What Your Company Can Do to Tap Into an Enormous (and Often-Overlooked) Talent Pool

August 7, 2018

Imagine if we created a hiring process that eliminated the chance to offer a job to anyone whose last name started with a letter in the first half of the alphabet. That’s right, no one from A to M. Sorry, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Marissa Mayer, Elon Musk.

The truth is: We already have a process that too often would rule out all of those hugely successful people. Why? Because they’re all introverts.

Today, almost every single company conducts interviews that favor extroverted candidates and dismiss their introverted counterparts, effectively eliminating a third to a half of the talent pool.

The hiring process typically places tremendous emphasis on interview performance, rewarding confidence, charisma, and fast-talking—all classic traits of the extrovert. Don’t get us wrong—extroverts are great and sorely needed, too. But constantly favoring their exuberance and easy sociability can lead to a lopsided organization.

Research over the last decade has demonstrated that 1) introverted leaders outperform extroverted ones in many organizations and that 2) extroverts contribute less than expected to team projects and the contributions they do make are less valued over time. Introverts seek the solitude that is usually needed for truly creative thinking; they are also natural listeners, diligent problem solvers, and consummate team members.

The good news? There are six steps you can take to make sure you are giving introverted candidates a fair chance in order to create balanced teams and ensure you’re not leaving loads of talent on the table.

1. Ditch the curveball questions and replace them with more descriptive queries

There are simple tactics that can reduce the innate advantages extroverts have in the hiring process. For starters, get rid of curveball questions—“Why are manhole covers round?” or “Amazon is a peculiar company. In what ways are you peculiar?”—and add context to your remaining questions.

“To get the best from an introvert,” author and futurist Adam Riccoboni told the Financial Times, “an interviewer should be descriptive and informative in their question, enabling the candidate to process the information better and provide more effective answers.” In short, don’t let your questions be so open-ended they swallow your introverted candidates.

2. Send questions to candidates in advance

“Before an in-person interview, send some of the questions to the candidate in advance,” suggests Kelly Lavin, Chief Talent Officer at Canvas. “This helps level the playing field between those who prefer to process before responding (introverts) and those who don’t (extroverts).”

While it may sound counterintuitive to give candidates questions before you meet with them, there are a number of upsides—they’ll be judged on past performance, not presentation skills; objectivity will be increased; the right questions will be asked; and the playing field will be leveled to increase diversity.

3. Be patient and encourage candidates to take their time with their answers

Whether you give candidates the questions before the interview or during it, encourage them to take their time before responding and then listen intently for the content of the answer, rather than the enthusiasm or decibel level with which it’s delivered.

Riccoboni notes that when interviewing an introvert, there may be long, potentially uncomfortable moments of silence. “It may simply be the introvert taking time to formulate and share their thoughts,” he says, “but the interviewer might mistake it for a lack of experience or confidence.”

Remember: rapid response is for firefighters, not job candidates. Appreciate the thoughtful, well-reasoned answer.

4. When possible, make interviews one-on-one

Lisa Petrilli, the author of The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership, champions the idea of giving introverts a chance to meet key interviewers one-on-one. “If a large group interview is necessary,” she says, “offer downtime afterward.”

Amish Shah, the CEO and founder of Millennium Search in Charlotte, North Carolina, also favors one-on-one opportunities for introverts and suggests that recruiters make sure candidates “are questioned by someone who has prior experience and knowledge about assessing different types of personalities.”

5. Expand your use of tests and assessments to level the playing field

Dan Finnigan, president and CEO of Jobvite, a software and recruiting company in San Mateo, California, says non-interview assessments can remove bias from the hiring process, making it fairer to introverts and extroverts alike.

“For example,” Finnigan writes, “if you’re considering someone for a software development position, you might use the site HackerRank, which offers a game-like coding test to rate candidates’ coding abilities.”

In addition, there is a growing number of soft-skills assessment tools, like Pymetrics and Koru, that can help you better understand if a candidate will be a good fit for the role and your company. Companies can also give prospective hires personality tests such as Myers-Briggs or Big Five to better understand what kind of candidate they are considering and tailor their interviews and assessments, accordingly.

6. Use reference checks earlier and more thoroughly

How do we make introverts comfortable ‘tooting their own horn’ with the details of their talents and previous accomplishments?

The short answer: Get others to toot their horns for them. Get reference checks early in the screening process and use them as a way to understand past performance and underlying skills and strengths, not merely as a validation tool.

“Consider asking applicants if they'll provide names of any connections or colleagues up front,” Finnigan recommends, “so that you can understand a little more about what makes them tick and, hopefully, conduct a more productive interview.”

Making these simple changes to your hiring process will allow you to better tap into the strengths of introverted candidates and create teams that are both more balanced and more diverse.

*Image from the Gates Foundation

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