Introvert in Product Interviews
Introvert's unique challenges and how to overcome and win
“I’m an introvert. I feel I have major disadvantages competing with extroverted candidates in product interviews. What do I do?”
This week, I’ll tackle answering this question. In 3 parts:
Feel free to revisit my “The Introverted Product Manager” series: Challenges and Advantages!
First of all, do introverts necessarily have disadvantages facing (tough) product interviews? I do NOT think so. Here’s why:
It’s not a personality test: Product interviews are designed to test product skills, not your personality type. How good are you at product management is not correlated with how introverted or extroverted you are (there are great introverted and extroverted PMs). It’s not a social competition. You’re not competing for who makes friends the fastest. So rest assured.
We’re good at what’s desired: Increasingly, skills like listening well, pausing before speaking, and thinking deeply are highly desired in PM candidates. Fortunately, these are what introverts are (usually) naturally good at.
OK then, case closed?
Well, having said the above, I do believe introverts do have some unique “challenges” (not the same as disadvantages) in product interviews. As an introvert in product, I at least experienced them a lot myself.
So lets discuss them next!
3 things: exhaustion, nervousness, demonstrated enthusiasm.
Exhaustion: introverts get exhausted talking to people more quickly. At interviews, you not only talk to people, we talk to people intensely, back to back. The external stimulus is high that we easily feel the exhaustion, sometimes way before the interviews are over.
Nervousness: similarly, introverts are more sensitive to the external stimulus. Sometimes, we might overreact to a signal that might have been a big deal (e.g. interviewer’s challenge, or her cold reaction to your answers etc.). When we over-reacted, we come across as nervous. It might also how we think and respond calmly the rest of the interviews.
Demonstrated enthusiasm: we might not be as gregarious as the extroverts, combined with the exhaustion and nervousness that show, we can be misunderstood as lack of passion and enthusiasm for the opportunities.
What do we do?
I’d recommend the following strategies (as they work for me!):
Schedule to your advantage: if you know you’d not be your best if you have back to back interviews scheduled right after stressful meetings you already have in the morning (for example), avoid it. Do your best to work with the recruiters to schedule your interviews in the most ideal way you wanted so you can perform your best. Obviously, to be clear, you don’t always have full choices. This is just a general rule of thumb, to make sure to take the best advantage of what’s within the given flexibility. In the remote-first world we’re still in at this point, even the full onsite loop can usually be broken up into days. So make sure you make use of the options!
Prepare well: preparation still is the best way to minimize surprise (not to avoid them entirely though), and surprise probably is one of the biggest stimulus that’s responsible for making you nervous and tired more quickly. What does the preparation mean in interviews? As we discussed in previous posts, it’s all the way from research the company and the interviewers to anticipating the questions, to prepare your mind etc. Also, if delivering in passionate tone is not your thing (it’s not mine), preparation enables you to use concise explanation in words why you’re passionate about the opportunities, even if you’re not as gregarious.
Be open minded and flexible: it might sound contradict with preparation. It’s not. Preparation gets your basis covered. Flexibility enables you to navigate the unknown and unpredictable with calmness and ease. What does flexibility mean again in the product interview context? Come up with the right structure on the fly based on the fundamentals, be mentally ready that the flow of the interviews might not be exactly how you’d think it should be, and be listening carefully to interviewer’s questions and prompts and respond accordingly. When you’re mentally ready for the unknown, there’s much less shock when you see the curve ball.
Be likable: the one thing interviewers do evaluate, either consciously or subconsciously, is your likability. And likability is not the same as how social-able you are or how quickly you can buddy with a stranger. Introverts can be likable in our own ways. Listening attentively and showing interest in what the interviewer has to say is one. Putting a gentle smile on the face is another. I’m sure you know how to be likable in your own way! 🙂
Is introversion a disadvantage in product interviews? No.
Do introverts have unique challenges? Yes. (so do the extroverts)
As always, we win by being ourselves and leveraging our strengths.
Schedule to our advantage.
Be open minded and flexible.
Be likable in our own ways.
If you’re also an introvert in product, does it resonate? What are some different challenges you’re facing? I’d love to hear about them!