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How to Create an Introvert-Friendly Hiring Process

A woman in glasses holding a folder in an office.

​Traditional hiring practices often favor extroverted candidates who may be more adept at interviewing than their more-introverted counterparts. This bias can lead employers to overlook talented candidates who have the skills and experience to do the job but may lack interviewing finesse.

Consider Jack, who asked that his last name be withheld to preserve anonymity. He is a microbiologist in Chicago who likes to spend time in the lab poring over experiments and analyzing results—a job that requires a lot of "alone time," which suits his introverted nature well. Although he should be considered an excellent candidate for a research position, he said he's been passed over for new opportunities throughout his career by interviewers who he believes have had trouble warming up to his personality.

"Many candidates aren't making it through the hiring process to get the jobs they're qualified for because they don't interview in a bubbly, enthusiastic manner," said Cynthia Trivella, managing partner at TalentCulture, a virtual HR marketing and communications firm in Cincinnati. "If introverted candidates aren't able to confidently share their accomplishments, they're likely to be overlooked for positions in which they would thrive. The costs to our organizations of this lost talent are staggering to consider."

Although many people associate introversion with shyness, this fundamentally misunderstands the true nature of introversion, which is more about energy than social skills. Introverts gain energy through solitude, while extroverts gain energy by spending time with other people, according to Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist who first coined the terms.

Dick Bolles aptly captured this misunderstanding in his book What Color Is Your Parachute? (originally published in 1970; the 2022 edition is from Ten Speed Press) by noting that people often view introverts as "party poopers" when they are really "just pooped by the party." 

Avoiding Affinity Bias 

Many hiring professionals base their hiring decisions primarily on the basis of "likeability," according to research conducted by Lauren Rivera, a professor of management and organizational behavior at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Simply put, managers and recruiters prefer hiring people they like, regardless of the candidates' other qualifications (or lack thereof).

Jean Hsu remembers working with a CHRO who used the "airport test" to evaluate candidates. Interviewers who use this approach ask themselves the hypothetical question, "Would I want to be stuck in an airport with this person?" This approach favors extroverts who are often more comfortable in social situations and recasts the hiring process as a popularity contest rather than as an assessment of the candidate's actual qualifications for the job. 

"You need to be aware of what you are assessing them for. There's nothing about the airport test that tells you what the person can do on the job," said Hsu, vice president of engineering at Range Labs, a Denver-based software company.

"Many recruiters equate a lack of [social] energy with a lack of interest, when all it really means is that the candidate may be quieter and more reserved in interviews," said Lauren Van Duyn, recruitment manager at Workhuman in Framingham, Mass. She and her colleagues train recruiters and hiring managers to recognize their own biases and refocus their attention on job qualifications rather than candidates' personalities.

Ask questions that help you get to know candidates, but don't go too far. Van Duyn cautioned against asking candidates personal questions that are unrelated to the position. "Make sure you are truly assessing the candidate's qualifications for the job" and not their personal life circumstances, she said.

Trivella said a better way is to, "whenever you can, ask a candidate a question that encourages them to talk about something that is interesting and meaningful to them."

Jack, for example, became quite animated in an interview with a research director who asked him about his decision to pursue a career in science and his long-term career goals, but he clammed up when he was asked noncareer-related questions. 

Creating an Evidence-Based Approach 

An objective, evidence-based hiring process can be an effective way to minimize biases and limit impulsive decision-making. Scot Sessions, CEO and co-founder of TalVista, a San Diego-based HR tech company, recommended optimizing job descriptions to focus on the best indicators of job success and then developing questions to assess the candidate's knowledge and competency.

"Don't trust your gut," Sessions said. "Weight the value of each competence, and then select questions that identify competencies that fit with the job description."

Another approach is to create an interview scorecard that identifies and evaluates how each candidate matches up against the requirements of the job, and then structure the interview questions around those qualifications, suggested Caitlyn Metteer, director of recruiting for Lever, a talent relationship management platform in San Francisco. "When interviewers are focused on the qualifications for the job, it helps eliminate personal biases."

"Many companies don't realize that their job descriptions are biased toward select groups or really understand what the role requires," Trivella said. She recommended identifying people within your organization who have been successful in that specific role and listing the qualities they possess that make them good at their jobs, then building that information into the job description.

"Tailor the questions to what the job requires," Trivella said. "Don't assess candidates based on whether they are a good interviewee."

Van Duyn cautioned hiring professionals against the tendency to pigeonhole candidates into specific roles based on stereotypes. She cited an example of a colleague who, despite being introverted, is a highly effective trainer.

"She has acquired the social skills that she needs to be effective at her job. But afterward, she needs some downtime to reflect on her experience and recoup her energy," Van Duyn said.

Behavioral or situational questions that are tailored to the job description can be good indicators of how the candidate would perform in a role. For Jack, a behavioral question about his experiences working collaboratively on a team provided the interviewer with genuine insights into his work ethic that weren't readily apparent from his reserved demeanor.

Although it's important to ask every candidate the same set of questions, each interviewer should be assigned questions based on their own knowledge and expertise. "This prevents candidates from having to constantly repeat themselves," Sessions said. "Extroverts do better with interviewers who don't know how to evaluate the answer to their own questions."

Van Duyn agreed: "When every interviewer uses their 30-minute interview to ask the same questions, you get 30 minutes of insight. But if you align the questions with the interviewers' experience and expertise, you're able to put a lot more pieces of the puzzle together."

This division of labor also levels the playing field for candidates who are uncomfortable with the performative component of job interviewing and may lose energy (and interest) if they are constantly answering the same questions.

"When interviewees have to keep answering the same questions, it creates a horrible candidate experience," Sessions said. 

Establishing a Flexible and Inclusive Process 

Hsu has developed an inclusive interviewing approach that enables more-introverted candidates to shine. Although she doesn't explicitly ask candidates if they are introverts or extroverts, she does present them with a range of choices about how to structure the interview in order to accommodate their needs and preferences.

Because she's aware that introverts often feel drained of energy after interactions with others, she gives them time between interviews to rest. For example, if they are meeting with four different team members as part of the process, she offers them the option to spread the interviews out over the course of a few days.

Van Duyn similarly emphasizes the importance of building breaks into the process so that candidates aren't forced to complete back-to-back interviews without any downtime. She also uses asynchronous assessment tools that candidates can take home and work on at their own pace rather than live tests, which tend to favor people who can think on their feet.

Metteer added that it's important to prepare candidates for the process by providing them with information and resources, including details about who they will be meeting with, how much time to allocate for each interview and what the company is looking for.

"A disorganized process mitigates against objective evaluation," Metteer said. "Give candidates the information and resources they need to shine." 

Sessions recommended that interviewers complete independent evaluations of candidates at the end of each interview to assess how their skills and experience align with the job requirements before getting feedback from the other interviewers.

"Don't compare notes until you've formed your own independent evaluation in order to avoid groupthink," he said. "Then you can come together to discuss what you learned and make a good hiring decision." 

Arlene Hirsch is a career counselor and author based in Chicago.


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