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I’m an Introvert. How Can I Thrive in the Workplace?

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Bill Gates. Mahatma Gandhi. Rosa Parks. These people changed the course of human history, but they have something else in common: they’re introverts. If you get more energy from time alone than you do from being in groups, you’re in some pretty good company. And, clearly, success is not out of reach for you.

For introverts, the workplace can feel like difficult terrain. Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” introduced a concept she calls “The Extrovert Ideal.” Her work shows that qualities associated with extroverts, like talkativeness and flashiness, have tended to be prized in the workplace more than the thoughtfulness and reflection that introverts like you bring to the job.

So while introverts have a great track record of leadership and success, they may have a harder time getting there than their extrovert colleagues. We asked Aerotek Senior Professional Recruiter Matt Wiehe for advice on how introverts can overcome barriers and thrive in the workplace.

Focus on what works for everybody

A few simple guidelines for workplace success apply to everybody, whether they’re introverts or not.

Matt Wiehe says, “Consistently doing your job well and taking pride in your work for the work’s sake never goes out of style. In terms of how coworkers perceive you, I like to follow the Golden Rule of treating others as I would like to be treated.”

Notice he didn’t use the word “introvert.” That’s because the above advice works equally well for everybody. Doing high-quality work and treating others with respect is a basic tenet of workplace success regardless of how much you enjoy being in groups or speaking in public.

Set yourself up for success

It’s okay, healthy even, to admit you’re an introvert. It can be extra tough to move forward into a career path that fits you if you aren’t able to be honest with yourself first and up front with your employer. Talk about about your preferences, gauge the environment and culture of any workplace you enter, and ask questions that help you understand how you’ll be valued before accepting a new position rather than waiting to deal with it later when it might be too late.

For more information about how to approach workplace culture with an understanding of your own personality, read the Aerotek blog on trusting your gut.

Matt Wiehe recommends taking a look at the field you’re in. While all careers involve tasks that require collaboration, some positions tend to be more introvert-friendly than others. “Each field I have worked in has a certain amount of social interaction to it, but some more than others. For example, in the architecture and engineering field, there is a pretty clear line between those people that like to do their jobs and be left alone and those that crave more interaction.”

Regardless of your field, once you’ve admitted you’re an introvert, you can make it a point to take some time to yourself to refresh and recharge throughout the day.

Strategize

Building strong relationships is an important element of workplace success, but introverts can have an especially difficult time forming those bonds. The solution? Make it a part of the job.

Set a calendar reminder, and spend 15 minutes of your day checking in with people. This might not come naturally to you, but it can pay dividends. Then, Matt Wiehe suggests, “Pick one person who you relate to the most or that is closest to you in personality and forge a relationship. Don’t rush it or put a timeline to it, but definitely make it clear that you want to partner up with them. As this relationship grows, start to add new people that you both like to your group. Since two is better than one, this will get easier and easier to accomplish.”

While this might not be the most comfortable thing for an introvert, relationships often grow deeper and stronger when people expand beyond their comfort zones together. You might even be pleasantly surprised at what happens when you reach out of your zone.

Remember what you bring to the table

If you’re an introvert, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re not just reacting defensively throughout your working life. There are qualities you possess that can be a real benefit to any workplace.

For instance, the Harvard Business School published a study which concluded that introverts, through their reluctance to be the focus of attention, do really well at helping and inspiring others to do their best work. That sounds like a pretty accurate description of Bill Gates, Mahatma Gandhi and Rosa Parks.

The lesson for introverts? Businesses need people like you just as much as they need people who excel in social settings. Keep your unique value in mind, and it’ll be easier to deal with the challenges you face.

Feel like you could benefit from advice more specific to your situation? Contact an expert Aerotek recruiter who can help you sort out a career path that fits your personality.

And if you’re looking for a job, visit our job board to find your next great opportunity. You can create a free career account today to customize your search.