Dispelling the myths . . .
There is this stereotype that all engineers are insanely introverted and just want avoid all human interaction while hiding in the computer lab.
Yes, there are some engineers that are like this. However, even those “lab dwellers” often become quite talkative and animated when you get them talking about a topic they enjoy.
Don’t believe me? Just mix up some Star Wars and Star Trek characters and watch the fun!
You see, while engineers may lean more towards the introversion side of the scale overall, most of us are actually a mix of the two sides of the spectrum from introverted to extroverted depending on the situation.
I know this to be true in my own life.
If you ask people who knew me growing up in high school through my friends today and asked them to describe me, I guarantee you that not one of them would use the words quiet, reserved, or introverted to describe me.
I’m often loud and like to joke around. I don’t necessarily have a specific need for it, but I don’t mind being the center of attention. These are both clearly extroverted tendencies.
However, when I first started going to networking events, I was very nervous to approach random people and engage in conversation with them. This is clearly a fairly introverted tendency and one that would seem to be out of character for those that know me.
This is why I prefer saying that someone has introverted or extroverted tendencies as opposed to simply labeling them “introverted” or “extroverted”. Depending on the situation, we can
Interestingly, in his book To Sell Is Human, Daniel Pink found that the most successful people in business are those that are ambiverts and are a mix of the two sides. Therefore, as you continue to read, I do not want you to think that the answer to some of the introverted tendencies that may hold you back is to swing completely to the other side.
Rather, you should try to temper your actions so that you are a healthy mix of both sides of the equation.
Can introversion really hamper your career progression?
As I have discussed in the past, success in your engineering career is generally based on two sides of the coin; technical skills and non-technical skills.
When it comes to technical skills, engineers at every point on the introversion-extroversion scales will perform similarly. However, when it comes to non-technical skills, particularly those involving outreach or group collaboration, introverted engineers can be at a disadvantage.
This is most apparent in three specific areas . . .
- Networking – If you are more hesitant to reach out to people and make that first step or to maintain a relationship, then your network will not be as strong.
- Interviews – Many introverted engineers come off as shy and don’t “sell” their skills and experience to allow the employer to recognize them as the best candidate to fill the opening.
- Limited promotions – Several engineers have told me that they have been passed over for team lead roles which are often the stepping stone to future promotions.
These three areas are closely aligned with the ability to find a job and get noticed, actually getting the job, and then having career mobility if you land the job. Therefore, this is not something that affects one area, but can actually be a hindrance to an engineer throughout their career.
Action time . . . Overcoming some of these introverted tendencies
Before getting to some action items, I want to remind all of you to never compare yourself to others on this journey. What works for others may not work for you and vice versa. You should simply focus on slow and steady progress while stepping a bit outside your comfort zone each time so that you are continuously moving towards your goal.
Here are a few things you can try to help you become more comfortable with social situations that you may encounter. This is not about changing who you are, but about being more open to connect and not automatically shying away from opportunities.
- Anticipation – When you can anticipate a situation, you can better prepare for it. When it comes to interviews, practice your responses to standard interview questions. When it comes to job fairs, have some questions in mind to ask the potential employers. The idea here is not to make a rehearsed speech, but to remove some of the pressure of being “in the spot” and to help you get to that next step.
- Baby steps – This is not an all or nothing situation. Decide what works for you and take that small step AND ONLY that small step, nothing more. One tip that has worked well for some introverted engineers I have worked with in the past was to attend networking events with a small goal or meeting one or two people or perhaps simply staying for a portion of the event (as little as 10-15 minutes!). If you become overwhelmed, you won’t attend again, so my preference would be that you take that little step and then leave before it becomes too much.
- Team up – Do you have that friend who is more talkative? Bring them along to networking events to help the conversation along. Having three people in a conversation is often easier than two, but can really help you make those initial connections. Once you have that initial connection, then you will have a familiar face you can turn to at the next event.
- Be honest – One of the engineers I worked with had a lot of success meeting people at networking events by being very open and stating “I have to be honest, I’m fairly introverted and these events are tough for me, but I know that they are important for my development”. She said that people seemed to tone it down a bit and be much more understanding with her nervousness.
Need some additional guidance & materials?
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- Guidebook for Developing Your Engineering Network. Detailed instructions to supercharge your connections! The perfect guide for your job/internship search.
- 10 Networking Tips for Introverted Engineers. Don’t let your introversion hold you back! Use these tips to start networking without the anxiety.
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