When entering a new situation like starting at a new school, making new friends or preparing for a job interview, the old adage, “Just be yourself comes to mind”. But how exactly does one “just be yourself,” in an interview?
It’s natural for us to want to create an “alter ego” for an interview; a different version of who we are that is almost unrecognizable to people who know us best.
For example, when interviewing, you may find yourself using catch phrases or terms that you would never use in your personal life. The reason for this may be that you are subconsciously trying to connect with the interviewer or align yourself with your perception of the organization’s company culture.
It’s an easy and understandable pitfall to partake in, but a pitfall nonetheless –one that can have adverse consequences for you and your interviewer. It is important to remember an interview's purpose is to identify if a jobseeker’s skills and personality match with those of the company. And this vetting process goes both ways. If either you or the employer is presenting themselves/the organization in a disingenuous way, this will have negative outcomes for company and candidate alike.
The Importance of Authenticity
It’s important to understand that “being yourself” during an interview does not require you to play a role. The main purpose of an interview for both you and the employer is to identify if you are the best fit for the job. The idea of “fake it until you make it” runs counter to this objective. If you put on a facade during the interview process just to land a job, you and the organization will quickly end up right back where you started -back on the job hunt.
To avoid this, the best thing a jobseeker can do during an interview is be honest and allow their personality to come through. Whether it’s a properly timed personal anecdote, or a genuine reply to the question, “Where do you see yourself in the next five years?” your authenticity will allow both you and your interviewer to accurately assess how fulfilled you would feel in this position and working as a member their organization.
Additionally, your authenticity will give you an edge when identifying companies and positions that fall in line with your career goals. The most important part of being your authentic self during an interview is the integrity of the vetting process. If you elect to put on a persona simply to obtain a job offer, one of two things will happen:
- You will be offered a job and end up in a position that isn’t a good fit for you. Additionally, you’ll miss out on other job opportunities that you would have been exposed to had you kept your job search open a bit longer.
- You won’t be offered the job and you will always wonder if you had been true to your authentic self, would you be working at your dream company right now.
Personable vs. Personal
Many of us tend to draw a hard line between our work lives and our professional ones. Because of this, there is this prevailing notion that our personal self is a separate entity from our professional self.
Of course, there will always be certain aspects of our personal lives that should stay personal, but in terms of our core characteristics, each of us has unique traits that make us personable both inside and outside the corporate world.
When interviewing, it’s important to find a balance of professionalism and personability that works for you.
One of the tips I give to my candidates is prepare for your interview, but don’t be over-prepared. Overly rehearsed interviewees come across as very rigid, and consequently, inauthentic.
Instead of having a rehearsed script, it’s best to have key behavioral questions and scenarios ready. Within these examples, create room for some flexibility, so that your interview can easily take the format of a conversation rather than a question and answer session between you and the interviewer.
Conversations create connections and the key to a great conversation is being yourself
Additionally, when replying to your interviewer’s questions, try to work in a personal anecdote or two where appropriate. This could be something like mentioning a charity you volunteer for or sharing information from a class you recently took. These small additions to your replies demonstrate to potential employers who you are and what you are passionate about –without totally taking the conversation off-topic.
Lastly, be yourself when you are talking to staff at the interview site. While you are waiting, don’t be afraid to make conversation with the receptionist or security guard about the weather or a recent sporting event.
You can also ask the interviewer how their day is going while you walk to the interview room. These simple conversation starters go a long way to diffuse some of the inherent tension of an interview. They are also part of the little things that make lasting impressions on hiring managers and can have a significant impact when it comes time to make a hiring decision.
Feeling uneasy about the interview process is typically what causes us to want to put on a mask, as there is a lot of pressure riding on these moments. Even though you may be nervous, it is important to remember that not being yourself and holding back who you really are doesn’t do anyone any favors when it comes to their job search.
So, take a deep breath and remind yourself at the end of the day a job interview is just a conversation between two people, and the most meaningful conversations occur when you are being yourself.