Graduate Management News

May 2014

The Newsletter of the Graduate Management Admission Council

Book Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

Quiet will help you better understand introversion, and may provide you with deeper insight into the diverse pool of MBA applicants you evaluate.

Book Review

Recently, I had a conversation with an MBA student about introversion vs. extroversion. I often wondered how truly “introverted” MBA students got through b-school with so much emphasis on teamwork and networking. The student I was talking with (a self-defined introvert) asked me if I’d heard of Susan Cain. When I said I hadn’t, he recommended her book, Quiet.

Quiet helped me better understand introversion, and it provided me deeper insight into understanding the diverse pool of MBA applicants I evaluate. It’s often easy to spot the outgoing/extroverted types—those we expect to jump into a Career Fair, give an elevator pitch with minimal preparation, and land job offers in the first month of school. However, it can be easy to miss the talents and gifts of introverts during the traditional admissions process, especially when most admissions teams may only have an hour to engage personally with a candidate during interviews. Cain emphasizes not getting caught up in the definitions of introversion and extroversion, but to learn about them and use that knowledge to improve relationships with others. As much of the MBA recruiting process is about building relationships and determining if a candidate is a “fit” with a program, this is sound advice.

In Quiet, Cain explains that being “likeable” was a historically important trait to succeed in business—“likeability” was typically defined as being charismatic, outgoing and social-- and associated with extroversion. Wrongly generalized, “likeable” (read: extroverted) people socialize, talk to others, and want to be the life of the party. This assumption disservices introverts in the classroom and workplace. Many introverts do these things as well, but perhaps do them differently. They may also need down time to re-energize after engaging in socially. Cain writes specifically about famous people such as Steve Wozniak, and Eleanor Roosevelt as introverts who were extremely successful.

Cain addresses the difference between “good talkers” and “good ideas.” Her point is that those who have the best presentation skills (the “talkers”) don’t always have the best ideas behind them! Presentation skills can be heavily weighted in MBA admissions; sometimes the potential to be a good presenter or “talker” can be overlooked. Don’t assume he or she who talks the biggest game can play the biggest game.

We are trained to value diversity of all kinds; how people process the world around them, interact with others, and “re-charge” their internal batteries is yet another angle to be mindful of when evaluating if someone will be a successful MBA.

I highly recommend Quiet to admissions professionals and MBAs alike. Susan Cain does an excellent job explaining introversion, how it plays out in a workplace and/or team setting, and myths associated with it. Most importantly, she clearly explains the science behind the theory in terms that are easily understood by readers at any level.

About the Author

Stacey Dorang Peeler is the MBA Admissions Director at the Smeal College of Business at Penn State University.


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