I never knew how much personality mattered in job interviews until I interviewed for a bunch of jobs at one time.
Hiring managers asked me about my qualifications, the ways I responded to conflict, the things that drew me to the position.
But I also found myself wondering about things like: Did I look nervous? Did I make enough eye contact? Did it feel like a fun conversation? Was it supposed to feel like a fun conversation?
I’d sometimes get rejection letters from employers after I clearly hadn’t vibed with the folks in the room. They’d state it plainly: I just wasn’t a good fit.
The more I thought about it, the more I wondered: Is the job market just looking for extroverts?
Turns out, my hypothesis isn’t that far off. A 1998 study from Santa Clara University studied 83 college students looking for their first job.
They found that above any other reasons — like their GPA, or their preparedness for the interview — the number one signifier of whether a student would get an offer was how extroverted they were.
Extroverts sometimes get more credit than they deserve, says Rich Feller, professor of counseling and career development at Colorado State University.
In reality, extrovertedness and introvertedness are really about how much social stimulation someone prefers. Extroverts like more, introverts like less. That’s different than shyness.
“Good managers understand this and take time to know the client better,” he said.
When managers hiring based on perceived extrovertedness, they’re missing out on talent.
Extrovertedness isn’t the only hiring bias to watch out for. In other cases, Feller said, managers will hire someone who is just like them.
“We look for people who are like our personality and we like them more, and that’s a negative,” he said.
As one study found, it’s most often a fallback when hiring managers don’t know exactly what they’re looking for.
It’s that oft-repeated idea of “fitting in the culture.” You don’t hear it often when you get a job, but you sure as heck hear it when you don’t.
“You’re a great candidate,” they say. “We just didn’t think you’d be a good culture fit.”
Some argue that hiring this way leads to a workplace of clones at best, and racism at worst.
“What most people really mean when they say someone is a good fit culturally is that he or she is someone they’d like to have a beer with,” former Netflix Chief Talent Officer Patty McCord wrote for Harvard Business Review. “But people with all sorts of personalities can be great at the job you need done.”
What this means is that you don’t need to be extroverted or be just like your future boss to excel at a job, even if that’s the knee-jerk reaction of some hiring managers.
Research has found that introverted leaders do just as well as extroverted leaders.
That can seem disconcerting for introverts. But all is not lost.
“An interview is really a chance to tell stories, and your ability to tell a story which then matches what you can bring to an employer,” Feller said.
When he talks about storytelling, he doesn’t mean the made-up kind. It’s about finding a way to package and communicate your past experience clearly, and stick to it from question to question, based on the skills the hiring manager is looking for.
This is something you can learn, Feller said.
And if you can tell a good story during your interview — one that touches on everything the manager is looking for — then personality matters much, much less.
By contrast, if you’re giving shallow answers that don’t really tell your full story, the hiring manager might lean on your personality a bit more.
That’s not a good thing. Because a workplace really needs all types of personalities to function correctly.
The key to interviewing, Feller says, is figuring out what skills and traits an employer is looking for, and being able to insert those into the answers to the questions they ask you.
Many of those skills should have been laid out clearly in the job description. If it’s been a while since you looked at it, go back and reread it and highlight those key phrases.
If the job description reads like corporate speak, the U.S. Department of Labor offers a website that lists key competencies for different professions more clearly.
That there are other personality traits that most employers are looking for when it comes to entry-level positions, but they’re a bit more universal than just extroversion and “likeability,” Feller said.
He cites management consulting firm Korn Ferry’s list of competencies. They vary by experience level.
For entry-level folks, employers tend to value action-oriented, results-driven collaborators. People who value differences and communicate effectively. People who are trustworthy, self-aware and interested in their own professional development. People who are adaptable and learn quickly.
If you’re applying for more mid-level jobs, those desired traits might be different.
These are typically called “soft skills.” But in many industries, like business, they’re increasingly important, so much so that experts like Feller prefer to call them “power skills.”
If you’re an entry-level worker and a job you’re applying for is asking for a skill you don’t have yet, reach way back in your work history, Feller said.
For example, let’s say you’re a recent grad and you don’t have experience supervising anyone yet. Talk about the time you were a little league coach and had to make sure everyone got to the game on time.
Or if you don’t know how to use a program required of the job, talk about the time you learned another program very quickly.
In the end, an employer isn’t going to be hiring you because you’re a person they’d like to have a beer with.
They’ll hire you because you’ll increase the quality of services they provide. Or because you can increase their profits. Or because you can make a manager’s job easier. Or because you’ll make the manager look good.
The more you can show you’ll do this in your interview, the more confident you’ll appear.
Gretchen is an editor for Rewire. With past stints in public radio and at a rural daily newspaper, she’s passionate about public media as a public service. She’s also into music and really good coffee. Follow her on Twitter @gretch_brown.