I’m never the loudest person in any room. In fact, I’m usually one of the quietest. It’s not because I’m shy, or because I don’t have anything of value to say – it’s more a behaviour that comes from my deep and empirical knowledge that my quiet disposition stands little chance against more vivacious personalities.
The fact is, my introversion is obvious within a few moments of meeting me, and as such, it’s always a bit of a hard sell convincing people that I’m not the school librarian they had me pegged for, but have in fact ignored the advice of every single careers advisor I’ve ever encountered and recently embarked on a career in public relations.
I can definitely understand the surprise. Public relations seems like the type of career that’s best left in the capable hands of an extrovert.
Traditionally, there’s a lot of schmoozing of clients, media and contacts to do; lots of creative, big, bold ideas to explore and express; and a hell-of-a-lot of networking. These parts of the job are all things that make me (and no doubt my fellow introverts) want to grab hold of the closest cup of tea and retreat to the safety of my Netflix queue.
But as it turns out, there’s a whole other side to the job where I, as an introvert, can flourish.
These all-too-common industry assumptions are being challenged by authors like Susan Cain, whose book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’, (along with her accompanying Ted Talk) has made great strides in bringing the professional allure of the introvert to the world’s attention.
As Susan points out, introverts make up one-third to a half of the world’s population, which means that statistically, there’s probably quite a few of us who have already managed to infiltrate the communications sector, and likely many more to come. If you happen to be one of these people, and are worried about acing your interview and getting your foot in the door, it’s worth considering some of what Susan has to say.
Don’t “fake it till you make it”
This is exactly the kind of useless advice that introverts despise. Cain acknowledges the anxiety that comes from situations where introverts are told that they “should all work very hard to be outgoing,” or worse still, that their “introverted style of being is not necessarily the right way to go”.
Be who you are
As trite as it sounds, if you’re an introvert trying to secure a job in public relations, you’re going to have to be yourself. It’s a common misconception that all introverts are shy, so it’s simply a matter of embracing who you are and selling yourself based on your strengths – of which there are many. For example, “As an introvert I don’t do my best creative processing out loud with other people, like in a team brainstorm. I’m at my best when given a creative challenge to be able to go away and come up with some ideas privately first”.
Research also suggests introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes than extroverts do, so there’s plenty to be confident about.
Introversion breeds creativity
Cain also questions the new groupthink that “all creativity and positivity come from an oddly gregarious place,” and speaks to the value of solitude in workplace creativity. The most incredibly creative and productive people can strike a good balance of both, says Cain; “extroverted enough that they can go out and advance and exchange ideas with other people, but also introverted enough that they can withstand the solitude the creative process requires.”
Your skills make you powerful
Finally, introvert-friendly skills, such as writing and listening, are vital to being a successful publicist, so you’re going to want to talk them up when the opportunity arises. In particular, the ability to listen and think things through, as opposed to speaking, often translates into succinct and persuasive communication, both written and verbal.
So, whether you’re a nervous graduate who’s looking to find their first job, or an industry stalwart looking to secure their next hire; there’s enough topical, well-informed evidence out there to promote introversion as a key strength.
Want more? Try this: Lessons in PR: Catapult your career from grad to professional
It’s great to see authors like Susan Cain using their platform to refresh some of the industry discourse surrounding this once-underexplored topic. And in a world that can’t stop talking, that’s enough to have me cheering (but only on the inside).