When you’re job searching, are you authentically yourself, or do you put on an act? If you tend to polish your persona, you’re not alone. In a series of studies, up to 90% of job candidates engaged in faking behaviors at interviews such as ingratiation and self-promotion. Further, researchers reported that up to 75% of their subjects engaged in behavior that is “semantically similar to lying.”
Faking it until you make it might not be the best strategy when it comes to getting hired.
Outright lies can cost you job offers and come back to haunt you later, but even milder forms of inauthenticity can hinder your professional progress.
One field study showed that investors evaluated entrepreneurs less favorably when those entrepreneurs attempted to cater to their interests. Why? In part because behaving inauthentically raised the entrepreneurs’ anxiety levels and presented them as manipulative.
However, being authentic in job interviews and career choices generally is not the same thing as being your unvarnished self. The key to balancing authenticity while maintaining a professional demeanor is to connect with your values and passions and then present yourself in the best light possible.
What Is Authenticity?
In the context of your career, being yourself is less about letting it all hang out and more about knowing what’s important to you. This means developing a deep understanding of your values and goals, and then figuring out the best way to achieve them.
To act authentically in a professional setting, you must also learn how to communicate your goals and skillsets in a way that others can understand. For example, even if an interviewer asks you to share a story about a time when you experienced failure at work, you should be sure to choose an anecdote that shows you’ve overcome the issue and gained a valuable skill. It’s best if you can then relate it to how you’ve used that experience to achieve success.
Authenticity doesn’t mean sharing every misstep, failure, or doubt. It means being honest when you do share information and being sure that your actions align with your values and goals.
Here are the keys to being your authentic self in a professional setting.
Know What’s Important to You
Have you ever had a bad job? Here’s why that’s good news: every less-than-ideal professional experience can teach you a valuable lesson about what’s important to you at work—and what isn’t.
Maybe you thought a brand-name employer was essential to your success, only to discover that the corporate culture was incompatible with the life you want. Or perhaps you chose one job offer over another based on money, and later found out the skimpy benefits package cost you more than taking a slightly lower salary. All these setbacks can help you understand more about what you want (and need) in a job.
Look for Genuine Points of Connection
One of the best ways to get the interviewer on your side is to learn what you already have in common.
While you’re doing your pre-interview research, leave some time to look up the hiring manager on LinkedIn.
You might find out that you went to the same school, have a similar certification, or have contacts in common.
And while you obviously don’t want to lean too hard on what you’ve learned, lest you look a bit too intrusive, going into the interview with this information will help you foster a connection. It may also relax you enough to let you really listen and converse, instead of waiting eagerly for your chance to impress. Ultimately, job interviews are—or at least should be—just conversations.
Beware Impostor Syndrome
Do you often feel unworthy of your success? If so, you may be suffering from impostor syndrome, a phenomenon in which competent people feel like frauds, despite plenty of evidence of their achievements.
The danger of impostor syndrome is twofold, as it can:
- Undermine you: Impostor syndrome may tempt you to be self-deprecating in job interviews and other important professional interactions, which might undermine your professional reputation. In general, it’s best to avoid oversharing in job interviews. Keep it professional. You don’t owe an interviewer (or anyone else) your most embarrassing revelations.
- Stunt your job growth: Impostor syndrome may also persuade you to turn down promotions and avoid stretch assignments because your current situation feels more comfortable. The truth is that growth is almost always uncomfortable, at least at first. If you fail to act on opportunities because you don’t feel ready quite yet, you might find yourself stuck in one place.
Know Your Strengths
Job interviews are sales pitches, and you’re the product. To succeed, you must be able to market yourself to the employer and demonstrate how you’ll solve their problems, achieve their goals, and build greater success.
Start by generating a list of strengths that you can use in resumes, cover letters, and in conversation during job interviews. This list should include both hard skills, like specific technologies and certifications, and soft skills, like communication and teamwork.
Then, match your qualifications to the job listing and prepare to make a case for why you’re the best person for the job.
Your values, goals, and requirements will evolve over the course of your life and career. Check in with yourself from time to time to make sure you’re still headed in the right direction. You’ll have an easier time taking risks and persuading decision makers if both your head and heart are in the game.