4 Interview Tips for the Introvert
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Interviews are a favorite tactic of summer programs, scholarships, internships, and colleges alike; they supposedly give admissions committees a better idea of you as a applicant, and how you behave when “in your element.” For a lot of introverts, however, interviews do the exact opposite of putting us in our element – trust us, some of us at CollegeVine are introverts too. It’s fifteen to thirty minutes of revealing our precious hopes, dreams and goals to a complete stranger all while watching our body language and trying to make sure that we come off as interesting but not weird.
In short, it’s a struggle – but it’s not impossible! While we do have to do a little more legwork than extroverts to make an interview successful, interviews can be just as rewarding and productive for us as it is for them.
One more thing: this post is probably best when used as a supplement to more general interview advice (which can be found here and here). Think of it as the introvert extension to a more comprehensive suite of interview advice that can help you dress the part, feel the part, and speak the part you need to succeed.
So from one introvert to another (and without further ado), here are a few techniques that you can add to your interview arsenal.
Before the Interview: Organize your thoughts
Now, there’s no uniform way to prepare for every interview; each organization likes to ask different questions, and just like any normal conversation, the interviewer may decide to take different tangents that aren’t part of their script. What’s more, you’re expected to be able to adapt to these spontaneous changes without breaking a sweat.
While we’re not recommending that you write up prescriptive plans for every possible situation you could face in an interview, we’ve found that it’s a good idea to separate experiences or thoughts that you have about the interview into two categories: “acceptable to mention” and “not acceptable to mention.”
So ideally before the interview, get out a piece of paper and start brainstorming – if you’re interviewing for a summer program that trains future journalists, for instance, write down all the things that you’ve done that involve writing. Write down all the thoughts and feelings you have about writing, about all the things you like about writing, your grammatical pet peeves, and so on.
After you’ve brainstormed thoroughly and have nothing more to write down about the field, consider your target audience and start eliminating the options that you should definitely not mention – whether they’re irrelevant to the position you’re applying for, too personal, or socially unacceptable.
For example, you’d definitely want to talk about that time you had to step in as editor-in-chief for your school newspaper when your EIC had a family emergency, but you should probably refrain from talking about the fan-fiction you used to write in middle school. If there’s something you’re not sure of, cross it out anyway; it’s better to err on the side of caution.
The point of this exercise is not to teach yourself about the limits of acceptability in an interview, but to get your thoughts categorized in case you do go off on a tangent and have to improvise an answer. This way, not only will you have brainstormed a lot of possible answers already, you’ll have designated a “safe” area for yourself where you can unleash your conversational creativity. Because while it’s good to be novel and inventive in your responses, there’s nothing worse than overshooting your mark and accidentally going too far in your improvisation.
Before the Interview: Write it out
To many introverts, writing comes easier than speech – and we should use that to our advantage. Writing has the potential to be much more eloquent than off-the-cuff speech, and if you can rehearse the interview at least once in writing, it’ll really help elevate the responses you give in real-time.
The end goal of all interviews is to find out if you’re a good fit for the position you want. This fit can usually be divided into two main subcategories: how the organization appeals to you, and how you’re appealing to the organization. With that in mind, you can write up a mini-manifesto before the interview that argues for why you would be perfect for the position or scholarship you’re seeking.
It doesn’t have to be long; around 300 words would be a good length. Read this, study it well, but know that you shouldn’t try to memorize what you’ve written word-for-word; interviewers can tell when you’re reciting from a script. However, where this would come in handy is if you’re fielded a question that asks why you like the University of Pennsylvania (for instance), and you can remember that you’ve written about their “altruistic and humanistic tradition of helping others help themselves” in your manifesto. By taking that small fragment and using it to build an extemporaneous answer, your responses will be more structured and more substantial, all while preserving the unpracticed ease of spontaneous speech.
During the Interview: Navigating small talk
Small talk is something most of us love to hate — it serves little purpose towards actually understanding another person (for us), and it drains our social energy reserves. Though some interviewers are adept at swinging the conversation towards more creative and insightful topics, you’ll definitely encounter a good deal of small talk, regardless of the situation. Often times, this small talk will revolve around the recent goings-on in your life. Questions like, “What have you been up to since finishing your application?” are common and, while basic, can help the interviewer to gauge your personal convictions with regards to the ambitions you’ve described in an application. Even though answering well will not seal the deal for you, answering ineptly can leave a negative blemish on your profile.
The best solution for this is to think up a recent event or a future plan in your life that would be (ideally) both interesting and somewhat relevant to the position or scholarship that you’re interviewing for. If we go back to the journalism camp example, you can talk about a book that you’ve recently finished reading. If you’re trying to get into a computer science summer program, maybe you can talk about something that you’ve been playing with on GitHub. A scholarship for leadership and community service? Try talking about an upcoming community service project that a school club is doing.
Before you go all out brainstorming these events, however — there is a very fine line between trying enough, and trying too hard. If we bring back the UPenn example, it’s okay to say that you were watching a television show and just found out that one of the actors was an alum. It’s not okay to tell your interviewer that you’ve been doing great because you’re reading biographies of all the UPenn alumni that there ever were. Don’t get too specific, and as a rule of thumb, it’s better to tailor these events to the functional aspect of the position or scholarship rather than the specific organization who’s interviewing you.
And if you honestly cannot think of anything relevant to the interview, the safest go-to to retreats are usually your studies or your hobbies (as long as you didn’t put them on the “unsafe to mention” side of our earlier exercise). If you happen to come to a certain point in the small talk conversation when you feel like you’ve reached your limit, you can always ask a question of the interviewer to direct the focus off of yourself and onto them — not only do you get some respite, but by inquiring about the interviewer, you also come off as a more considerate person and an active listener.
During the Interview: Asking Insightful Questions
Most of us introverts are described by our acquaintances as “good listeners” and are more comfortable when we’re taking in information about other people than when we’re doling it out. Lucky for us, there is a way to effectively activate this skill in an interview.
Many interviewers will reserve some time during the interview for you to ask questions of them, and the questions you ask here aren’t just purely for the benefit of your curiosity; they can help the interviewer form a more favorable impression of you as well. It’s especially helpful when we take into consideration that most of the time, this segment occurs at the end of an interview and is the last impression you’ll get to leave your interviewer with.
Of course, you should ask any logistical questions about the position or scholarship you’re interviewing for if you need to. Most people do.
But what a lot of people don’t ask in this section are open-ended questions that are intended to get the other person talking. You know the type — “What’s the most exciting part about working to better conditions in Africa?” “I really think you guys do a lot of amazing things in University X’s engineering department, and I’m really just curious, but could you tell me about one of the things that you’re currently working on?” “How does it feel to work at a company with such a creativity-driven culture?”
Coming up with these questions usually requires a bit of prior research, and the more you can include recent events about the organization in your questions, the better. Another way to come up with these questions is throughout the interview process — sometimes the question and answer process can reveal certain implications about the organization.
The purpose here is to demonstrate to the interviewer that you have a genuine interest in both the interviewer and the organization, so think altruistically! Give your interviewer a chance to talk at length. A good question should be a chance for the interviewer to take the stage and tell you something significant about the organization and its values–perhaps even their personal experiences with the company.
This brings the conversational dynamic back into our court, into a position we’re familiar with. Feel free to follow up with more questions if the interviewer’s answers give you more material, but keep a check on the time to make sure that you don’t go off for too long, or past your designated time slot.
However, make sure that what you’re asking is “within your pay grade,” so to speak — it should be at least somewhat tangentially related to the position or scholarship you’re seeking. Otherwise, you risk coming off as nosy. Also, never ask any questions that assume you’ve already been selected for the position (that’s just arrogant).
Like everything else, interviews get easier with practice. It might take some people a few run-throughs while other people don’t feel comfortable enough about them until years into their career, and both situations are normal. It’s even normal to never completely get rid of the pre-interview jitters (and this is when we secretly envy extroverts). But hey — we have our own strengths and don’t necessarily need to transform into extroverts in order to succeed.