Occasionally I get a question from a reader, such as below. If you have a question you’d like to ask here or on the podcast, please send it to questions AT upstarthr.com or record a short voice note here anonymously: https://upstarthr.com/question
See other reader questions here. Today’s question is about how introverts can thrive in the world of HR.
What is a good HR job for introverts? I am somewhat shy and am looking for a way to follow my passion for HR without totally stressing myself out.
Hi Monique! Thanks for asking a question that so many of us have wondered about. Truth be told, I’m quite shy in person. When at events where I don’t know someone, I’m often more likely to read a good book in my hotel room than go to a networking event and meet people! While there are tons of HR job titles and jobs out there, I am going to make the case that introverts can do many of those very well.
Some research shows that we are fairly split as a group of introverts and extroverts in the human race, but it can feel like extroverts really run the show in many cases. However, I have met so many people who are able (like I have trained myself) to appear boisterous and friendly while maintaining their introversion at the same time. Let’s break it down a bit.
Shyness vs Introversion
While these two things are often used interchangeably, they are two different things. First off, shyness is something we’ve all probably experienced at one time or another. The first time I attended a SHRM chapter meeting for my local group back when I first got my HR degree, I went to a 5 hour workshop and talked to one person the entire time, and only because she approached me!
Introversion is a bit different. The world’s leading expert on introverts, Susan Cain, says:
Introverts have a preference for a quiet, more minimally stimulating environment. Introverts tend to enjoy quiet concentration, listen more than they talk, and think before they speak, and have a more circumspect and cautious approach to risk.
I am very much an introvert. Not only do the pieces above describe me, but I also get really, really drained from being around people and being “on” for longer periods of time. Extroverts eat that up and it leaves them ready for more.
But the stereotype that an introvert has to sit in the corner and be quiet is a silly one. It may be hard to believe, but you can be a speaker and be an introvert!
The point of this is to make sure you know the difference between being shy, which is something you can train yourself to overcome, and being introverted, which is really a core part of who you are.
Note: I’m actually doing some interesting work with a new tool we’ve built that helps HR leaders to learn more about their own work styles and preferences. We have a free guide on the 5 questions you must answer to own your HR career you can check out!
How Introverts Thrive in HR
Looking at Cain’s definition, we see plenty of opportunities for HR to thrive:
- Quiet environment
- Thoughtful speaking
- Caution towards risk
While that doesn’t describe HR at every company, it does illustrate a picture of HR that is familiar to many of us who have been practicing it for any length of time. Let’s revisit that list and put some common activities alongside each option:
- Concentration: designing benefits plans, examining recruiting data for the best source of hire, determining the best way to grow your leadership development program
- Listening: coaching managers on their leadership style, brainstorming with the CEO, supporting employees during challenging times
- Thoughtful speaking: leading a benefit open enrollment session to help each person understand how to take care of their family, running a lunch and learn on personal finance basics to give your employees some wiggle room between paychecks
- Caution towards risk: compliance planning, investigations, HR process audits
If any of these seem terrifying for you, just remember these everlasting truths:
- It gets easier every time.
- You are doing this for someone else, not for yourself.
- Your HR legacy is based on kindness and respect.
What About People-Facing Activities for Introverts?
When I started in HR all those years ago, I was terribly shy on top of being an introvert. One of the first things my boss made me do was take on a recruiting task.
I. Was. Terrified.
Seriously. I began thinking this new job was maybe a bad idea and started to think about other options. But I gave it my best shot.
And you know what? I ended up loving it. Recruiting, which is the most human-facing part of HR, was one of my very favorite things to do. Why? Because I got to talk about the company, the culture, and the people. It wasn’t a talk about me. I wasn’t shining a light on myself. I was talking about this amazing place that I believed in and wanted others to believe in as well.
I say that to say this: there are plenty of people-facing things we have to do in HR. If you’re introverted, you find ways to adapt. Maybe you need quiet mornings to face a busy afternoon of conversations. Or maybe you meditate during your lunch break or take a walk as a way to keep yourself centered. Maybe you balance a day of busy interaction with a day of quiet focus.
Whatever the case, it’s possible to be introverted and be great in HR. In fact, I’d say it’s an asset in many cases!
Monique, good luck to you, fellow introvert. I know you’ll be great!
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