The Introvert’s Guide to Job Search Success
If you’re an introvert, chances are job searching makes you uncomfortable. Not that anyone really likes to look for work. Most people would rather skip this process if they could, but for introverts that sentiment seems to count double. If this describes you, a word of caution: You could find yourself saying yes to the first thing that comes along—whether or not it’s the best job for you—just for the relief of being done with your search. That’s not a great reason to cement a decision that will impact the career you’ve worked so hard to build. So, what’s the better plan? Take a few minutes now to read about each part of the job search process, and tips to improve your strategy for those steps. As with other life challenges, you’ll likely find that practice and small successes in the early steps will set the stage for overcoming your reluctance. And even if parts of the process still make you uncomfortable, now you’ll have the confidence to know you can implement strategies to get the result you want.
Networking: Mastering the art of small talk
We’re starting with the part of job search that makes introverts cringe: Chatting for the sake of chatting. Of course, it’s really chatting for the sake of bonding and getting to know each other, but that doesn’t make it any more comfortable to do. These tips for managing small talk will help not only with your job search, but with other situations where you need to be both social and professional at the same time.
Start the conversation yourself.
If you jump in first, the other person will not guess that you’re uncomfortable. This will be easier if you think of a few topics in advance. As you’d guess, politics and other polarizing subjects should be ruled out, but noncontroversial medical topics or points of local interest will serve you well.
Show interest in others.
If you know the names of your networking partners in advance of the conversation, you can look them up online to gather clues about their interests and background. Then you can introduce a topic that takes the spotlight off you: “I saw from your hospital profile that you trained in Quebec. How did you decide to come here for your fellowship?”
Keep the ball rolling.
Small-talk conversations don’t need to go on and on, but you should strive for at least two or three volleys before lapsing into silence. That’s about the minimum needed if the conversation is going to take off. To aid in this goal, you’ll need to respond when the other person speaks, ideally with something that encourages more conversation, such as “I didn’t know that” or “I’d be interested in hearing more about that.”
Come around to the point.
If there’s something you need to know from your conversational partner, you’ll have to take the lead to ensure that happens. After a couple of warm-up points, it’s fine to jump in with your direct request: “I’m glad we’re talking because there’s something I need to ask you. I’ve been thinking about working at a hospital like the one you’re at, and I’d be interested in your perspective on what that’s been like for you.”
Job leads: Personalizing an impersonal process
It may be counter-intuitive, but it’s not always smart for an introverted person to rely on electronic processes and email correspondence when conducting a job search. Although these methods are efficient, they can become a crutch for anyone who feels uncomfortable in conversations with people they don’t know. Worse, too many rounds of emails and online applications could harm the introvert’s confidence or actual performance in interviews. The solution? Use online tools strategically, but not exclusively.
Here’s an example: Suppose you want to be a hospitalist in the southwestern United States. It’s logical to watch the job postings online at the AAN Career Center, and to set up a Job Alert with your criteria so that new listings come to your inbox automatically. That’s smart use of the technology. But now what? If you simply complete an online application or send your CV automatically, you are being efficient but you’re also ceding control of the timing for the next interaction. You likely will be contacted at some random point in the coming weeks and perhaps be put on the spot if someone starts a “soft interview” by calling after you apply. Instead, consider that if you’re the one making the first call, you can control the conversation and the timing.
Another way to use the postings to your advantage is to watch them for several weeks while you discern the similarities and differences in what employers are requesting. This is a good strategy for anyone, but for the introvert it’s especially helpful to have a heads-up on where a conversation with the recruiter might go. And speaking of recruiters, here’s a great way to personalize the process of following leads: Build a relationship with one or two recruiters representing your specialty or desired employers, then connect with them for assistance or advice when you see a position you favor. By feeling more connected to a few individuals, you’ll feel more confident sending a text to clarify a point or making a quick call when you need information.
Letters and CVs: Providing the “warm” details
Does your CV read like a factual list of educational experiences, with a few publications and presentations thrown in? That’s the bare minimum and it’s fine—if you don’t mind playing 20 questions with each and every interviewer. Consider that the more information you provide on your materials, the more you can “warm up” your in-person interaction later. This benefits you by taking some of the conversational burden off your shoulders during interviews and phone conversations. As a second advantage, it gives the interviewer or recruiter a head start on knowing you more fully. A primary rule for success in a job search is that people hire people they like—and they like people they feel they know something about.
Here are some of the things you can add to your CV to help the interviewer get to know you through your paperwork: An initial summary or profile providing a few sentences about your goals and interests; job descriptions for your fellowships and residency that give the scope of your work and details about your responsibilities; a section for committees or other non-clinical duties; a section for volunteer activities; and a section listing a few of your personal interests. Does this seem like a lot of information that isn’t strictly necessary? That’s exactly the point. These are things you’re going to be asked in the interview, so having them already represented on your CV gives you a chance to influence and anticipate the specifics of the conversation. Instead of being asked, “Tell us what you do with your free time,” you might instead be asked, “How did you get interested in playing rugby?” For an introvert, answering a specific question is often less stressful than being given an open-ended query.
You can apply the same strategy to cover letters by providing an example of your training or experience that relates to criteria from the posting. When you do this, instead of simply saying “I meet all the criteria requested,” you give the interviewer something specific to focus on. Again, having a hint about what the conversation might cover (because you essentially planted the topic) lets you feel more confident.
Shrug off your worries One quality many introverts share is the tendency to think things through very deeply. This is obviously a good practice when it comes to patient care or other medical duties. But it actually can be a hindrance to processoriented tasks such as a job search. When you think too deeply or long about job search steps, the result tends to be inertia.
Once your initial research and strategizing are complete, there’s little added value to rethinking things. You’ll need to trust that your preparation will be enough, and that you can find a way to recover if it turns out it wasn’t. As the saying goes, the only way forward is through. Might as well jump in and get started; after awhile, you just might discover you’re better at this than you thought you’d be.
Extra Credit: Lunch Meetings and Tours
Most candidates, introverts or not, can find a way through standard interviews without too much added strain. That’s because the agenda is in someone else’s hands and the candidate can revert to simply answering questions if it becomes too difficult to generate a conversational give-and-take. But that Q&A safety net dissolves when the format changes to a lunch meeting or hospital tour. As an introvert, if you can prepare yourself to survive these events, you’ll be ready for anything. These tips will help:
- When possible, review the restaurant’s menu online in advance of the meeting. This gives you the opportunity to make a logical choice (no finger food, not the most expensive item, etc.) without the pressure of having others watch you decide.
- Don’t become overly absorbed in your meal. For introverts, it’s tempting to be eyes-down when you have a plateful of food to focus on. Resist that urge and keep your attention on the others, even if it means not finishing your food.
- Enjoy the tour without struggling to converse with everyone you meet. You’ll be doing well if you can say something short and positive to most of the people you’re introduced to (“I’m impressed with how bright and sunny this wing is.”). Anything beyond that is definitely extra credit.