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Eight tips for coping with interviews when you're introverted or socially awkward

This is awkward

For all the rambunctious traders and suave relationship managers, the financial sector still relies on technical experts. Quants, technologists, actuaries and accountants – all are not known for their personality. However, expertise isn’t always enough to secure the job; you also need to convince individuals to hire you during the interview process – no easy task if you’re an introvert. Here’s how to ensure you do yourself justice.

1. Get the energy right

Introverts typically take 20-30 minutes before they start to “warm up” in an interview, according to John Lees, a careers coach and author of How to Get a Job You Love. This is no good, since most interviewers tend to make up their mind about the suitability of a candidate within the first two to three minutes – often before you even sit down for the formal questioning.

“It’s often less about what you actually say, because at the beginning it’s largely small talk anyway,” he says. “Speak slowly and calmly, but also remember to be warm and open – it’s about maintaining energy and enthusiasm in your voice and we always advise introverts to practice this.”

Simply personalising sentences, so you appear enthusiastic can do wonders, says Lees. For example: “I was very excited about being part of this project, the work really interested me.”

2. Exude confidence in your achievements

Talking openly about themselves, let alone shouting about their achievements in the workplace is an uncomfortable experience for introverts, who tend to remain reserved with their interactions with people until they know them better, says  interview coach Margaret Buj. Put aside your reservations, the interview is the one time to really sell yourself.

“The mistake introverts often make is that they don’t talk about their tangible achievements and how good they are, as they feel uncomfortable about talking about themselves in glowing terms – this is very much out of their comfort zone,” she says. “Introverts can come across as not confident in their abilities as they don’t feel they are in control of the situation and as there’s a lot on the line, the fear of failure is even greater.”

Think of it less as boasting and more about stating facts, she advises. These facts just happen to make you look good.

3. Bear in mind cultural differences

Eye contact at the right time during interview shows that you’re both trust-worthy and confident in what you’re saying. However, how to behave in this situation varies from country to country and some cultural norms can be disconcerting to those who have had to deliberately practice their body language.

In the UK, interviewers tend to look at your mouth when you speak, according to a 2013 study published in the International Journal of Behavioural Development. In Japan it’s the norm to stare you intently in the eye and even follow your gaze when you look away, while Canadians have a tendency to look straight into your eyes as they explain their point. In Asia generally, it’s considered rude to look someone in the eye as they’re speaking. All worth bearing in mind.

4. Be honest with yourself

There will be interview questions that are practically guaranteed to come up in every interview, whether it’s questioning your motivation for joining a particular firm or walking someone through your CV. Practice these, and be honest with yourself if you’re coming across awkwardly.

“Prepare the content in bullet points of how you plan to answer common interview questions. Then practise with friends but also in front of the mirror on your own,” says Peter Harrison, a former Goldman Sachs executive director and founder of Harrison Careers. “It seems weird but it works. You notice your inadequate enthusiasm and awkwardness, and you take steps to fix it. After 20 minutes watching yourself flounder, you quickly realise how you need to sound and appear during interviews. Independent opinion isn’t enough – you need the mirror to see for yourself what you are doing wrong.”

5. Try not to internalise your thought processes

It’s natural for introverts to internalise, says Lees, which can often take too long and lead to some uncomfortable silences when a question has been asked. It’s fine to pause to get your thoughts in line, but don’t leave it too long – at least demonstrate verbally that you’re processing the answer even if that’s with space fillers like “That’s a good question” or “Let me just consider that for a moment”, he says.

6. Know what you’re getting into

It should be standard practice to research the firm, role and person you’re likely to encounter during the interview beforehand and will likely put you in good stead with the interviewer. However, this is doubly important for introverts, who should have prepared questions about the company, job and recruitment motivation as well as answers to expected questions, says Buj.

“Before the interview, outline how you will contribute to the company and help meet its goals – you want to be able to demonstrate how hiring you would benefit the company so ensure you have tangible examples prepared that demonstrate you have relevant experience,” she says.

7. Stay focused on the task at hand

Getting to that interview could have been a nightmare – the trains were late, you were soaked in torrential rain and you struggled to find the office location. Then, perhaps, the person interviewing you isn’t what you expected and the first few minutes don’t appear to be going well. Don’t over-analyse these situations – keep focused on the questions and answers and try to make the best of the scenario. Too often introverts can get caught up in their own thought-processes, which distracts them from the task at hand, says Lees.

8. Remember, you’re not the Wolf of Wall Street

The chances are that if you’re introverted you’re not up for a sales role or one that requires wooing clients. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not by aping what you think the interviewer wants to see – not all jobs require extroverts, the challenge here is to do yourself justice so simply ensure you’re answering the questions to the best of your ability and stop worrying about trying to dazzle the interviewer with your personality.

Related articles:

Ten shrewd questions that will tell you whether you’re in the wrong career

Common wealth management interview questions and how to answer them

How to combine teamwork with ruthless selfishness to progress your investment banking career

AUTHORPaul Clarke

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