How to check your bias when interviewing introverts

In Blog, Diversity & Inclusion by Rachel Murray

According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, the world and workplace places a greater premium on extroverts. Drawing on decades of research and interviews, she makes a compelling case that introverts are frequently overlooked. It’s hard to ignore this truth when you think about it. We live in a world where we’re constantly told to build your brand, network, speak up, and smile more; where the people who make the biggest noise and say the most get ahead the quickest; where open plan work environments, team building exercises, and pair programming rule workplace culture. It’s easy to overlook the quieter, more self-reflective, and modest candidate in favor of the louder, more overtly gregarious (and therefore seemingly more confident) one. You may worry they’re not a good fit (here’s why this is problematic).

By letting your very understandable bias for extroversion come into play, you may be doing your company a disservice. Research has shown that introverted leaders can be an incredibly valuable asset to the right team. Research also shows that creativity can come from solitude. And, it’s worth noting that there have been some brilliant people who were self-professed introverts.

So now that we may have convinced you that introverts are awesome, how we can we mitigate our bias and hire them? Interviews are considered by many to be one of the most important aspects when it comes to of hiring someone, and yet there’s a lot of research to show that most interviews (especially the more popular unstructured, free flowing interviews) are not only ineffective, but can actually be harmful. It makes sense. We like to think we can trust our gut – we get a good feeling about someone and we think they’re awesome because they’re able to think on their feet, make small talk, ask questions, which are all qualities that are more extroverted. However, just because someone may be more introverted and introspective, and might not be as compelling of a storyteller in their interview process, doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to deliver when faced with ownership of real life situations and work projects.

What can you do to mitigate bias in the interview process?

  • Recognize that bias toward extroversion exists, and run through a checklist before each interview to remind you that you have these biases.
  • Send out as much information in advance as possible.
  • Create a structured interview, asking the same questions in the same order for each candidate. Ideally you should put in place a rubric that will quantify the interview process.
  • When you’re designing the questions, provide as much context for the candidate as possible. For example, rather than asking someone to share their experiences, try to paint a picture of what the position entails and ask them how their experience relates to it.
  • Limit ‘curveball’ or ‘weird’ questions that are designed to throw people off. Ask yourself what you’re trying to get at by asking these types of questions. If it’s to see if people can think on their feet, recognize this might not work well for introverts (and might not be a needed skill for the position).
  • Focus on talking about the job, the role, the work environment and ask how they think they can thrive.
  • Consider having one-on-one interviews rather than group interviews.
  • Give time for the candidates to answer and don’t assume they’re not knowledgeable or confident – they may need more time to digest the question and answer thoughtfully.
  • Consider replacing the interview in favor of ‘auditions’ — these can still be intimidating for the interviewee, but can relieve some of the pressure for performing using ‘verbal jujitsu’ by allowing them to take action instead. Here’s an example of how to do just that.

If you’re an introvert and you’re reading this, never fear, we have some thoughts for how you can interview more effectively as well!

  • Come prepared with some small talk topics for when you initially meet the interviewers.
  • Come prepared with some particularly wonderful achievements you’re proud of – rather than thinking of this as bragging, think of it as sharing, and helping your interviewers to make an informed decision. Bring physical examples if it’s relevant.
  • Come prepared with questions to ask the interviewer.
  • Get there early so you have a few minutes to gather yourself and take a deep breath.
  • Remember that companies want you to succeed – they want to find the right candidate!
  • Try to think of it as a conversation, and remember it’s an opportunity for you to see if this is a right fit for you as well.
  • If you are faced with a group of interviewers at once, try to think of them individually and make eye contact with each person as you say hello.
  • After the interview, clear your head; go for a walk if you can. Then when you’re back at your desk, send your interviewers a thoughtful thank you note, ideally referencing something specific from the interview.

It’s important to remember that we all have biases. In a world that places a high value on extroversion, connecting with, hiring, and supporting introverts can be just the thing to round out your team’s skill set and bring your team’s and company’s success.

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