On citing introversion and uncertainty as professional weaknesses

The dreaded “Tell us about your biggest weakness” prompt continues to appear in the vast majority of job interviews that I’ve had in recent weeks. It’s actually a topic I’ve given at least some thought to over the years as both an interviewer and an interviewee, so my response these days is rarely a short one when discussing my biggest weaknesses: introversion and uncertainty.

Which aren’t actually weaknesses at all. Rather, much of the world–particularly the corporate one–perceives these traits as undesirable, especially in job candidates.

Susan Cain made a Herculean effort to dispel the myth of introversion-as-weakness in her 2012 book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and Stanford professor Margaret Neale has recently published new work that describes the tendency of many hiring managers and search committees to conflate overconfidence, particularly from individuals from higher social classes, with competence and/or intelligence. Neale suggests that by psychologically uncoupling confidence from competence in recruitment practices, many organizations would be able to hire better candidates.

Until then, I guess I’ll keep providing a lengthy explanation of why my perceived weaknesses are part of the reason that I’m actually a really strong candidate for many jobs.

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