The Socially Anxious Recruiter

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

So, as some of you may know, May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

As someone with social and generalized anxiety, I wanted to touch on the topic. What better way than my first blog post on my site?

I was perusing Instagram last night and came across the following comment which really hit me:

"If a recruiter's personality doesn't gel with those of other team members then productivity will suffer."

To give a bit more background, the question in the Instagram post asked which of the following recruiters consider most important when making a hiring decision: technical knowledge, recruiting experience or soft skills. One of the commenters responded that soft skills were the most important then elaborated with the above statement.

Now, that would have generated a pretty strong response in me regardless of what month it was, but especially in May where the focus is raising awareness of mental health. I knew I had to respond, but in a blog post versus on a random Instagram post lol.

The reason it triggered such strong feelings in me is because for the entire time I recruited, for over five years, I was always the quietest person on the various teams I worked on. I have severe social anxiety which affects me in every social situation you can think of - team lunches, happy hours, small talk in the office, the normal interactions like grabbing coffee with people for strategic networking, you name it. These totally normal aspects of office life induced panic and dread in me on a very regular basis. Especially happy hours. I rarely drink, like once or twice a year at the most. Recruiters can be a very outgoing, hard drinking bunch. When you layer not drinking on top of social anxiety at a bar after hours with co-workers, it can be a pretty crappy combination.

What really bothered me about the comment is the obvious underlying assumption - you can't be a good recruiter if your personality doesn't jive with the rest of the team. Rest assured what she meant was that the candidate needs to be outgoing and confident to even be considered. Now, on the one hand, that's not totally unreasonable - after all, recruiting requires you to talk to candidates on the phone all day and to sell, sell, sell. You're selling the company, you're selling the position, you're selling the candidate on the salary you're offering. It's not unreasonable to think that to be successful, a recruiter would need to be outgoing and confident.

On the other hand, I am the furthest thing from outgoing, with my severe social anxiety, and I excelled as a recruiter. I started my recruiting career at Bank of America and ended it at Dow Jones before starting my own business. I was a high achiever and consistently exceeded all expectations.

Although my personality is far from the typical recruiter's, I do have qualities and traits that helped me to succeed in the position. I am detail-oriented and obsessive. I tracked every recruiting KPI and metric in existence in exhaustive Excel and Google Sheets that were also color-coordinated. I have an intense work ethic and I never give up on anything. Those are pretty amazing traits for a recruiter to have, actually, and that is why I kicked ass during my time in corporate America.

However, many people believe that a quiet, socially anxious, shy person has no place in recruiting and won't be effective. To me, the worst part of that Instagram comment, was the part where she stated that if the personality doesn't match then it will throw off team cohesion and productivity will go down.

And to that I say, bullshit.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I was never at work to make friends. I was at work to do my job. No one's productivity level should ever go down just because someone with a different personality joins the team. Sorry, is this a sorority or a business?

Besides, I thought businesses were supposed to be focusing on diversity these days? Do we only care about diversity when it comes to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity & expression and religion? What about mental health? What about diversity when it comes to that? What about diversity when it comes to personality, which often intersects with a person's mental health disorder(s)? Does that not matter? Do we just want a homogeneous group of overly confident, extremely outgoing, assertive recruiters? By the way, shouldn't we be hiring collectively in terms of a person's work history, experience, and ability to do the job?

If the candidate checks every box for a recruiting position, why is it okay to decline them just because they are socially anxious? How is that not discrimination? You are telling a qualified person that you don't want to hire them because of a mental health condition. Why is that okay in 2020? If we want to raise awareness this month, part of raising awareness is opening a dialogue about this. Because that absolutely isn't okay.

The picture above was taken at a career fair at a very well-known university in New Jersey. I talked to hundreds of students for hours. I didn't sit down once. It was mentally exhausting. It exacerbated my anxiety. But you know what? I did it. And I did it well. Just like every other task I was assigned as a recruiter.

It's a shame that other socially anxious recruiters, like myself, are potentially not being given that chance just because they don't fit the "overconfident, extremely outgoing" recruiting stereotype.

Stop discriminating against recruiters with social anxiety.

Create some diversity personality-wise amongst your recruiting teams.

Give quiet, shy recruiters with social anxiety a chance.

Stop penalizing candidates for mental health conditions they are suffering from.

And yes, I am aware that it is illegal to discriminate against candidates or employees due to their mental health conditions. But ofcourse, that doesn't mean that it isn't happening.

To recruiters and managers that are doing this - you have no idea how many excellent candidates you are overlooking due to "personality", "fit with the team" and all the other garbage excuses given to rationalize discrimination against those of us with social anxiety.

Instead of looking at personality, look at the candidates' KPIs, their metrics, their work history, their drive, the amount of research they did on the company prior to the interview, their experience with technology & ATS, their interest in the opportunity.

Stop judging us on our lack of outgoingness and a mental health condition that we didn't ask for and start judging us on our professional merits.

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