New Job? Introvert? How Start Off Right

by Nancy Ordman

The world of work is becoming more collaborative. People sit at desks or tables in open-plan offices and participate in much more teamwork than in times past. For extroverts, who recharge their batteries by being social, who thrive in teamwork, and who like attention, the new paradigm suits their working style.

For introverts, the idea of working in the middle of what seems to them like chaos and spending hours on end around people can be enough to send them into a panic. Introverts need alone time to think and process information; they prefer one-on-one conversations; and they do not want to be in the spotlight.

During the first few days and weeks after starting a new job, a rookie employee will meet many people, some of them in groups, where the newbie will necessarily be the center of attention. Snagging some alone time can be difficult. Add to this the necessity to process an onslaught of all manner of information, from benefits to project descriptions to the way around the office building, and an introvert will wonder how to keep going through each day. The following suggestions can help an introvert not only make it through this demanding time but to also enjoy the process.

Before Day One

Job candidates research potential employers so they will know basic information about the larger company and the specific department where the job is located. Learning about the company in greater depth will help the new hire understand where the job fits and the potential impact the team or department or division has on company goals. Understanding the company’s planned future direction, and any particular challenges, provides additional context.

Most employers have standard protocols for employee onboarding, and the new hire’s immediate manager, or the manager’s designee, will set up a schedule. Ask to see the schedule in advance and find out how much downtime is built into each day. If the days are packed with multiple meetings and group lunches, ask if the schedule is flexible enough to spread group activities out over a longer time, leaving a chance each day to assimilate everything.

New hires should also plan ahead for introducing themselves in different situations, ranging from a formal few minutes in front of a group to a casual hello in a hallway. Decide what to share from past jobs and whether to include personal information, like hobbies or club memberships or family life, and then rehearse comments in advance. This preparation eliminates the need to think and eliminates a source of stress.

Start Out Right

First, establish the right approach to this process. Starting on day one, everyone, whether introvert, extrovert or ambivert, should have reasonable expectations of themselves and the new job. Think of easing into the workplace as smoothly as possible, not as fast as possible. Trying to do too much at once is a recipe for problems.

U.K.-based Onstride suggests spending a quiet half hour in a coffee shop near the office, at least on day one and potentially every day. This practice provides time for an introvert to charge up their batteries and ensures timely arrival at the office. Arriving at work a little early every day is also a good idea, whether preceded by a leisurely cup of joe or not.

Big group meetings offer little chance to get to know anyone. Some of the people invited to these meetings will be more important to the new person than others; make note of the ones to get to know better and arrange one-on-one meetings, scheduled after the initial hectic days have calmed down.

Get to know a few new colleagues with nearby workspaces; it is likely that they work on the same team or on closely related projects. Ask them basic orientation questions like the location of the restroom, the breakroom and the office supply cabinet. Also, ask about the onsite cafeteria or good places to eat outside the building. These colleagues can also suggest places to sit quietly and think, perhaps a spot outside or a small lobby area that does not get a lot of traffic.

Another tip: have a few neutral non-work conversation topics ready to trot out when the situation calls for some small talk. Introverts generally dislike chitchat, but how better to get to know a new person? Is there any other way to do so?

And Keep Going Strong

One thread runs through all of the various advice different authors offer up: the absolute necessity to be prepared. The embarrassment of being caught flat-footed without a response in a meeting is unpleasant, but that embarrassment for a newbie, especially an introvert, is greatly magnified. New employees will spend extra time learning background information their colleagues already know, but this research is essential. Gathering this knowledge from colleagues provides another method for getting to know each other and sends a positive signal of interest and seriousness about the job.

No matter how well prepared an introvert is, sharing that knowledge and offering insights – in other words, taking a turn in the spotlight – can exact a heavy cost. If speaking up in a large group feels too intimidating, talk with a smaller group of colleagues about ideas and questions beforehand. Everyone will be interested in what the new person has to say.

The most important advice sounds so hackneyed as to be hardly worth mentioning: Be yourself. Create ways to use the talents many introverts possess, such as the ability to focus, good observation and listening skills, strong research skills, prioritization and scheduling, among others, to work tasks. Figure out how to create a quiet space to work in and politely but firmly maintain boundaries that you need to keep. Rely on one-on-one meetings as much as possible. Take time alone to recuperate from intensive group work. Remember that every office has introverts, as well as extroverts and ambiverts, and every type contributes strengths that work together for success.