I’m a true-blue introvert and socially anxious. Since I was a child, I did not enjoy going to parties or talking to other people. When people try to engage me or ask me questions, I didn’t answer or make eye contact. I was always sitting in a corner silently or hiding in someplace where I can be alone. I’m not saying that I did not have any friends, but I had to get used to seeing and talking to a person first regularly before warming up to them. I carried this introversion and anxiety with me throughout my adolescence and until now as an adult.
In 2013, I moved to Singapore from the Philippines and continued my career as a Headhunter. I was already doing the same job for two years prior, but the work environment back then was very inbound sales. This time, my role as a Recruiter fully focused in sales, which requires a lot of proactive and constant human interaction. It was hard for me to accept as I am socially challenged.
It turns out that I can’t pretend because my introversion and awkwardness drip out of me through my verbal responses, body language, and actions. Unfortunately, introversion is not the ideal quality that employers look for in a Headhunter. In most job ads, common attributes that employers look for include: excellent interpersonal skills, ability to interact with all levels of an organization / different types of personnel, energetic, enthusiastic, have an outgoing personality, engaged in extracurricular activities or interests that show outgoing personality, able to work well with a team, etc. Also, many recruitment companies use online personality assessment tools to determine if the applicant has such characteristics. Unsurprisingly, I often did not pass these assessments.
My views of introversion changed through my colleagues. I had one who was the superstar in our cohort. This person started closing deals fast and did it consistently, displayed astute business development skills, commercial acumen, and maintained great client relationships. However, you will hardly hear this person’s voice in the office. This person doesn’t frequent parties, nor is the life and the center of it. You won’t hear this person too much on team meetings either. I had the opportunity to learn from this person and realised that success in this profession was not through extroversion. Rather, it was through diligent research of prospects, meeting them in one to one settings to truly understand them and their needs, and closely following-up with them.
Another excellent example for me is one of my ex-bosses. I admired her boundless energy and initiative to speak with people at all levels, and her confidence in speaking to higher-ups. She didn’t say it outright, but I learned later that she’s a true-blue introvert like me. She often told me that dealing with people for long periods drained her energy, and she does not enjoy going to parties, socialising or entertaining. She is at her best when she’s at home or with her loved ones. She’s one of those people who can “switch on and off.” It doesn’t mean she pretends to be someone she’s not. She just knows when to put on the required people skills and when to stop using them.
As per Susan Cain’s book title, the world we currently live in is a place where people can’t stop talking. Through the various socio-economic changes in the past century, the world has become biased toward extroverts and made it the ideal personality trait to succeed. Meanwhile, introverts are looked down upon and unfavored. Introverts miss out on opportunities as they are perceived to be meek, low energy, not a team player, not ambitious, and so on. We may have a different way of harnessing and utilising our energy and expressing ourselves, but that does not make us less competent than extroverts.
One of the biggest learnings in my career is that although extroversion is advantageous in the recruitment industry, many other characteristics will define a person’s success and longevity in this field. That includes active listening, asking the right questions, knowing what to say and when to say it, sincerity, drive to achieve goals, and resilience to overcome rejections. I dare say that we introverts have those qualities as well. Although we do not appear like it upfront, we can be in this industry in the long run too.
Nowadays, I don’t feel as ashamed to be an introvert as when I was younger. In fact, I’m starting to let other people know that this is the real me. I started managing my energy by using my peak periods to do the challenging people engagements. I prepare myself for meetings in advance, switch my “on” mode when it’s time to work and give myself time to recharge afterwards. On the other hand, I’m still struggling with getting comfortable going to parties. For now, I guess I can get away with it as large gatherings are still not allowed (Thanks, Corona).
While I am still on this journey of embracing my true nature, I encourage my fellow introverts to be authentic and take pride. Our personality traits should not stop us from flourishing in our professions, whether they are perceived to be fit for us or not. Instead, let’s appreciate how set apart we are, recognise our strengths and capitalise on them, and show that stillness is just as much a tool for success as loudness.