We frequently receive questions regarding introversion, and how to factor it into career planning. We addressed this in one of our career Q&A sessions. There continues to be illuminating research on the topic, and a lot of popular interest, especially after the success of books like Quiet by Susan Cain.
In 2011, a group of researchers at Wellesley College found that each person described their introversion in a different way. They also found that each person described their introversion differently from how it is defined scientific literature. Thoughtfulness and introspection are traits usually used to describe introversion, but these traits are seldom used in scientific literature on the topic.
The difference between scientific and common sense versions of introversion was first identified in 1980s research. The Wellesley College team expanded on this to come up with the 4 meanings of introversion, which they presented at the 2011 meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. In 2014, they provided personality scales and a sample test to identify the types of introversion. Both of these papers provide insight into the different types of introversion.
1. Social Introversion: Social introversion manifests as a preference for solitude or to socialize in small groups. It’s different from shyness. Social introverts aren’t anxious about large groups. They prefer to interact in smaller group settings.
2. Thinking Introversion: Thinking introverts are introspective and self-reflective. They tend to have a rich inner life and are capable of getting lost in a fantasy world. They may be fine in large groups. This type of introversion is associated with self-reflection not shyness.
3. Anxious Introversion: Anxious introverts are associated with shyness. There is an anxiety, and awkwardness associated with social interaction. There is a tendency to be temperamental, hypersensitive, and to ruminate.
4. Restrained Introversion: Restrained introverts are reserved. They are thoughtful when they speak, and take a while to get going. They are deliberate and can appear as operating at a slower pace.
Companies are still conducting Myer-Briggs personality tests despite evidence that they are not particularly useful. Moreover, every business and career publication seems to have made it a habit to publish their “Top jobs for introverts” list.
We don’t subscribe to the idea that there are specific jobs for introverts. When you think about several types of introversion as opposed to a single monolith, you get a better sense of why. Three out of the four types of introversion as described by Cheek and his team, aren’t socially anxious.
This research is still a work in progress, but it continues to show that introversion is nuanced. A social, or restrained, introvert might be less likely to schmooze and hit the networking circuit, but they are every bit as capable of succeeding in most jobs.
Even a job in sales, which was typically seen as an “extroverts career”, now has many variations. Thoughtful sales people with strong technical and analytical skills are highly sought after. This means that unless you have extreme anxiety in the form of the third type of introversion — many, if not all, of the jobs out there could be suitable for you.
If you are looking for a career that allows more solitude, there are many paths to choose from. For example, careers in design, or data analytics are best for deep thinkers. As modern corporate and startup environments evolve, there is a willingness to structure careers for talented individuals. Remote work is also becoming more accepted.
Scott Barry Kaufman, the scientific director of the Imagination Institute wrote a fascinating article for the Scientific American which featured Cheek’s original questionnaire on the topic. We recommend reading the entire article and taking the quiz here.
Need help figuring out what careers to consider?