What do you do if you are painfully shy? Or not even so painfully, but shy enough to feel uncomfortable talking about yourself?
Are interviews purposefully weighted towards the kid starring in the high school musical, not the one building Da Vinci-esque sets behind the curtains?
These questions were posed to me by a curious parent on CollegeConfidential, finishing with, "I just wonder what you might say about this, and is it the case that Harvard's student body is made up primarily of extroverts?"
This is actually a fascinating question. Here's why. When I was a high school senior, I looked at the college interview as a close-ended event. You do your interview, hopefully you get in, and then you're done - you never have to do it again. Much like the SAT. A one-time hoop you jump through and forget about.
But of course, I was eventually disabused of that notion because it's not true. The interview is more like a gateway. Because adulthood is filled with lots of interviews. Some of them are formal, like job interviews. Others are more casual (a meeting with the company president, an elevator pitch to an investor, an research presentation). And at the end of the day, what you are always selling is yourself.
In Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, he spends some time referencing successful scientists and dissecting the elements of their success. He focuses on Oppenheimer's ability to be convincing and persuasive. And his conclusion is that Oppenheimer succeeded where others could have failed not because he was brilliant, but because he knew how to communicate well.
So, is Harvard filled with extroverts?
In some ways, that's the wrong question to ask.
Are extroverts more successful than introverts?
The answer is, I don't know. My classes certainly were not filled with the types of extroverts who always want to be center stage, tap dancing the lead in every show, whether metaphorical or otherwise. But those who were introverted also understood the importance of being able to present well, whether in an interview or otherwise, and they worked on it. Because it's a skillset that isn't single-use.
And by the way - I would also offer this for thought: just being extroverted and confident is rarely enough to have a good interview. Being able to communicate well is a skill that goes well beyond that. I've interviewed confident, extroverted candidates who gave terrible interviews. They weren't prepared, they weren't thoughtful about their answers, and they expected to sail by on pure bravado and likeability. And guess what - it didn't work.