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The 2 Traits of Introverts Who Excel in "Extroverted" Careers

When you’re an introvert browsing job listings, you might think something along these lines: Must avoid all sales jobs. Absolutely nothing client-facing. Actually, anything that’ll put me in the spotlight at all is a “No.”

And that’s a totally understandable attitude, as many introverts find themselves drained after hours of interaction with people. It’s natural to want to work where you’ll be most comfortable, and for some, that’s without question a quiet environment with limited face-time (think computer programming, accounting, engineering, or writing).

However, if you’re curious about certain other fields—ones that are considered traditionally extroverted—but have been reluctant to pursue opportunities, take heart. Before you write off that client-facing sales role or people-forward human resources position, you should know that plenty of introverted people thrive in so-called “extroverted” positions.

I spoke with a few of my Muse co-workers about how they manage to enjoy and excel in their social-heavy roles.

1. They Know How to Listen

Thanks partially to Susan Cain’s popular Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, it’s now common to see articles citing some of the most successful people as members on this group. And one of the top traits that help these leaders achieve success is listening.

As Elizabeth Bernstein writes in her Wall Street Journal article, “Why Introverts Make Great Entrepreneurs,” “Extroverts talk—a lot. And in all that talking, they sometimes forget to let others get a word in, a trait that can be particularly damaging to their relationships with customers or clients.”

When asked how his personality type helps him at his job, Jeffry Harrison, a senior sales account executive, says, “I excel at listening and analytical thinking which helps me understand the problems of my clients on a deeper level, which ultimately has more impact than how outgoing or smooth talking I am.”

Paula Tulis, who previously worked in public relations, another industry known for employing outgoing, assertive personalities recalled her experience working among extroverts, “I feel like I was a better listener than some of the more extroverted people on our team. Being introverted made me much more comfortable observing than talking, so I could recall details that were surprising to my teammates.”

And Anna Fajkowski, an account manager who spends plenty of time interacting with clients, notes that she doesn’t think she ever comes “across as being sale-sy on my calls with clients.”

Possessing concern and empathy (which go along with active listening) for the client was an obvious trait evident in all of my introverted co-workers. Instead of overtly pushing their agenda (regardless of whether it’s selling product or renewing services), these professionals let the customer’s concerns take top priority in the partnership.

Not only do strong listening skills impact their performance, but they also seem to have a keen awareness of what they need to do their jobs well. A commonality among them is understanding how to mitigate the toll that their roles take on them. And on that note...

2. They Know When to Recharge

In almost every article dissecting personality types, introverts are told that they need time alone. I support this statement, and I’d say it’s absolutely essential if you want to sustain yourself (and flourish) in a role that requires a lot of face time or phone conversations.

Harrison, when describing one of the challenges of juggling his personality with his job, says: “I struggle with days when I'm on the phone all day. Since talking and interacting with other people at that pace is draining for me, I’m often socially exhausted by the end of the day which makes me want to go home and recharge instead of engaging in post-work social activities.”

Fajkowski struggles with brainstorming “ideas when talking in big groups.” She admits to feeling “run down” if she doesn’t “have enough time to silently recharge.”

Hope Bordeaux, in her article, “Introverts in the Office: How to Work Well in an Extrovert's World,” explains that it’s important to take time for yourself to recharge. She says, “Don’t over-commit yourself because you feel guilty about saying no—it’s better to be selective and happy than unhappy and overwhelmed or exhausted”

There’s no reason not to consider a job outside your typical comfort zone—so long as you’re in tune to your needs.

It’s never a good idea to limit your opportunities because you don’t fit a (most likely misleading) job stereotype. When I asked Lauren Roberts, a talent acquisitions manager who spends her days talking to people, if she had any advice on this topic, she offered this: “I think it’s about being true to yourself and understanding what your comfort zone is, and being honest about how far you can push it.”

While making cold calls and working with clients might seem daunting, it's a matter of building comfort through time and experience. Introvert, extrovert, or ambivert: Learning the ropes of a new job and advancing within a role is always a bit intimidating.

So instead of worrying about how social or extroverted the position may or may not be, first consider if the key priorities of the position interest you. As Roberts said, “Consider how can you best help someone. Once you realize the emphasis is not on you, per se, the better you’ll see the full scope of the role.”

Photo of people working together courtesy of Thomas Barwick.