In HR, we often talk about employees and leaders being either an introvert or an extrovert, but what does it mean to be either one in pivotal moments in one’s career? And is it harder to succeed for introverts?

My experience after many years within HR is that yes, I think it is. Let’s start with recruitment: In many small and medium-sized companies, recruitment takes place without heavy assessment tools, which means that the job interview is the primary tool that are used for selecting the right candidates.

Typically in a recruitment situation, it is only the candidates selected from the first round of interviews that will proceed to the next round, where there may or may not be assessment tools involved. Thus, the most important selection criterion is the first interview. This means that the candidates will be – consciously or unconsciously - assessed based on the candidate’s ability to express himself orally. For the introvert, it can be a barrier that you feel uncomfortable having to promote yourself to unknown people.

A lot of job advertisements mention extrovert personality traits such as being outgoing, sociable, good at talking to others etc., even though the position itself has a more "introvert" character, such as doing analyses, research, accounting, writing and much more. It is also likely that the hiring manager is an extrovert, which is why the chemistry during the interview can be more strained, if the candidate is an introvert. In these situations, HR plays a major role in making the candidate feel comfortable, asking in-depth questions, and also to get the manager to reflect on what type of employee is needed and what qualities and competences the candidate should possess.

Tip: Use case studies already in the first interview

A concrete advice could be to use a case study already in the first interview, so that the candidate can demonstrate the specialized knowledge required in the job. This can make it easier for the skilled (and perhaps introverted) candidate to sell themselves and convince the manager that they are the right person for the job. The introvert will certainly feel it easier to talk about a problem solving than to have to promote themselves. I have several times experienced that the manager changed his mind about who would be best for the job when we have used case studies during the first interview.

How to support and develop introverts in the workforce

I find that extroverts are naturally both better at drawing attention to themselves among important stakeholders and consider this more important than introverts do. They are also better at asking for help when in doubt, instead of spending time pondering over things.

"Typically in a recruitment situation, it is only the candidates selected from the first round of interviews that will proceed to the next round, where there may or may not be assessment tools involved. Thus, the most important selection criterion is the first interview"

If the direct manager, HR and top management are not good at assessing the introverts' work performance and do not put attention to their tasks and the qualities of these, there is a great risk that the introverts will be overlooked and that the tasks they solve are considered less important, although this is rarely the case.

The introverts may find it more difficult to make a career, as in many organizations, the only career path is the management path. Many introverts - and certainly also companies - could benefit from having clearer career paths as a specialist. This is not to say that introverts are not good leaders – on the contrary, I have seen countless examples of very talented introverted leaders, and basically I do not think that your performance as a leader depends on whether you are an introvert or an extrovert. In general, the introverted leader can have the advantage to think before speaking – and that is definitely a great advantage in many situations. Furthermore, listening is a great asset in the leadership role – this often falls more easily on introverts. However, communication training could be helpful for the introverted leaders.

Is being an introvert a "negative" trait?

Unfortunately, I think many of us have unconscious biases against introverts, and it is my impression that many would also like to avoid being considered introverts. When I give feedback to candidates on their personality analysis, and I say that it seems that the person is an introvert, there are almost always contradictions. This does not happen when I say the opposite – then the candidate usually consents. I am left with the impression that it is considered “better” to be an extrovert, which I think is a shame. HR plays is a big role in changing this perception and the unconscious bias against introverts.

Three tips to help change the perception in your company

• Think carefully about how job advertisements are formulated, so they don’t necessarily only focus on extroverted abilities.

• Promote introversion and send a signal to the organization that “we notice you” and that you can do a good job, even though you don’t necessarily highlight it yourself. Also, include this in leadership trainings to make sure leaders know how to appreciate and lead introverts.

• Pay close attention to how you rate performance and whether extroverted abilities are rated higher.