We keep hearing about how it's important to “be yourself” – at work, in relationships and with friends. But is it possible to be ‘you’ in an interview? Can the pursuit of authenticity get in the way of your professional goals?
Pauline Jennett, former Associate Director of Admissions at Harvard Business School, is all for authenticity, especially in an interview. “If you lie [in an interview], all bets are off. You may get flustered or just not show the passion, energy and drive in your stated goals and past successes. Authenticity is always the best road,” she has said.
Rex Huppke, columnist at The Chicago Tribune, agrees, stating that when you try to fit into the perfect candidate mold, you run the risk of “mask[ing] what should be your strongest selling point: you.”
But Adam Grant, author of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success and professor of psychology and management at the University of Pennsylvania, has a different take. “Nobody wants to see your true self… We all have thoughts and feelings that we believe are fundamental to our lives, but that are better left unspoken.”
With experts divided on the levels of authenticity permissible, how much of yourself should you actually be? How can you best balance your impulse to share honestly and the strong desire to get the job?
The answer lies in being the best version of you.
Grant agrees that no one wants to “hear everything that’s in your head. They just want you to live up to what comes out of your mouth.”
Try these six tips to showcase your true self and be more authentic in an interview:
Instead of resorting to clichés, back up your claims regarding skills or characteristics with examples and relevant stories. Instead of announcing you’re a “team player” or “focused on details”, come up with anecdotes that show this.
Prep with sound bites
It’s easy and common to get flustered during an interview. So ready a few “sound bites” that get the message across in a sharp and succinct manner. “I helped increase in-house efficiency by 17% in six months” or “I worked on three foreign projects” say far more than long lines could.
Mind your body language
Your lips may be saying one thing, but your body could be contradicting your statements. To appear authentic, it’s essential to pay attention to non-verbal cues such as posture, facial expressions, eye contact and handshakes.
Practice with Q&As
Hiring managers tend to throw trying questions that begin with “Tell me about a time when…” or “What would you do if…” to see how you react. Practicing answers for questions like this may be better than winging it as you have given yourself some time to think about what you would say. This makes you look smooth yet authentic.
Remember, while prepping for an interview makes a huge difference, it’s important to know when to stop. You don’t want to over-prepare, sound rehearsed in the interview and come across as completely phony.
Bind truth with relevancy
It’s all very well to be true to yourself, but it’s imperative to use your judgment and show professional maturity if you want to land the job. Instead of saying you can get to the heart of people’s problems, say your listening ability leads people to confide in you. That way the hiring manager thinks you are good at gathering information, and not at crossing boundaries.
Always remember that during interviews, it’s possible to withhold information and still be authentic. Discernment and the ability to showcase the best version of yourself – the one relevant to the workplace - is what will help you land your dream job.