Two words: Group. Interviews.
Being the only introvert in a room of five other people — most of whom are outspoken — and vying for a spot on a competitive team is my idea of a nightmare. The first group interview I ever did was my sophomore year of high school when I applied to become a “SIB.” If you ask me to recall what exactly those three letters stood for, I cannot tell you. But what I can tell you is that it was an opportunity for me to gain leadership opportunities and help freshman become acclimated to the school. Now, I tend to think of myself as a fairly high-functioning introvert socially, but I bombed this interview. Not in the way of wishing it had gone better, not in the way of maybe I can salvage this, but in the walking away with a pit in my stomach and a clenching in my chest kind of way.
For those of you who are lucky enough to have never been through a group interview, let me explain what they are: Group interviews usually involve multiple candidates that are all asked a question at the same time. The candidates then each answer the question before a new one is thrown out and the process repeats. It’s meant to help interviewers save time and get through more people. But the downside is that it puts introverts at a severe disadvantage. So, to help any introverts in the same position, I thought I’d share some ways I failed in my group interview and what I could have done differently. After all, introverts have to look out for each other:
1. I allowed myself to be drowned out by the other candidates. The interview took a first come, first serve approach. A question would be tossed out and my fellow peers and I had to answer it in whatever order we pleased. This was definitely not something that played to my strengths as an introvert. I prefer to answer questions in a written format, I need time to think of answers, and I am atrociously horrible at speaking up when I am afraid of talking over someone. So what did I do? I waited until everyone else had answered the question, then I meekly suggested my own thoughts.
This caused two problems. First, in the time it took everyone else to answer, I had convinced myself that I would mess up my own response. Second, it made me look like I couldn’t take initiative, which for obvious reasons, did not go over well in an interview for a leadership position.
What should I have done differently? The first amendment I would make would be to not answer the question dead last but instead to strive for the middle of the pack. This would have given me time to think through my answer fully, as well as to formulate a solid verbal strategy that would complement my peers’ answers. Most importantly, it would show that I could, indeed, stand out from the crowd.
If you’re an introvert like me who struggles to break into a group conversation, here are some tips. First, look for a natural pause after someone has spoken and take that opportunity to fill the silence. If the conversation is faced-paced and there aren’t any pauses, you’ll have to be more aggressive. Try raising your voice a little to signal that you want to speak. Then, address the answer the previous person gave to show that you were listening and to smoothly transition into your own answer. Another thing you could do is make eye contact with the person who is currently speaking; when they finish, raise your hand to allow them to call on you, giving you the floor.
2. I doubted my abilities. Yes, I am an introvert and an INFJ personality type. (Don’t know your personality type? We recommend this free personality test.) Yes, I tend to be quiet, but I am a very good leader. My introversion reminds me that some people in a group may not speak up because they feel uncomfortable with so many people around, and that one-on-one sessions are something nice to offer. My empathy reminds me to make sure everyone’s voice is heard. My need to plan helps keep my team on track. But during the group interview, I forgot all these strengths. Instead, I focused on the fact that I was marching into a group interview where I knew my voice would not be heard. Instead of taking it as a challenge, I let my doubt make me hopeless — and that is something I regret deeply. To fix that, I should have tried to remain confident and referenced my unique strengths when I gave answers.
3. I didn’t interact with the other candidates. There was a certain kind of social energy that the interviewers were trying to judge, and my wallflower routine did not put me in the best light. I hate small talk — I think it’s boring, and I don’t like to utilize it for long. But there were periods when I could have avoided it and gotten to know the other candidates if I had just opened with something profound. I could have asked them what they wanted to do in the future, what drove them to apply to become a SIB, and why they wanted to help incoming freshman. These topics are more personal and could have led to a fascinating, meaningful conversation. At the same time, it would have helped me become more comfortable, which could have helped prevent my other problems.
At this point, there is nothing I can do to go back and change my mistakes. Nor can I get that position I so deeply wanted. But the experience did give me the first glimpse into how to showcase my strengths as an introvert in a professional setting. And that has helped me so much more. Group interviews are intimidating but there is a way introverts can hack it.
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