Management Consultants I met before and during my first few weeks at Capgemini Consulting all seemed to fit a particular mould; outgoing, sociable, intelligent, competitive, and confident. I suppose I might appear fairly similar; I see friends after work a few times a week, I play competitive sport, I went to good universities, I am not particularly shy.
Hence, most people express surprise when they find out that I am an introvert. The stereotype still holds that introverts are shy, withdrawn, socially awkward and prefer to be alone. But a number of widely read books emphasise the positive qualities introverts bring to work, including being excellent leaders (I’d recommend reading Quiet by Susan Cain). In fact, being an extrovert isn’t primarily about how outgoing you are – you can be a shy extrovert – but rather about where you get your energy from and what kind of environments you’re stimulated by. Extroverts feel energised when they are surrounded by people in highly stimulating environments, whereas introverts tend to feel drained meeting lots of new people, and work best in quieter, low-key settings.
This posed a challenge for me as I joined the CDC and faced a two week induction as part of a group of 27 CDC-ers, and was presented with multiple networking opportunities, several after work social events and constant group work. In fact, it’s a wonder I decided on consulting as a career choice at all – management consultants spend the majority of their time on client sites with new project teams that change every few months and are expected to provide input from day 1. Yet, I’ve quickly realised that Capgemini doesn’t employ people who fit a particular mould. Rather, being the YOU want to be is encouraged and no two people are the same. I think there may even be a few fellow introverts amongst us!
In order to thrive at Capgemini, I’ve learnt that we have to do a number of things that may seem counter-intuitive for introverts, so I thought I’d share some preliminary thoughts about how we can try to meet these challenges confidently.
The word alone strikes fear in the heart of most introverts (and some extroverts too!) but it’s a core part of CDC life. Networking is not about getting something personally beneficial by engaging in awkward conversation with someone you’ve never met before – or at least it shouldn’t be. Rather, it’s simply an opportunity to learn something new from someone and then to share that knowledge again in another setting. Striking up a conversation with a stranger is much easier for the inquisitive introvert if you really want to learn something from them.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, presenting to a large audience is often less daunting for introverts than participating in smaller meetings, but, as CDC-ers, we are constantly encouraged to speak up and share our thoughts, ideas or solutions in both internal and client work. Introverts tend to think first and then speak and easily get drowned out by our more extrovert “speak first” colleagues. Preparation is thus crucial. You’ll probably find yourself preparing for seemingly insignificant meetings but this will help you do your thinking beforehand and have confidence that you have something credible to say (you will).
During our induction we made pizza, played dodgeball, went bowling, did a pub quiz, escaped from a locked room. We were all exhausted at the end of those two weeks, and introverts often find these social activities especially draining. It’s really important to get to know your peers and others across the company – and it is great fun – so I’d definitely encourage making the effort. But it’s also ok to skip out on Friday drinks every couple of weeks, or force yourself to go home a bit earlier (I’m still learning this one). Taking the time to recharge your batteries will ensure you continue to operate at your best.
Be the You
This is one of Capgemini’s sayings. Capgemini prides itself on hiring people who aren’t all the same and places a great deal of importance on allowing your personality to come through – from the interview stage all the way through to client work. So thankfully I don’t need to attempt to be an extrovert. Just like extroverts, there are things I need to do that take a bit more energy or thought, but I don’t need to pretend to be something different.
If you are a fellow not-so-secret introvert and have tips that help make CDC life a success, I’d love to hear them. And contrary to the stereotype, I’ll probably see you at the pub on Friday – but if not, rest assured that I’m just re-charging my batteries ready for my weekend.