It has long been recognised that in western society there is a cultural bias towards extroverts, especially in the workplace. A new bestselling book by the US author Susan Cain has given the debate a new twist in light of the banking crisis. She claims that extroverts are more prone to risk-taking in business and that businesses have become increasingly dominated by extraverts, and that society, the economy and individual businesses would benefit from a better balance between extraverts and introverts.
In many ways this is stating the obvious in that so far as you can divide the population into extroverts and introverts business does need leaders who can sell the vision, who are decisive and prepared to take risks but they also need managers who are thoughtful, strategic and cautious. In my experience successful leaders have both these sets of qualities and the skill to know which to use when. However from my experience of both interviewing for senior posts and being interviewed for senior posts the interview process seems designed to favour the extrovert.
The interview process for senior posts is typically a protracted affair. First there is the longlisting interview which is an informal chat with the headhunter. There will be questions about your experience but they already know this from your detailed application form, this part is as much about how you present yourself as it is your skills and experience. So how firm is your handshake, do you appear relaxed and confident, do you come across as too serious and intense?
If you are shortlisted you can expect the trial by sherry, the presentation and the formal interview. The trial by sherry can be a buffet where all the candidates are present and expected to circulate around a roomful of interested parties making polite conversation and a good impression whilst balancing a plate of food in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. Alternatively it can be a formal sit-down meal in which candidates changes places between courses so that each member of the board can have some time to talk to you.
The presentation is on a topic given in advance, it is not, as many candidates assume, a test of knowledge. It is about the ability to communicate complex issues to a diverse audience. After all you would not expect to be able to do justice to a question on ensuring the business remains financially sound during the current financial climate in the 10 minutes you‘re allocated.
Finally there is the formal interview in front of the whole board/cabinet in which each person gets to ask their two questions. The interview is only allocated 45 minutes because there are six candidates and the interview panel’s diary commitments mean the interviews have to be completed and appointment made by the end of the day. Despite the varied and often slightly off the wall questions the only real question they are seeking to answer is can they see themselves working with you. Hence the advice given to me by my boss prior to the big interview, “Smile, Blair. You need to smile more”.
I think if is fairly obvious from that description of the process that it favours extroverts. My experience as an interviewer giving feedback to unsuccessful candidates casts further light on the differences: extroverts always thought they had performed better than they had, often being overconfident and confusing having a lot to say with having something to say.