One of my closest friends is an introvert. He regularly asks me for career advice and is left gobsmacked with what I tell him to try, and the results he gets when he implements those tips.
He thinks I’m some superhero extrovert and listens to me like I’m really smart, which I’m definitely not. What is difficult to explain is that I’m convinced I’m exactly 50% introverted and 50% extroverted. Neither personality trait dominates.
Careers writer, Ashley Tahl, suggests in her article on Forbes that if you’re an introvert, you might need to settle for a low-stress role or one that allows you to hide from humans.
Is that the case, though? Are introverts handicapped when it comes to career paths, or asking for pay rises, or career progression?
The label of ‘introverts’ is not an absolute, as many labels. You are never exactly smart or dumb; entrepreneurial or the employee type; endlessly happy or forever sad. We weave in and out of the labels we assign ourselves too. And the best bit is we get to choose the label.
The CEO of Mindvalley and the creator of the popular A-Fest event, Vishen Lakhiani, started out as an employee of Microsoft. Then he switched to starting a business.
There is a guy at my work that has had both his own businesses and been an employee more than ten times in his career. He looks at his career in phases and then switches in an out of entrepreneurship and salary-based work to fuel his creativity and embrace his sense of curiosity. Just like my encounter with the introverts vs. extraverts debate, he sees himself as being both.
Labels — for the most part — are unhelpful, silly, and restrictive.
If you identify with being introverted or find that your introverted tendencies can sometimes hold you back in your career, here are a few tips:
Asking for a pay rise
My friend desperately wants to earn more money. Asking for more money from his current boss or attempting to switch jobs and get more money that way is daunting for him. It’s more likely that he will accept a salary offer as being gospel rather than negotiate the way a car sales executive would.
Every time the opportunity comes up to earn more money, he blows it and is consequently angry with himself. If you don’t know how to ask for a pay raise, it’s a hard conversation to have. As an introvert, he doesn’t love confrontation; he hides away from it.
One approach that has worked for me during the more introverted parts of my career is this process:
- Let the employer offer you a salary.
- Don’t react to the salary offer or show any emotion.
- Ask for time to think about it.
- Counter-offer in an email (easier to do) by approximately 25% more.
- Wait for the response.
- If they refuse to move on the offer, delay the decision and reiterate your position. If they offer you slightly more money, but less than what you asked for, ask again if they can match your offer.
- Stop the negotiation when you feel the salary offer is fair. Be fully prepared to turn down any offer you are given.
Moving up in your career
What no one tells introverts about career progression is that it doesn’t happen by default. You have to be proactive and put time into it.
Being proactive means being vocal and that doesn’t always play to an introvert’s strength. (You can use the written word not your voice though.)
Speaking up when you’re not being asked to speak can be daunting. But if you don’t have the conversation and ask for opportunities, there’s a good chance you won’t get them and that can rob you from much-needed fulfillment in your career.
There are a few helpful questions that can help anyone who is introverted to start the career progression conversation without too much effort.
- Start by asking your current people leader to do coffee. Coffee is the liquid of informal discussions that lead to career dreams.
- Label the email subject line “Proactive Career Conversation — (Your Name)
- Try using a few of these questions once you sit down with your leader.
- My favorite question: “I’m seeking your advice and coaching when it comes to my career. I’d like to progress and could really use your help. Would you be able to help guide me with the next phase of my career?” (This approach builds the leader up and helps elevate their ego.)
- “Are there any extra responsibilities I could take on? Even small opportunities like taking minutes of a meeting would be good.”
- “Would you be supportive of me looking at secondments to help broaden my skills and network?”
- “Would you be able to help introduce me to leader ‘X’ and manager ‘Y’ to talk about future opportunities in their respective areas?”
Remember that it’s your career and even though it takes a little bit of effort, the pay-offs outweigh any fear you might have. What’s the worst that can happen?
If your leader avoids this conversation, it’s a good sign that you’re working for the wrong leader — and that can lead to you looking for outside opportunities and finding a leader who will help your career progression.
So maybe you have decided to leave your current company. Perhaps you don’t see anyone at work who is happy in their job or the company faces an uncertain future. This can be the hardest part for introverts.
Changing companies produce so many unknowns and you’re going to meet many strangers in the process who may not get or appreciate your introverted tendencies. It’s all going to be okay.
There are introverts in every company and you’ll find your tribe.
The challenge of changing jobs as an introvert is that the old days of applying for jobs through job ads and getting interviews are quickly changing. Companies can now proactively find candidates through platforms like LinkedIn or strategic referral software that allows current employees to refer to talent.
Being proactive has a lot to do with your success in the hiring process and that comes with cold emails to strangers, coffees with people you don’t know, interviews that feel like police interrogations, and assignments that test your skills as part of a company’s selection process and require you to utilize whatever public speaking skills you have to present your work.
It’s not easy for an introvert. It was difficult for me last year too and people call me extroverted some of the time.
There are a few ways to making changing companies easier if you’re introverted. The best honey hole is your existing network of people you know.
The way you subtly look for a new company is to tell people you trust that you’re looking. Then, ask them for advice. Asking for advice in your career often leads people not only to advise you but to offer to help and refer you directly to people who can fast-track the process.
If your inner network doesn’t produce the right outcome, you can also add a more proactive approach. The introverted way to reach out is via direct messages and emails.
Contact people who work in your target fields or companies. Keep your approach short and sharp and highlight the value you bring.
If you can, offer a strategic way you can return the favor to them or mention how if you get hired, their referral will benefit them too.
Then there are the recruiters. Recruiters can help you and some may want to help themselves first. Reach out to them via LinkedIn and tell them you’re in the market. Find out what roles they specialize in and if their target market matches your experience or aspirations, ask them if you can send them your resume.
It often takes a little follow-up for this strategy to work. Recruiters are busy and there are plenty of people that are unhappy in their careers and looking for a career change. Respect their time and graciously follow them up.
Finding a mentor or getting career advice
One of the hardest things for an introvert to do is ask someone to be their mentor.
Asking someone to be your mentor can feel like asking someone to marry you.
Those five words — will you be my mentor? — are difficult to say.
That’s why using the word mentor can be a bad idea. Instead, asking for “career advice” is much easier. People are happy to give you career advice and to do so multiple times (often without realizing it), but asking them to be your mentor can feel like a life sentence that takes too much time.
As well as leaving out the dreaded word mentor, you can also use this strategy. Ask your people leader or people you trust for suggestions on who can help you with career advice based on your goals and field of expertise. Once you have a few quality recommendations, ask the person if they can refer you.
Or, approach the person directly via email and say “Person ‘X’ said you might be able to help Are you free for a quick chat?”
By having an outsiders name to separate you and your introverted nature with the person who can unofficially mentor you, it makes the process a whole lot easier. Plus the person you are asking will feel some obligation to at least respond and perhaps to help.
Referrals help take the spotlight off you and make you feel less exposed.
Dealing with the inevitable rejection
Each of these strategies, that can help introverts, come with rejection.
Rejection can be an awkward challenge for an introvert to deal with. The tendency is to shut down or hideaway when it happens. But you can’t progress in your career or ask for more money if you are crippled by rejection.
The reality is that some people just won’t agree with you. They won’t accept your experience, find it in their heart to help, make the time for your career conversations, accept you for an interview, reply to your LinkedIn message, or be your unofficial mentor.
The rejection hurts only if you let it hurt — and that’s the same for introverts and extroverts.
Take the rejection as normal and don’t focus on it. Expect rejection and don’t let it cause you unnecessary stress or make you give up. This is your career and your introverted tendencies can be your superpower.
Who doesn’t love a person who can say less and listen?
Who doesn’t appreciate a person that doesn’t brag all the time?
Who doesn’t appreciate a quiet achiever?
Embracing your introverted quirks — regardless of whether you are a 100% introvert or a 50% introvert like me — can get you further in your career than the loud dude who won’t shut up and talks over every customer/stakeholder in order to shout “I’m the best and no one can beat me” at the top of their lungs.
The traits of an introvert have a huge amount of value and the perceived downsides of being introverted can be overcome.
Embrace the amount of introverted DNA you have.
This article first appeared on Medium.