Open office spaces are all the rage these days. Sure, they look cute on Instagram and give off major “we’re all in this together” vibes, but let’s face it, if you could call dibs on a private office, you probably would. As bleak as a cubicle can be, at least you can have some semblance of privacy throughout the day.
1. Accept Yourself
Before we launch into the steps you can take to better your career, let’s take a moment to appreciate where you are now. You’ve gotten this far not in spite of your introversion but because of it. You owe it to yourself to take the time to reflect on what you need to feel and work your best. If you’re an introvert, you should do what you need to do to feel comfortable.
2. Take Real Breaks
There’s no shame in the eating-lunch-alone game—in fact, this might be the easiest step you can take to improve your career as an introvert. No, you won’t magically get promoted because you eat lunch alone, take solo walks around the building twice a day, or read a book in the break room instead of making small talk, but these actions won’t do any harm (and will help you get the recovery time you need during a busy day).
If you find that you need time alone during the day to hit the refresh button, go for it. Put your headphones in (with or without sound) while working to signal to others that you don’t want to chat right now. Ask your manager if they can make a designated area of the office for heads-down time. Make an effort to carve out your own private space and time during the work day—you’ll focus better, have more energy, and be more productive.
3. Network Your Way
Not a fan of going to large networking events full of strangers? Fair. Those events are overwhelming, nerve-wracking, and exhausting. If you don’t get anything out of these events, stop going to them. Find your own way to network. Prefer to chat online? Join a professional group on LinkedIn or Facebook where you can pinpoint who you’re most likely to have common professional interests with. Admire a certain writer/designer/entrepreneur/whoever’s career? Ask if you can take them out for a cup of coffee. One hour alone with someone you admire is likely to be more productive than trying to schmooze strangers at a networking event.
4. Show You Care
If you’re drained at the end of the long day and don’t want to head to happy hour with the coworkers, that is more than OK. Chances are, they understand why you’re skipping out on margaritas and office gossip. To avoid hurting their feelings by always declining, find your own way to show you care without compromising your comfort level.
Bring bagels to the office on a dreary Monday morning, make a point to join in on Friday afternoons when your team is more chatty than productive, or write thank you cards every so often to show colleagues you appreciate them. You can kill them with kindness without killing your introverted tendencies.
5. Make Big Moves
You can make important steps for your career without leaving the comfort of your home. Instead of staying late at the office to show you care (not that you should have to), can you take your work home with you? A late-night or early-morning email tells your boss the same thing as hanging around the office late. You can spend time polishing your resume, picking up a side hustle, or furthering your education.
Being good at introspection is a key advantage to being an introvert. Take advantage of this ability to find key areas at work where you or your team can improve. Spend those solo lunches mulling over how you want to handle tricky office situations or what big project you want to take on next. Find a way to negotiate with your boss for a work-from-home day each week so you can be extra productive. If you embrace your introversion and don’t fight it, your career will be just fine.
6. Choose the Right Job
Not all jobs are created equal. When you choose to head down a certain career path, you might do so based on your college major, or you might stay in a field you fell into as an entry-level employee. But if you find your job frequently makes you feel uncomfortable or drained, then it might be time to consider a different one. Introverts aren’t as likely to enjoy jobs in sales, account management, or client-facing positions. Of course, introverts can enjoy these jobs, but they are some examples of ones that may be better suited for extroverts.
Introverts may appreciate research-based roles, ones that entail major data analysis skills, or careers that don’t require as much interaction with coworkers. Working for yourself can allow you to plan your schedule and interactions with colleagues at a rate you’re more comfortable with. Remember, choosing a job that suits your introverted tendencies isn’t the same as limiting yourself; it’s a sign that you know what makes you happy and what doesn’t.