There’s nothing our society loves more than sweeping stereotypes and convenient categories by which we can define and slap a label on the people we meet; we put great faith in the infallibility of our own superficial perspectives and anecdotal observations.
An entrenched mindset is nearly an impossible thing to change, particularly since we always think we’re right. Even when we’re dead wrong.
About 30 years ago, John Hughes defined a generation’s worth of archetypes through the lead characters in The Breakfast Club, and with it, reduced every high schooler everywhere to one of five types.
Whether you were a jock, a nerd, a cheerleader or the bad girl, these characters were easy to relate to because, well, we all identified with one of these imposed identities.
It’s more or less the basis of the humanities of humanity, with the concept of categorization infiltrating everything from Antigone to to Gone Girl. Our stereotypes have such power because in our society, they’re self-perpetuating and consistently reinforced by both our individual identities and the culture that colors our collective worldview.
The fact of the matter is, we intuitively realize that this is wrong, and recognize the fundamental fallacy in this unscientific method to interpersonal relationships. But we do it anyway – we just can’t help ourselves. We find solace in the simplicity of simplification, put simply, and this, of course, leads to simple minds.
Come to think of it, this might actually partially explain the HR industry’s illogical obsession with generational theory. Or at least, generating a ton of content around the concept of age discrimination as a best practice. Hint: it’s not.
Of course, that’s just one example of a more pervasive and pressing problem. While many of us are reluctant to admit or acknowledge it, every step of your hiring process is inherently subjective and informed by personal biases, however uninformed these biases may be.
They say ‘there’s never a second chance to make a first impression,’ but much of that impression has been impressed on recruiters and employers before they ever come into contact with candidates. This is why we tend to base hiring decisions on gut instinct and snap judgements, and when necessary, add enough insignificant data or irrelevant details to justify what’s often a completely arbitrary decision.
Hell, we might talk a lot about “predictive analytics” or “data driven recruiting” these days, but the fact is that we’ve always used factors like academic pedigree, prior experience working for a blue chip brand or big company, personality testing and physical diversity as a means for predicting which applicant is worth spending more than the six seconds or so it takes to scan their resume.
Getting an offer means, ultimately, most closely fitting the profile of someone who’s successfully sat in that seat at some point, which is why as much as we talk about diversity, we mostly end up hiring people like us.
Confirming Confirmation Bias
Yeah, I know. There are a ton of statistics you could trot out around the consequences and costs associated with a bad hire. That’s all well and good, but what we still seem unable (or unwilling) to capture is the opportunity costs we ring up by missing out on good hires because we went with our gut feelings, which is a fancy way of saying “deeply ingrained myths mostly founded on misinformation and misperception.”
This bias extends past EEOC self-reporting data, candidate demographics or even what we conventionally consider “diverse” candidates.
That’s why I wanted to explore the concept of bias through an example that we don’t normally think of, but affects up to one half of the workforce population: introverts.
I know it sounds weird, but introverts offer the perfect case study in confirmation bias. Bear with me. Now, full disclosure: according to the MBTI (which I don’t much trust, and neither should you) I fall somewhere in the middle of the extraversion range, but closer to the introvert side of the spectrum.
So, I get that it’s not always easy for the introverts among us, and figured since this is a group that tends not to speak for themselves, I’d go ahead and give a shot at relating the plight of this often slighted category of coworker, client, candidate and colleague.
Being an introvert sucks, sometimes, particularly given the preponderance of preposterous myths and assumptions that imply that the introverted among us are:
- Friendless and Alone
- Socially Awkward
- Followers, Not Leaders
- Uncomfortable or Unwilling to Be A “Team Player”
- Prefer Isolation to Being in Public
- Avoid presenting or performing like the plague
Now, some clarification. These cliches simply aren’t valid for most introverts, and applying them to everyone who doesn’t feel the need to dominate a meeting or conversation would be a gross oversimplification of about half of everyone you’ve ever worked with, statistically speaking. Fact is, introverts aren’t sociopathic loners or misanthropes; nor are we hermits who go out of our way to avoid interacting with others.
The only real difference or distinction that’s universally applicable to introverts is that they simply socialize in a different way than extroverts. Introversion shouldn’t be synonymous with shyness. Many introverts are awesome on teams, successful on projects and don’t necessarily fear public speaking, or the general public, for that matter.
The main difference between introverts and extraverts is how they acquire and use their energy.
These are generalizations, of course, but psychology tells us that most extraverts are inherently energized or intrinsically motivated by interpersonal activities and interactions. They tend to think out loud, vocalizing ideas and thoughts as they process them; extraverts commonly report to being antsy or easily bored when they’re alone or aren’t actively engaging with others.
Conversely, introverts, as you can probably guess, draw energy from down time, and are perfectly comfortable flying solo instead of always being social. Introverts tend to be a little more self-reflexive (according to the psychologists who study this stuff) and prefer to think through things in their own head before ever expressing them out loud.
Introverts who are forced to spend time in overly stimulating or socially demanding situations may become easily drained and even more withdrawn; it’s a vicious cycle, really.
Your Greatest Weakness: Introversion And Interviewing
All of this means, of course, that for introverts, there’s no experience more unnatural or unnerving than interviewing. Hell, even the most gregarious and outgoing of extraverts can feel a little uncomfortable or awkward when interviewing for a job.
Their propensity for interacting with others out loud and the energy and enthusiasm these interactions inherently espouse aren’t always a good thing – in fact, often these can actually work against a candidate, particularly if they’re just a little too chatty about themselves or gung-ho about a gig.
You know the type. Dude – seriously, shut up already.
This isn’t a problem most introverts face; rather, their discomfort with interviews generally comes from the energy that they drain from the inherent introspection required to talk about oneself and one’s accomplishments ad nauseum, particularly when we’re averse to this attention, as a rule.
This discomfort with job interviews ranges from barely perceptible to extreme and panic inducing depending, largely, on the dynamics of the meeting. For introverts, being reserved and cautious with hiring managers and a little more guarded when answering questions often comes across as confident and thoughtful, which are good assets for any candidate.
But these same characteristics can also come across as cold, dull or dry, too – and those are attributes no one wants a hiring manager ascribing to them. This means a constant balancing act of being on, but not too on to turn any interviewer off. Which isn’t always easy, no matter what side of the table you happen to sit.
Interviews and Introversion: Fit Happens
Over the course of my career, I’ve spent a ton of time as both a candidate and as a hiring manager, so I’ve seen both perspectives, and try to account for individual styles on an individual basis when I’m interviewing. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt when there is one, and try to create an interviewing atmosphere that’s more or less equitable (and comfortable) for introverts and extroverts alike.
If I get that sense that someone’s holding out relevant information – or if they’re eager to share everything irrespective of relevance – I know enough to know to adapt my approach on the spot and try to give the candidate enough flexibility to feel free enough to interview in their own way instead of having to conform to mine.
Forget context for a second, the entire concept of “fit” is a nebulous one at best, so I strive for objectivity and empathy regardless of personality or personal style throughout my recruiting process.
When you’re flexible, fit happens.
An Introvert’s Guide To Interviewing.
Now, when I’m on the other side of the desk, I’m acutely aware as someone who’s the subject of said interview, my introversion impacts everything. I view interviews as a business professional to business professional conversation. So if the other party behaves in any way that doesn’t convey a similar mindset, I know I won’t have much of a chance to move forward beyond that step.
Direct questions in reference to my qualifications, experience, knowledge, etc., in relation to the position being discussed are far more meaningful than open-ended (tell me about yourself) or generic (seemingly check-the-box behavioral) questions.
While my interpersonal relationship skills, perceptiveness and EQ/EI are quite effective, I’m not a mind-reader or circus monkey and don’t appreciate having to navigate mind-games, hoop-jumping and trap/trick questions for the power-tripping interviewer’s entertainment value.
I’d rather just get to the point of what really matters so I can have an an opportunity to share how I would address specific business challenges. Having to reminisce about ancient career history, toot my own horn, pat myself on the back and otherwise attempt to make what I do/did to earn a paycheck sound exceptionally glamorous and impressive is one of the most agonizing parts of interviewing.
Between having a kick-ass work-ethic, extraordinarily high (self) performance standards and basic common sense, I struggle to find anything useful to say about strengths, weaknesses, major accomplishments, epic failures and so on…
How To Eliminate Bias From Your Recruiting Process
My interpretation of all of that is based on my own perspective that many of those types of questions are non-value-adding time-wasters; just like the other person is filtering through his/her own viewpoints that he/she is gathering essential insight (AKA: stuff my spidey-senses or favorite thought-leader tells me is important) by posing those inquiries.
The problem is, neither side has the benefit of “context” in terms of how that information is being delivered or received.
Even if I did excavate some examples, my nonchalant (BFD attitude) intense modesty and humilty or aversion to coming across as an uber-douchy bragasaurus blowhard forces me to downplay stuff that I should be boasting about and embellishing as if I’m on the brink of discovering a cancer cure or running for office.
Bottom line: since I know my own experiences reveal vulnerabilities derived from my “personality” proclivities, I try to maintain awareness of how these biases translate across the employment spectrum. Just like I don’t wish to spontaneously demonstrate interview performance perfection in lieu of real-world, on-the-job performance, I don’t expect that of anyone I evaluate as a job applicant.
If you’re really looking for top talent in your recruiting process instead of just a talking head, you’ve got to get rid of your Breakfast Club mentality and realize that we’re a little more complex than high school cliches or cyphers.
It’s time to grow up and realize that diversity is an intellectual capital issue, not a human capital issue, and all you get out of looking for form over function and content over context is a workforce full of extraverts – and no one wants to sit through those meetings. Trust me on this one.
About the Author: Leveraging her unique perspective as a progressive thinker with a well-rounded background from diverse corporate settings, Kelly Blokdijk advises members of the business community on targeted human resource, recruiting and organization development initiatives to enhance talent management, talent acquisition, corporate communications and employee engagement programs.
Kelly is an active HR and recruiting industry blogger and regular contributor on RecruitingBlogs.com. She also candidly shares opinions, observations and ideas as a member of RecruitingBlogs’ Editorial Advisory Board.