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Apr 16, 2012

Facebook hiring input from another perspective

Are extroverts actually better than introverts, or do we need both?

By Dave Crisp

One thing that worried me about my recent blog about evaluators judging personality characteristics from Facebook was whether the sheer number of "friends" someone had was being used a marker of success.

Six months into a starter managerial job, supervisors agreed individuals with the most friends "fitted in" best. That echoes what I so often heard in management or, as a former CEO of mine expressed it, “I would never hire an Icabod” — referring to the stereotypical story of Icabod Crane and the Headless Horseman — a scared, shy, introverted school teacher pictured as frightened to death by just about anybody. At the early stages, extroverts often appear more adept. But we "slow starters" can sometimes do things even better.

For those introverts out there who, like me, have had to learn to fake it to appear extroverted and avoid this sort of stereotyping, let me point to a wonderful anecdote in a new book ... and video of her speaking at TED — Susan Cain.

Cain makes a strong case that companies need introverts to balance and add valuable knowledge, sober second thought and creative innovation to their mix. She puts her case so strongly you almost wonder if she’d recommend constituting a company entirely from introverts. But even in suggesting such a thing, you can see the flaws. Unfortunately the reverse doesn’t seem to be true. Any number of hiring managers seem to think an organization composed entirely of extroverts is exactly what they want.

The most important word Cain touches on, though just once as far as I could see, is balance. We know people are all different, we know mixed teams perform better though they are a bit tougher to manage, especially if they include introverts who are less likely to fall into "group think."

But that never stopped managers describing their ideal parameters for new hires as "outgoing, sociable, gets along easily in groups" and saying, overtly in a great many cases, "don’t hire someone quiet or reserved, we just don’t have a spot for that here."

People tend to hire others like themselves. We have a vast history of promoting the most vocal, group-oriented individuals rather than the ones we have to encourage or even talk into taking managerial roles. It’s not surprising at all that the extroverts who are so often in charge tend to want others like themselves, not those mysterious thinkers as Julius Caesar distrustfully notes (in Shakespeare’s typically insightful words), “Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much.”

Of course, Cain cites laudable examples of introverts throughout history who have achieved remarkable results. We’d be surprised if 30 per cent of the population didn’t find some spots where they can contribute. So why should her pitch be necessary? Have things changed over the years as she believes? Or should they?

We introverted thinkers are often quite capable of "faking it," a concept I felt completely alone in inventing in my teens when I realized I’d have to learn to survive in a far more extroverted society than I could imagine coping with.

In time, I believe I even moved further along the scale toward actual extroversion since I accustomed myself to so many situations in which skills that seem more natural to extroverts began to seem natural for me, too. In many ways I believe I benefited by recognizing the value extroversion brings to situations and attempting to at least emulate it when needed if not actually feel it.

In some ways this is another advantage introverts have over extroverts — they can learn the value of both, whereas many extroverts seem blind to this. Perhaps that’s because we introverts keep quiet about our secret, as we tend to do about a lot of what we observe and think, lest we be recognized for the socially challenged individuals many of us are thought to be.

The key for strategic HR is we can’t allow flawed exclusionary evaluations to prevent hiring or promoting people of any class who are needed to create results, no matter what the "common opinion" may be. The key element to look for in new hires is a balanced view that appreciates what each person can contribute, not a one-size-fits-all sociable template that misses valuable potential.

Dave Crisp is a Toronto-based writer and thought leader for Strategic Capability Network with a wealth of experience, including 14 years leading HR at Hudson Bay Co. where he took the 70,000-employee retailer to “best company to work for” status. For more information, visit
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The issue isn't black and white
Thursday, April 19, 2012 1:01:00 PM by Mr. Bean
It is important to note that the issue of introversion vs extraversion isn't black and white. In fact, most people are in between and display characteristics of both - known as ambiversion. Also, as has been noted, most Facebook users "friend" anything and anyone who they come in contact with and do not necessarily know these individuals. So, the hype that is out there about employee referrals through social media etc. - well the real truth is if you think an employer is going to receive quality referrals through Facebook then that is an overly simplistic way of thinking and looking at things because in most cases the "friends" you have aren't necessarily as educated as you are etc. - it could be that they both like soccer and connect merely on a social level - and if we are hiring based on this criteria, then this is a classic example of poor recruitment practices.
Great column, Mr. Crisp
Tuesday, April 17, 2012 4:46:00 PM by Dave Crisp
Thanks, I think 'voice of reason' is a role a lot of us less extraverted types play. It certainly worked for me in the turbulent situations I typically chose to work in. Even that recognition, though, tends to be an afterthought, not something they hire for.
Great column, Mr. Crisp
Tuesday, April 17, 2012 12:18:00 PM by Allison Fisher
David, really enjoyed your column.

I am an introvert executive in an office that is almost exclusively extroverts. I find it very difficult at times to have my voice heard. I don't like coming off brash, I don't like stating the obvious (which is something I find aggressive extroverts do often.)

This may sound harsh, but I really believe many of them just like to hear the sound of their own voices.

But I am often told I am the voice of reason in the organization. And that's the critical role for introverts to play. It's not about bravado, arrogance or showing off. It's about calm, level-headed thinking.

I shudder to think of an organization that doesn't have that stop-gap!
Number of Facebook friends is a flawed measure
Tuesday, April 17, 2012 11:48:00 AM by Dave Crisp
Thanks Brian. Judging from other email I'm getting, this has hit a chord with a number of people.
Number of Facebook friends is a flawed measure
Tuesday, April 17, 2012 11:27:00 AM by Brian Kreissl
I find it strange how so many people now measure their popularity by the number of Facebook friends they have.

To me this often has more to do with the amount of time someone spends on social media than their actual social skills. And to me, someone who does all of their "socializing" online isn't very sociable. It also speaks to how choosy they are in terms of who they accept as "friends."

Personally, I'm fairly choosy about who I include as a "friend" on Facebook. And I haven't been very active on Facebook for probably two years now, but that doesn't make me a painfully shy introvert.

I really have to question if someone who includes 1,300 "friends" on Facebook actually even knows those people. Many younger people now "friend" their entire college or university class, whether they really know the people or not (not that there's anything wrong with that, but don't tell me all of those people are "friends").

How is this a measure of how well someone gets along with others?

I also agree with Dave's point about introverts. While most personality tests classify me as a mild extrovert, I can see how a person's quiet, unassuming ways can actully win more people over than a super confident extrovert who regularly rubs people the wrong way.