The real value of interviews in IT hiring (or in hiring for any industry) is open to debate. Some hiring managers may see interviews as an opportunity to test candidates’ ability to “think on their feet” and demonstrate or express their expertise in some area, whereas others simply see interviews as a venue for interacting with candidates to determine if their personalities are a fit for the company culture. In both of these situations, applicants who are able to “sell themselves” with fast, witty responses to questions, a solid sales pitch and winsome congeniality may shine the brightest, but their introductory performance may fail to deliver on the promise that interviewers perceive.
Introversion: Disadvantage—or Advantage?
Asinine interview questions, like how many cows are in Canada? may make you feel witty when you’re conducting an interview, but by unsettling those who don’t necessarily think quickly in high-pressure situations, you could be railroading a number of potentially successful employees. (And, for those who interview with Google, the answer to such questions should probably be along the lines of “Okay, Glass…” followed by the question, then, of course, the answer. Alas, however, even Google has seen the light regarding such questions.)
Unfortunately for interviewers looking for an easy choice, the flashiest and most seemingly well-prepared candidates may not be the best options. USA Today, reporting on a study by researchers at UCLA and Rutgers, said, “Extroverts aren’t the most successful at work in the long run; instead, the quiet, neurotic, introverted employees who often fret about what others think of them.”
Also, though, don’t group the quiet, neurotic and introverted as a single personality class—an individual may exhibit some or all of these traits, but they are not necessarily identical with introversion. Introverts are those who “recharge” through turning inward, which tends to involve solitude and quiet, whereas extroverts are those who “recharge” through turning outward via social interactions. Introverts tend to listen more than they speak, and they may tend to have less of an enjoyment of small talk and similar social niceties.
In an interview, introversion can work itself out as a reluctance to “sell oneself”—the candidate, preferring to be genuine rather than to “do whatever it takes” to convince the interviewer, may not seek to tell you everything you want to hear. But don’t mistake the candidate’s lack of in-your-face excitement about him- or herself for a lack of enthusiasm about the job. Furthermore, the desire of many introverts to avoid small talk and to “get to the point” means that questions such as where do you want to be in five years? or what do you like to do for fun outside work? may elicit meager responses. After all, what do these things have to do with accomplishing the task at hand?
Extroverts, however, may jump on such questions and provide fast responses, while an introvert may pause and consider rather than speaking immediately. But if you’re interested in hiring the next Albert Einstein, Warren Buffet, Larry Page or Steve Wozniak, simply falling for a fast performance in the interview could shortchange your company.
Recognize the Personality Differences and Strengths of Each
The world is divided into about 25% introverts and 75% extroverts. Depending on the type of job you’re hiring for, you may see a slightly different breakdown (and individuals will fall at different points on a sliding scale rather than as precisely one or the other). In either case, recognize that the strongest candidates may or may not fit the personality profile you have in mind. For instance, the most garrulous and fast-witted interviewee may also turn out to be a distracting influence in the office, whereas a more quiet and thoughtful individual could help solve some of the toughest problems the company faces, thanks to his or her ability to focus and to think clearly and in depth. That latter individual might also fare poorly in an interview by failing to answer questions as quickly as you might expect (particularly if the questions are irrelevant, like why are manhole covers round?)
On the other hand, if the job really calls for fast thinking and an ability to respond—even without solid conviction in certain instances owing to a lack of time to process data—an extrovert might be the better choice, whereas an introvert could flounder in such a situation. The key is to recognize that neither introversion nor extroversion is a character flaw; it is a largely built-in personality trait. Attempting to fit everyone into a single mold is wrongheaded, as is expecting the flashy, quick-thinking interviewee to invariably be able to handle long periods of quiet thought on tough problems.
Making Provision for Different Personality Types
Unfortunately for introverts, some companies are also turning to so-called open-plan offices, which greatly limit the enclosed spaces that enable solitude and reduce distractions. According to Inc, “Open plan offices and group brainstorming sessions…may actually decrease productivity, particularly for introverts.” Recognizing that different personality types work better in different environments can better enable companies to integrate, retain and benefit from people with various strengths. Doing so can not only help lower-level employees work better, but it can also help produce future company leaders. Introverts, although representing only about 25% of the population, may represent as much as 70% of CEOs.
Why the Focus on Introversion?
It indeed takes all types to make the world go ‘round; a world comprising only introverts would be just as boring as a world comprising only extroverts. But the present cultural bias (at least in the west) is toward the outgoing, garrulous, witty, fast-thinking extrovert, whereas introversion is often viewed as a character flaw. When hiring in IT—which, perhaps much more than many other fields, values careful thought and problem-solving skills—companies lose out when they use personality characteristics of this sort as a litmus test. A typical interview more often than not inherently favors extroverts; by being aware of this procedural bias, hiring managers can better evaluate candidates to best serve the company rather than just to tickle cultural prejudices.
Extroversion is not better than introversion, and vice versa. The two personality types are simply different in their focuses (extroverts focus outward, introverts focus inward). Recognizing these differences—as well as the fact that people fall on a sliding scale and may exhibit different combinations of traits that seem to defy simple characterization—can help ensure that the hiring process (and particularly the interview) leads to selection of candidates who will most benefit the company.
Image courtesy of Victor1558