How to Advance Your Career the Introvert Way

An introvert works on his computer

You don’t need to become more outgoing to succeed in your career. You can succeed in a way that feels right for you as an introvert.

It’s hard to get ahead in business, no matter who you are. But it can seem even harder for us introverts, who might be conditioned to believe that we need to “overcome” our natural tendencies to succeed at work.

Sadly, introverts like us often feel like we don’t fit in the business world. We’re told to talk more, network more, and act like the more outgoing, extroverted people around us.

Shun the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

It can be frustrating to be made to feel like you need to become someone you’re not in order to advance your career. It can crush your confidence and even create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you’re told introverts are “less than” extroverts, sooner or later, you might just believe it. Here are a few ways I’ve heard this harmful message conveyed in the workplace over the years:

  • “Mike is a great CEO, but he’s an introvert.”
  • “Brian is a brilliant marketer, but he’s too quiet and introverted.”
  • “I’m only considering job candidates who are outgoing extroverts.
  • “You may be surprised to learn our regional president is an introvert, but don’t tell anyone.”

I admit, hearing these words stung, and sometimes made me question whether I could advance in my career with my introverted ways. However, the truth is that introversion is not a weakness, limitation, or shortcoming in business — or outside of it.

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Introverts Belong in Business

Introverts not only belong in business, but we can also thrive at any level — be it as an individual contributor, mid-level manager, senior executive, board member, or any other role. Just think about all the first ladies and U.S. presidents who were introverts, in addition to other famous women (like Oprah).

As an introvert who gradually advanced from being an administrative assistant to a c-suite executive over a 20+ year corporate career — and worked for several successful introverted leaders along the way — I’m here to tell you that your natural introverted strengths are exactly what you need to reach your career goals.

I learned to apply my introverted powers to advance my career, and you can, too.

The ‘Introvert Way’ to Developing Essential Work Skills

Early in my career, I was often confused about what it would take to get ahead. After being repeatedly passed over for promotions, I began to study how my colleagues advanced their careers. I also participated in countless management discussions about who would (or would not) get promoted, which was incredibly revealing. Additionally, I continually learned from my own trial and error through career setbacks.

Themes and patterns began to emerge. I noticed how certain actions, behaviors, and skill sets corresponded to a few higher-level capabilities. These included delivering results and being seen as a high performer, showing the potential to learn and grow, and gaining advocacy and support from others. These higher-level abilities were crucial for accelerating my next promotion.

I also realized that the way for introverts to develop and master these essential abilities differs from extroverts. Those of us who are naturally quiet possess several unique advantages in tapping into our introverted strengths to achieve our career goals.

Let me explain…

4 Ways to Advance Your Career the Introvert Way

1. Deliver results.

Your ability to produce strong results and be seen as a top performer is where it all begins. It represents the fundamental requirements for a successful career and is the most obvious factor associated with advancement.

It goes without saying that the better you are at your job — the more results you deliver that positively impact the business — the easier it will be to earn promotions.

But the manner in which you produce results is also important. High performers are easy to work with, and for introverts, our natural tendency to work considerately with others works to our advantage.

For example, one of the many great qualities of introverts is our ability to listen intently while we allow coworkers to speak without interruption. And, as keen observers, introverts might pay close attention to how their manager prefers to work, and adapt accordingly. Plus, when it comes to workplace drama, it’s rarely the introverts who are to blame.

If you’re an introvert, you can increase your chances for advancement by simply getting along well with others. People usually enjoy working with us, especially once they get to know us. Make it a point not to whine or complain. And when you cross paths with a difficult coworker, do what introverts naturally do: Keep to yourself and steer clear of the fray. 

2. Actions speak louder than words.

Being viewed as a high performer is important for career advancement, but being recognized as a high-potential employee is essential for earning a promotion. It’s crucial for others to recognize your ability to handle more significant work.

For introverts, this is an opportunity to shine because actions speak louder than words. The actions I’m referring to, which accelerate our growth and make us better, include expanding our skills and competencies, seeking feedback from others, and embracing new experiences.

Here’s the thing: This kind of work doesn’t come more easily to extroverts than to introverts — both can become complacent. And the benefits of stepping outside your comfort zone apply to everyone, no matter who you are (remember, many extroverts also fear public speaking!).

In fact, I would argue that introverts have an advantage here. Many career-minded introverts are dedicated to self-development and spend considerable time reflecting on their way of working, uncovering important insights into which aspects are helping (or hindering) their ability to get promoted.

For example, earlier in my career, I recognized that my preference to think before speaking often served me well, helping me avoid the “foot in mouth” mishaps that my extroverted coworkers commonly made. However, I also realized that this trait sometimes made it difficult for me to contribute to lively group conversations.

As a result, I tried new ways to be a more active participant in meetings, which strengthened my standing as a high-potential employee.

This kind of introspection is essential to drive your professional development in the right direction and position yourself as a high-potential professional. When you take action based on your insights, you send a powerful message to management.

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.

3. When you help others, it gets noticed.

Your ability to gain advocacy at work is critical to getting promoted. It’s important to have people who want to help you, who believe in you, and advocate for your advancement.

Now, the idea of raising your profile at work and “winning over advocates” might make you cringe; it certainly does for me. It sounds much like lobbying for endorsements, which can feel quite smarmy. However, this isn’t about shameless schmoozing with higher-ups. It’s about doing something introverts naturally excel at: generously helping others.

Helping others might come naturally to you. Thanks to the introvert’s strong observational skills, it can be easier for us to recognize when a coworker is struggling. Acting on this information and offering our assistance creates instant goodwill that can extend well beyond the person we help.

Let me give you an example. Earlier in my career, there was a senior executive who held significant clout in the organization. I had a decent relationship with her, but it wasn’t until she learned how I had helped one of her employees move an important project forward that she became a supporter.

I saw her employee struggling to gain support from my peers, so I stepped in to help remove roadblocks. This didn’t go unnoticed. A few weeks later, she reached out to thank me for assisting her employee and for role modeling a higher level of cooperation among my peers. This transformed a mostly neutral relationship into one of advocacy and support moving forward.

The lesson is clear: When you give to others, it gets noticed.

4. Foster strong friendships — after all, introverts are great at one-on-one conversations.

Another introverted attribute that can help us gain advocacy is our strength in establishing strong one-on-one relationships. Introverts make great friends! Once we get to know someone, we enjoy deep, meaningful conversations with them.

(Side note: Here are four hacks to transform small talk into meaningful conversation.)

To advance in business, you don’t need to be friends with everyone. It’s not about quantity, but about quality. Chances are, you already have a handful of good friends among your coworkers, a select few whom you trust and can rely on to have your back.

These are your work friends — they know you, believe in you, and want to see you succeed. Enlisting their support can help you on your path to a promotion.

It won’t go unnoticed by senior leaders if you have a coalition of strong supporters. Leaders want to promote people who are liked and respected by others, and whose promotion would be celebrated.

My small circle of work besties was invaluable in my career journey. They highlighted my contributions on key projects, ensured I was added to the agenda for important meetings, and kept an eye out for ways to increase my visibility at work.

Advance Your Career in a Way That Works for You

Don’t forget, there’s always more than one way to reach your goals.

What works for extroverts may not work for introverts. But this doesn’t mean you don’t belong in business or that you need to become someone you’re not to advance. There’s no need to fake it till you make it.

I learned to tap into my introverted strengths to develop the abilities essential for career advancement. As a result, I made it easier for management to recognize my value and reward me with promotions.

It wasn’t about becoming more social or outgoing. It was about finding a way forward that worked for me. And if I can do it, I’m confident you can too!

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