Are you a fan of the movies? If so, do you like Tom Hanks, Steve Martin, Emma Watson or Audrey Hepburn? If you’re a fan of television, do you like Courteney Cox, Barbara Walters, and do you miss David Letterman? If you’re a sports fanatic, are you an admirer of legends like Michael Jordan or Larry Bird? In the world of business, do you believe that Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have been quite successful? Agree that Abraham Lincoln was one of our best presidents?
Did you know all are or were once introverts? It’s true, and yet as introverts, if you interviewed them, chances are you might have opted to remove them from consideration and move forward with more extroverted candidates. The question is, why?
Think about it. Introverts are stereotypically perceived as quiet and shy, people who don’t like to talk or be around others. Some might more severely define introverts as weird, awkward, aloof, or even rude. If you believe even some of these statements, then chances are when interviewing an introvert you might have been disappointed by their short answers and how they may have appeared nervous. In the end, you probably didn’t hire them.
Not hiring them might have been a big mistake. First of all, most of the behaviors associated with introverts are myths that simply aren’t true. Second, and please refer back to the list of introverts at the beginning of this article, introverts are some of the highest performing people on our planet. Not selecting someone based solely on their interview performance will negatively impact your company’s diversity as well as its overall performance. So it’s clear, if you continue to penalize introverts when hiring, you are making a huge mistake.
Although the world is finally beginning to understand that introversion is not synonymous with shyness and introverts can be strong leaders and very effective employees, many employers are still falling far short in terms of getting introverts through the door. That’s because the deck is heavily stacked against introverts in the traditional hiring process.
In-person interviewers still tend to favor people who engage quickly and energetically in conversation, who make connections (even superficial ones), and whose outgoing nature seems to signal confidence, competence and dedication—all ideal criteria for extroverts. The problem arises when employers fail to separate the signal from the noise. They forget to ask: is this candidate actually the right fit for the position—and a good cultural fit at the organization?
Extroverts—for all their positive attributes—tend to generate a lot of noise. Introverts are apt to get lost in the shuffle. As a result, employers are overlooking quieter and more modest but potentially better candidates in favor of louder, potentially less qualified and possibly toxic ones.
How can employers overcome this signal vs. noise problem to give introverts a fair shot?
One way is to find more signals. Employers need to do more than rely on interviews to make their hiring decisions. Personality tests can help, by offering a window into a candidate’s perspective.
Job references are also very important. References are the only people who can talk in real, concrete terms about the candidate’s past workplace performance. A recent study we fielded found that 84% of executives perform reference checks for every hire. However, non-executives reported that they reference check less often—70% of the time. One of the best things employers can do is to give references a confidential way to share honest feedback and ask about actual experiences with the candidate—versus simply looking to confirm the basics about someone’s employment history.
Employers can also make sure that hiring managers are more prepared to conduct job interviews. Just a little bit of awareness and training on structured interviews and behavioral interview questions that draw different personality types into thoughtful conversations can go a long way. And when these questions delve into real work examples, interviewers can learn quite a bit about candidates—introverts and extroverts alike.
We’ve seen dozens of employers change the course of their hiring decisions based on better interviewing, personality tests and reference assessments. These sources can be incredibly important and valuable equalizers for introverts. Just as critical—they also help open up a much larger candidate pool to prospective employers.
It’s time to stop leaving potentially great performers by the wayside. Not only do introverts deserve better—our workplaces, companies and economy desperately need the talents and diverse perspectives and work styles that introverts can bring.
It’s time to stop settling for 50 percent when it comes to hiring.
Ray Bixler is CEO of SkillSurvey, a cloud-based reference checking technology firm.