Career Advising for Introverts: Should It Be Different?

Janet LongJanet R. Long
Founder, Integrity Search Inc.
career counselor, Widener University
Twitter: @IntegritySearch
Blogs from Janet Long.

NACE blog team member Chris Carlson wrote eloquently about networking for introverts earlier this year. His piece inspired me to think more deeply about the role of introversion in higher education career services. As both an introvert and the career liaison for the liberal arts student population at my university, I recently began to include material on introversion and extroversion in the semester-length career exploration series I facilitate, The Seekers. To my surprise, student feedback about these sessions has been nothing short of profound. For many students, there is a powerful sense of self-recognition accompanied by relief that they don’t need to reinvent themselves to enter and thrive in the world of work. I began to consider the implications for career advising overall, given that up to 50 percent of the general population describe themselves as introverts.

It often helps to start by defining terms. It can be easy to take for granted my Myers-Briggs training and decades to make peace with my own introversion. In informal polling I have found that most students still associate introversion with shyness or social awkwardness rather than with primary energy source. More disturbingly, they may view introversion as a flaw or deficit that warrants correction.

I like to start with basic MBTI definitions and then pose a classic question that can help students differentiate their preferred style. For example, “If you had an unexpectedly free weekend, would you rather attend several parties or catch up with a couple of friends individually?” I like this question because it challenges the false dichotomy of alone versus with people. Introverts may also prefer to spend time alone (as do extroverts at times). The difference lies in where they gain their main source of energy and how they prefer to recharge.

Our career services office, like many others, offers career fairs, speed networking events, and practice interviews for jobs or internships. With the best of intentions, we teach students to “put themselves out there,” to navigate cocktail/mocktail conversation, to develop compelling 30-second elevator talks, and to formulate responses to both hardball and softball interview questions. This is all helpful and necessary. But the nagging question remains, are there different and potentially more effective ways to broach these topics with students who identify as introverts? Do I as a counselor—albeit an introverted one—jump too quickly to tactics without first acknowledging and exploring how students feel about these processes and their perceptions of what society expects of them? I think that too often we treat introversion as something to be overcome rather than celebrated for its potential contributions.

As one example, last semester in The Seekers, I conducted a mock interview clinic in which we practiced responses in five common question areas. Halfway through the session, one brave student interjected that while she appreciated the tactical advice, none of it helped with trembling hands during actual interviews. Another student, who projected as poised and self-assured throughout the semester, jumped in and offered that the responses made her feel phony. Their comments led to a lively and connected conversation during which the students listened to and coached each other about how to reconcile internal feelings with external expectations. While their concerns were perhaps not unique to introverts, they created an important “aha” for me: that I needed to create more space within the group to be reflective and introspective about professional skills development.

I have recently started to draw on Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution research on introversion, showing excerpts from her TED talk on The Power of Introverts where she laments external pressures to “pass” as an extrovert and helpfully differentiates introversion from shyness. One of my favorite lines is that “the key to maximizing our talents is to put ourselves in the settings that are right for us,” an exhortation to consider work environment and career choices through the lens of temperament as well as talent.

Ms. Cain’s poise and presence in a public speaking situation tends to surprise students and can start conversations about how introverts not only function but thrive in visible and influential positions. Similarly, Wharton professor Adam Grant’s research on effective leadership, The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses, includes the finding that introverted leaders are more likely to engage their teams by encouraging individuals to develop their own ideas. I have found it useful to offer examples of well-recognized role models from all walks of life, from sports to business, who describe themselves as introverts, from Bill Gates, Mahatma Gandhi, and Rosa Parks, to Michael Jordan, Christine Aguilera, and Julia Roberts .

These are some additional strategies that I have found effective in provoking both reflection and discussion:

  • Combining personalized career assessments to give students more self-insight. I have found that StrengthsQuest and MBTI play well together. For example, a student who shows a preference for introversion on the MBTI may also hold “individualization” as a top strength. Integrating a “strengths” perspective into an introversion/extroversion discussion encourages students to move away from a deficit mindset.
  • Designing more intimate networking forums. This semester our office will pilot a home-based gathering for a limited number of students and alumni in selected fields to interact over a leisurely meal. Our hope is that such forums can complement the larger speed-networking formats and that each will each hold appeal for different types of students.
  • Scheduling one-on-one follow-up appointments. While this may sound like a no-brainer, students are typically more inclined to make appointments keyed to specific deliverables rather than more open-ended discussion about areas of discomfort. While not every student needs or wants this type of support, I think it is important to remind students that the suite of career counseling tools available to them goes beyond resume tweaks.

NACE career advisers, are you having these conversations in your offices? It would be interesting to learn more about employer perspectives as well.


Is Career Counseling for Everyone?

Melanie Buford

Melanie Buford, Program Coordinator/Adjunct Instructor, Career Development Center, University of Cincinnati

The other day, a colleague posed an intriguing question. I told her about my work in the career center at the University of Cincinnati, and after a contemplative pause, she said:

“Do you think career counseling is for everyone? I felt lost after graduation, but my husband never used career services. He knew what he wanted to do and he’s doing well now.”

I’m sure that most of us don’t find this surprising. Though a great many students come to career services desperate for some sort of post-graduate direction, there are certainly those who have chosen a path and may only want another set of eyes on their resume or some similarly light support. There are still those who never come at all, likely relying on their friends, family, and the Internet to fill in their gaps.

Of course, I can only speak from my own experience, but I believe that there are benefits to one-on-one career counseling that even the most prepared would find helpful. A few of those benefits are:

Career counseling creates space for exploration.

For every student who struggles to choose one career direction, there are those who have prematurely narrowed their options. Students bring different strengths and personalities to the career development process. Decisiveness can certainly be an asset, but so can the ability to tolerate the uncertainty of exploration. The best decisions combine reflection and action, and career counseling provides the space and support to do both.

Career counseling prepares students for a changing job market.

We know that as technology, Millennials, and global communication reshape the world of work, the relevance of today’s positions isn’t guaranteed. If a student chooses to pursue one career today, there is no guarantee that technology may not eliminate the need for that work before that student reaches retirement. With self-driving cars on the horizon, who’s to say what human services we’ll need in another 30 years? Students need to be familiar with current market trends, and the variety of talents and interests they have to offer. This knowledge, combined with the ability to self-promote, will prepare them for the possibility that their career of choice may not always be a viable path.

Career counseling provides frameworks and language for grappling with career challenges yet to come.

A core component of most career development programming is some sort of personality or skills assessment. One thing that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator tells you, for example, is whether or not you prefer introversion or extroversion. Those who prefer introversion tend to feel more comfortable in workspaces that allow for independent work and alone time to recharge and develop ideas. Those who prefer extroversion, on the other hand, tend to have a need for collaboration and the ability to work with other people for energy and inspiration.

One of the staff members at the UC Career Development Center tells a story about a young man she counseled a few years ago. We’ll call him David. David was an extremely hard-working student who graduated from UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences with a near-perfect GPA. He was hired by a well-known tech company and was making a six-figure salary as a new graduate. Ostensibly, this was a career success story, and yet, within a few years, David came to us for help. He was shocked to find that despite his interest in the work, he was miserable in his new position. So much so that he reported feelings of exhaustion and hopelessness, classic symptoms of depression.

After a few sessions with David, it became clear that his unhappiness didn’t stem from the work itself, but from the environment. My colleague administered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and David reported a clear preference for extroversion. During a typical workday, however, he had almost no human contact, from the moment he arrived to the moment he left. Once David had language for interpreting this experience—that he had needed more interaction with people as part of his day—he was able to communicate this need to his supervisor. He was eventually moved to a new role as a sales representative for the product and was much more satisfied.

David knew he was unhappy in his role, but without the language for interpreting these feelings, he struggled to act on them. Even students who are satisfied in their current work may reach a point where their needs are no longer being fulfilled. Career counseling can provide a framework to understand why they aren’t thriving.

As many career development programs at public colleges and universities are being downsized, the relevance of one-on-one counseling will be an increasingly pressing issue. We will need to be innovative as we prepare students for a lifetime of career success, not simply a post-graduate job.



ORL to PHL: Luggage, Knowledge, and Appreciation

kevin grubbA post by NACE Guest Blogger, Kevin Grubb.
Assistant Director at Villanova University’s Career Center.
Twitter: @kevincgrubb
Blog: “social @ edu”.

 Despite the tropical storm that made its way up the east coast on Friday, my plane arrived safely back in Philadelphia that afternoon.  What came with me on the flight from Orlando: luggage, knowledge, and appreciation – and I only had to check one of them at the gate, even though I’m sure the knowledge and appreciation weighed more.

In my previous two blog posts, I did my best to offer up what was learned in some of the sessions I attended at the NACE conference this year.  My goal was to bring you there, to save you a seat next to me and the power outlets.  For this last post, I wanted to step back from the sessions and talk a little bit “bigger picture” about the conference itself.  So, pull up a seat one more time and let’s talk.  (As I write this, I am picturing Linda Richman from “Coffee Talk” on Saturday Night Live.  “Placement Surveys are not ‘placement’ and not always ‘surveys’… Discuss.”)

For me, the NACE conference this year was about three things: bravery in uncertainty, solidifying relationships, and planning for randomness.

Bravery in Uncertainty

In my other two posts, covering the future of career services and first destination surveys, I tried to capture not only the content but the essence of those sessions: higher education & career services are changing.  That change of pace is rapid and is continuing to grow due to pressures from many of our constituents.  There are still unanswered questions and uncertain times ahead.  That is, admittedly, nerve-wracking and exciting all at once.

I am choosing to acknowledge both sides of that coin, and in the category of “practicing what I preach,” I am reminded of counseling students who are about to graduate and are not sure what lies ahead for them.  They know they are about to leave a whole world they created for themselves, and they’re not sure how much of it they can take with them.  They know change is coming swiftly, and there’s nothing they can do to stop it.  They take it head on.  And so must we.  At the NACE conference this year, it was clear to see the profession taking this change head on, and I look forward to seeing more of it in the months and years ahead.

Solidifying Relationships

It took place on plane rides, in hotel restaurants, on ottomans in the lobby, at coffee shops – everywhere there were conversations with great people.  If we’re talking MBTI types, I am almost completely an “E” for extravert (pause for stunned response), and so a conference center full of people is energizing for me.  Besides the opportunity to learn in the sessions, the greatest benefit of attending the NACE conference is the opportunity to build relationships with people.  I enjoyed the chance to connect with both career services and recruiting colleagues, new and old.  I remember at last year’s conference, a veteran in the field told me that she’s met not only great colleagues but great friends in this field.  I see why.

For me, the connections weren’t always made in the most “buttoned up” situations.  Some of the most memorable connections I made were over the following: a somewhat problematic yet hilarious story about leaky hotel rooms, the best mobile apps to help you stay in shape, whether you’d consider yourself an appetizer or dessert person (dessert all the way), and more.  By allowing ourselves to get a little more personal, we deepened the relationship.  Building trust and bonding over even silly things can translate to better business and working together.  While of course it’s important to keep things appropriate, I try to keep the personal side in mind throughout the year.  We’re professionals, yes. We have a job to do, absolutely.  But, we’re people, too.

Planning for Randomness

Back to the MBTI talk for a second, I am also quite strongly a “J” for judging.  Not to be mistaken for judgmental, the “J” translates to someone who likes structure and to make decisions.  In fact, my first guest post for the NACE blog was on how I was preparing for the conference.  So, planning ahead is a part of me, and I say this with admiration and respect for all of my “P” for perceiving friends (those who are often described as spontaneous or more flexible).

One thing I should have mentioned in that post is to make plans, but also to allow for something in the moment to change your course.  You just never know whom you’ll bump into at the conference or when a lunch conversation turns into a best practice discussion session.  I’ve heard it said and said it myself: some of the best moments of a conference are those that occur between sessions.  Perhaps there’s a professional lesson nestled in there, too.  Some days, plan for randomness.  Have lunch with someone and don’t fill the agenda.  Have a meeting with yourself and let it be your creative time.  Take a different turn or two in a walk around your building or campus.  That’s at least some of how I’m interpreting it.  Making room for chance.

And so, with empty bags, a retired out of office email auto response, and much gratitude, I say thank you to everyone who organized the NACE conference this year and everyone who was a part of it.  This includes you, blog readers.  Here’s to San Antonio in 2014!