Raise your hand if you’ve gone to an interview, and been so nervous about the whole thing that afterward, you couldn’t remember half of what happened. (Raises hand.) Now raise your hand if that’s happened multiple times, because anxiety. (Hand still raised.)
Interviewing can be really tough if you’re not a natural extrovert. Meeting new people, having to be “on” at all times, trying to negotiate the interaction…it can be exhausting. And more importantly, it can undermine your job search, even when you know you’re qualified, and have an A+ resume. Nerves or pauses can come off as seeming unprepared, which is the last thing you want.
The way to get around this, and seem like you put yourself out there all the time, no big deal, is to develop coping mechanisms that will have you schmoozing like someone who does it all the time. That being said, here are 7 interview secrets for introverts.
1. Chill—it’s just a conversation.
It can be very daunting to walk into an interview. It’s just so formal. The handshake, the eye contact, all of it. Instead, remember that this is literally a conversation between two (or more) people, at heart. You already have an “in,” so it’s not like you have to start from scratch with conversation topics. Always remember that even though the stakes are higher than your average chat over coffee, you’re talking to regular people, not CIA interrogators.
2. Show off those listening skills.
One of the best social skills that many introverts have is the ability to listen carefully and zero in on the heart of the issue—one of the most beneficial skills to bring into an interview. Even if you’re used to being the one who hangs back in conversation, that’s something you can use to your advantage in a job interview. A customized answer to a complicated question can give you an edge of someone who’s in extrovert interview mode, and working from a set of personal talking points.
3. Bring notes.
Personally, one of my biggest interview challenges is feeling like I’m rambling or forgetting crucial information in the moment. Notes can help with that. Unless the interview is bizarrely like the SATs, where notes and calculators are not allowed, it’s not likely any interviewer would object to you having a notebook in front of you. That way, if you start to feel nervous or like you’re having trouble thinking on your feet, you have your prep notes right there for reference. However, be careful not to lean on these too much—you want to maintain the eye contact and conversational flow.
4. Anticipate small talk.
It’s going to happen. After the initial offer of water or coffee, there will always be some small talk. If that’s not your strong suit, think of a few topics ahead of time: the weather (cliché but it works), the commute, that awesome painting in the lobby. Honestly, this will be the easiest part of the interview, so it’s not worth stressing about whether you’ll have anything in common with the interviewer.
Be prepared to have a few casual minutes of talking about things that aren’t directly related to the job at hand. Also be prepared to think on your feet. For example, if you’re in someone’s office and see a Yankees cap, it’s a good chance to comment on their World Series chances this year.
5. Realize you’re there to brag.
If you struggle with being the center of attention, find ways to couch your accomplishments as part of your current company’s growth/positive outcomes, or focus on things you’ve been praised for in the past. It can be easier to illustrate your awesomeness than to come out and say, “I’m awesome.” It’s also good to focus on things that make you genuinely excited about your job—if you light up when you talk about something, that’s an easy win and engages the interviewer.
6. Practice, practice, practice.
Know the job description cold. Know ahead of time what questions you have about the job or company. Know what you want to to emphasize in your own history and experience. Then, once you have those in mind, practice answering questions about all of them. The more familiar you are with the lines of the conversation ahead of time, the easier it will be to deal with them when you’re in an unfamiliar space with unfamiliar faces.
7. Use the thank you email to your advantage.
If you did fumble something or let nerves get the better of you in part of the interview, the follow-up note can help you clarify a bungled point. If you’re better in writing than chatting in person, a coherent and charming thank you note can help shore up the final impression.
The job interview as we know it is not suited super-well to those of us with introvert tendencies—but that doesn’t mean you have to accept that. You don’t need to become a social butterfly overnight, but having a set of strategies in you pocket can really help you compete with people who take to the format much more naturally.