Standing out as an introvert in an extroverted world can be difficult, especially in social situations. For example, you may have recently chosen a Netflix night-in over a party or hidden in the bathroom to avoid small talk. Finding ways to escape stressful interactions is something most introverts perfect by their 20s, but they’ll need a new set of tactics upon graduation from college. Joining the workforce leads to several situations introverts may find uncomfortable, including networking, job interviews and team meetings. Don’t lose hope just yet, though: We spoke to five experts who offered their tips for finding and excelling in the best job for you.
What is an introvert anyway?
Career information expert Laurence Shatkin says the definition of introversion is mired in misconceptions. Many individuals see introversion as social anxiety, but Shatkin explains that “it’s really a question of energy level, the fact that [introverts] find social situations draining and distractions prevent them from thinking as clearly as they should.” Introversion is closely linked to gaining and losing energy rather than social adeptness. Typically, introverts have a rich inner life built on listening to and analyzing information. Although introverts are highly capable of interacting with others, they may prefer not to, or they may need a few hours of alone time to recharge. As Shatkin concludes, “It’s a question of preference, not necessarily a question of a lack of skill.”
The best jobs for introverts
So, how does your status as an introvert affect your career? Before you can tackle the job search and navigate your workplace, you need to choose the right career path. Introversion may not be a factor you overtly consider when researching jobs, but it will influence what draws your attention. For example, introverts tend to shy away from jobs in retail, customer service and sales, since these revolve around prolonged interaction with strangers. Instead, introverts may prefer jobs that allow for solitude and deep thinking.
Shatkin has compiled a list of the 200 best jobs for introverts based on factors like amount of contact with others versus time spent alone, as well as economic elements. The highest-ranked jobs require careful analysis conducted individually (including personal finance adviser, accountant and financial analyst) or hands-on work that doesn’t call for teamwork. Electricians, brickmasons and operating engineers are three examples from the latter category.
The majority of jobs found on similar lists come from the aforementioned categories. Archivists, astronomers, writers and computer programmers are a few more analysis-based jobs, while animal care and service workers, industrial machine repairers and truck drivers take a hands-on approach.
Given the fact that up to 50% of the population consists of introverts, however, it’s clear that there are innumerable career options outside of these categories.
Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, says, “Introverts are capable of doing whatever lights their fire, whatever excites them.”
For some, following a passion leads to a career in typically introverted fields, but for others, the results are more surprising. Dembling once hosted a webinar for a group of librarians. She found that this seemingly perfect job for introverts actually required constant interaction with the public, which left the librarians drained of energy.
On the other hand, Dr. Laurie Helgoe, author of Introvert Power, interviewed a number of comedians while researching her book. Helgoe says, “Comedians like to observe and take things in, [but] then they go out and are exposed in front of people. That part might seem counter-intuitive, and yet how do they have that ability to reflect on the everyday and see the humor in it?”
Other unexpected fields that introverts excel in include teaching, journalism, politics and acting. Although these jobs call for extended interaction with strangers or an audience, Helgoe explains, “Sometimes what we love is culled from … outside of our comfort zone. … Where we have to be careful is to not give the impression that just because we’re drawn to these careers that put us out in front, we always want to be out in front.”
Take journalism as an example. Dembling says that a reporter may have to talk to strangers all day, but the final aim is to step back and think the story through using “that great analytical mind that so many introverts have. On the surface, what looks like a difficult job” is actually just going out there, taking information in and processing.
Regardless of which career path you choose, create workplace conditions that maximize your comfort level. Beth Buelow, author of The Introvert Entrepreneur, suggests introverts ask themselves the following questions: Is there a balance of solitary work and social interaction? To what degree can social interaction be controlled — do you need to make cold calls and participate in unscheduled interviews? Does the position allow for the use of keen observation and listening skills and the space to really dig into a subject? If your answers suit your needs, the job could be a perfect fit.
Navigating the job search
For those intimidated by meet and greet networking events, know that you have a few options to up your comfort level. Attend events with a friend who can serve as your home base, or tell yourself that if you haven’t made progress after 20 minutes, you’re free to leave. If you’re better in small group settings, avoid giant work-the-room events and opt for sit-down lunches or discussion groups. You can also rely on your current connections, whether they’re friends and family or professional co-workers, and ask if they know relevant contacts.
Helgoe says, “When you … let people know to put out feelers for you, [it’s] kind of handy to have a token extrovert working on your behalf.”
If none of these options sounds appealing, try LinkedIn or online discussion groups. Many introverts relate well through writing, so you may be better off sending an eloquent email rather than coming off as awkward in person.
Once you’ve secured a job interview, practice with people you know well. Ask them to throw you curveballs so you can make mistakes in a mock rather than real interview. During the interview, you might say something like, “I’m great at working in teams, but I won’t always go out for happy hour afterwards.” This lets your potential employer know that you’re introverted, so if you otherwise come off as quiet and withdrawn, they’ll have a reference point.
Remember, too, that your competition is full of other introverts. Even your interviewer may be an introvert. As John Challenger, CEO of the outplacement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas, says, your competition is just as concerned about interviews — most people, even extroverts, worry about this kind of high-pressure situation.
Excelling in an office
After you make it past the networking and interview stage, you’ll still need to account for stress-inducing everyday situations.
If you work in a typical office, you might have an open floor plan. This provides distractions for both introverts and extroverts, but reactions will differ. While introverts will have trouble focusing because of the buzz surrounding them, extroverts will cause the buzz by wanting to talk to every passerby. For those moments when you find yourself overwhelmed by office commotion, take a moment to step back and recharge. Go on a walk, or enjoy lunch alone. Worse comes to worst, you can always retreat to the bathroom for a few minutes.
Shatkin points out another area where introverts may struggle: team meetings. If you find yourself constantly overwhelmed by extroverts’ command of the conversation, ask your boss to start going around the room to gather everyone’s opinions individually.
Dembling says, “If it’s a free for all with everyone talking, [introverts] are very unlikely to jump in and have our say. … [If you] let extroverts suck all the air out of the room, you’re losing some of those insights introverts provide.”
The same is true of teamwork. Don’t let your ideas be overshadowed by extroverted colleagues, because as Buelow says, introverts’ strengths include their capacity to listen and develop a depth of understanding. This often leads to game-changing ideas that will benefit your teammates.
“The introverted leader (and employee) might feel she’s over-communicating, but to those who want to hear from her, the amount of information is just right,” Buelow explains.
Outside of group settings, introverts often excel because of their ability to focus on solitary analytical work. In the end, it comes down to balancing moments of introversion and replenishment with more exhausting bursts of extroversion.
As Challenger points out, most people are neither fully introverted nor extroverted. Instead, they fall somewhere on a spectrum — and this is good, since most jobs require both introverted and extroverted traits. You won’t find a job that requires zero contact with other people, but that isn’t the true goal of an introvert’s search. The crucial result is finding a job that allows you to both move outside of your comfort zone and take the time necessary to recharge.
Note: This article has not been published previously.