role.

3. We’re reflectors, so we need time to think.

Many interviewers do not like long pauses after asking their questions. They want immediate answers. But that’s not always possible for the thoughtful introvert. We process information deeply and that slows down the rate at which information moves between areas of our brain. We also rely more on long-term memory, which can mean it’s difficult to access those “examples of a time when you…” And, when we do think of an example, quickly organizing our answer into the STAR format while feeling under scrutiny can be tricky—we’re not all that good at thinking out loud.

Personally, I’ve always felt that the distance between my brain and my mouth is farther than it is for other people. It takes a lot of effort to express myself verbally. I tend to get tongue-tied under pressure and details slip my mind. Yet, I can express myself perfectly in writing—because that’s how introverts’ brains are wired. With that in mind, please don’t judge me solely on my interview performance. Remember that awesome cover letter I wrote? And naturally, I brought my portfolio with me, if you care to look?

4. We’re smarter than you think we are.

It’s clear that we’re probably not going to be seen as fast talkers, and sadly, slower talkers are seen as less competent and likable, as Susan Cain highlights in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. In fact, an experiment conducted by Gough and Thorne in 1997 found that when interviewers rated candidates for their intelligence, the ratings did not correlate with the candidate’s IQ scores. Instead, they correlated with the person’s extroversion scores. Think about that for a moment. The more extroverted candidates appear to be smarter—but that doesn’t mean they are. It’s another unconscious bias. Employers, be mindful of that.

5. It’s time to rethink the job interview.

My message to you as an employer is this: consider what qualities you want in your next employee. For most roles, being a quick thinker and fast talker under pressure are not essential traits. Isn’t that exactly what the traditional job interview is really testing?

Think about what you could do differently. How could you give introverted candidates more opportunities to shine? Here are some ideas to help you get started:

  • Set a pre-interview task, providing candidates with an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities.
  • Is it necessary to ambush candidates with interview questions they have never seen before? What if candidates were given the interview questions in advance? Or, after the interview, encourage candidates to email you with additional thoughts.
  • Have a relaxed, one-on-one conversation with the candidate in addition to a panel interview.
  • Give candidates the option to pass on a question and return to it later. This gives introverted candidates time to think it through.
  • Always take the opportunity to look at a candidate’s portfolio. There’s no better way to assess their work.

In one of the best interviews I’ve had, the lead interviewer explained the process and, to my surprise and utter delight, gave me the option to pass on a question if I couldn’t think of an answer right away. I could return to that question at a later time. Throughout the interview, he asked thoughtful questions, drawing out better, more complete, answers from me.

Afterwards, I had an honest one-on-one discussion with the interviewer. He revealed that he feels nervous when interviewing. I explained that I’m introverted and reflective, and I find the need to be fast-thinking and quick-talking in a job interview means I don’t shine so brightly. In the end, I got the job! But more importantly, I really wanted to work with these people.

Employers, Take Action!

Unintentional discrimination against introverts means you will miss out on those all-important introverted qualities that bring balance to your enterprise. What you could be interpreting as our biggest weaknesses in the traditional job interview might just turn out to be our greatest strengths on the job. It’s time to rethink the job interview—for us and for you. retina_favicon1

Read this: Why Intuitive Introverts Need Meaningful Work


  • Val says:

    A round of applause for a spot-on article! Interviews really are Introvert Hell. The only time I ever got a job through an interview was with a government department who had such a high staff turnover they’d take on pretty well anyone who passed the practical test. Virtually all my other work has been obtained through word of mouth. I’d rather be judged on what I can do than the impression I make when I walk through the door (a concept that sits very uneasily with me). I’m on an enforced career break for the foreseeable future. When I need to get back into the job market I’ll have to go self employed because I’ll be in no frame of mind to win over employers in interviews.

    • Hayley says:

      Thank you very much, Val. I absolutely agree, and feel job interviewers could do so much more to assess us on our abilities, but first they need to become aware of the problem. Self-employment can be an ideal option for introverts. Best of luck!

  • Val says:

    Thanks! One of my favourite shows at the moment is The Job Interview but in the same way some people get off on watching horror films. (For our non-UK friends it’s a reality TV show where employers conduct interviews for real jobs.) There was a question on it last week which is my ultimate no-no. Interviewers: please never ask anything along the lines of “If you were a _____ what would you be?”

    The reasons include:

    1) I am far more self-aware than you can handle. I have no need to think of myself in terms of an inanimate object, place, artwork, flora, fauna, flavour, fictional character, celebrity or abstract concept.

    2) That said, I’m more than capable of coming up with the witty, insightful response you’re looking for but not with the 2 seconds’ notice you’ve just given me. If I can get back to you in 24 hours I promise I can knock your socks off.

    3) You’re the manager of a boring office, not a psychotherapist. Don’t ask questions you’re not qualified to analyse. If you’re trying to make it look like you’re an expert at seeing through people, bad luck, it’s a skill I’ve actually got and you haven’t. (Hmm, I don’t think this level of honesty would win me the job if I was confronted with that question, hee hee!)

  • oneblankspace says:

    My problem is often that I can’t get to the job interview because I find the (printed/online) application process too intrusive. I don’t fit into the nice, neat boxes they have on the form very well.

  • Sam says:

    Wow, you really hit the nail on the head with job interviews being institutionalized discrimination. I once got a job and four days into working the employer told me that I had “lied” on my cover letter and that it wasn’t working out. After completely analyzing my cover letter in and out to find any discrepancies, I asked him specifically to point out where I had lied, because everything that I had listed was completely factual. He ended up telling me that I had come across as “bubbly and enthusiastic” in the cover letter. He said that when he met me that I was a “huge let-down” because I “didn’t smile enough” and “lacked enthusiasm.” I was utterly confused, because I felt like I was laying on the enthusiasm a little too thick. I was constantly getting fussed at for “not smiling”, despite the fact that I worked a behind-the-scenes production job. He even had a meeting with me telling me that I needed to “fix my facial expressions” and “change the tone of my voice.” I was blown away.

    Society in general does seem to put forth that extroverts are preferable. Thank God I now work at home doing my dream job and not working for some miserable bastard who expected me to have a plastered on smile throughout the work day.

  • Heather Hunter says:

    My goodness, wow! What an ignorant and small-minded person he was. You are well rid of that job, who would want to work for someone like that?

  • Heather Hunter says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have been on literally thousands of job interviews (I’m not joking or exaggerating), and they are literal torture. And yes, discriminatory. This discrimination has meant that I now live in absolute poverty because of all the long periods of intensive job-seeking between jobs. I have always thought that interviews measure bull** ability more than anything, and it has actually been proven that more often than not, the more someone gushes and “sells themselves”, the less capable they are to actually do the job (and vice versa). This article has given me more ideas on how to incorporate my strengths better.

    And next time I get asked the “weaknesses” question, I am going to say: “I’m quiet and reflective, and sometimes the need to be fast-thinking and quick-talking in a job interview means I may not perform as well, or shine as brightly as I could otherwise”.

  • Ginger F says:

    I love your posts… I am very much an introvert (with a quite successful social facade) and I find myself relating to much of what you write. However, I notice that you focus mostly on the IN’s – INFJ, INTJ, INFP. I’m actually an ISTJ and would enjoy reading articles focused toward the IS’s as well.
    Thanks for your insights, and I look forward to reading more.

  • INFP♂ says:

    I also have an exciting CV, so I am usually invited to job interviews. It fails, however, that they must necessarily make calls with me before. The latest highlight is video interviews. Okay, you can start them whenever you want, but have only one chance to record it for each question. I do not phone and would never upload such a video interview.

    Why not just a get-together day or two after I’ve already revealed my entire life? Personal contact would help me a lot.

  • INFP♂ says:

    @HEATHER HUNTER: So true. I am above average intelligence, as well as emotional intelligence, but neither able to work independently, nor to job interviews. I am increasingly anxious to end somewhere under a bridge.