“Just be yourself.”
It’s an extremely common piece of advice for many different types of situations, including job interviews. The intention is to encourage you to relax and not try to be someone else simply because you think that’s what the hiring manager is looking for. Rex Huppke, a columnist at The Chicago Tribune, believes 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.”
Yet, Adam Grant, author of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success and professor of psychology and management at the University of Pennsylvania, thinks being yourself is an absolutely horrible recommendation, though. As he says, “Nobody wants to see your true self.”—ouch—“We all have thoughts and feelings that we believe are fundamental to our lives, but that are better left unspoken.”
What I believe he’s trying to say, is that who you are is defined by what you think. And if you’re true to who you are, that means you’ll go hog wild and voice every single thing that crosses your mind (à la Kanye West). As you can imagine, this could be a pretty chancy move when you’re trying to get a new job (or, um, maintain any type of relationship). If you’ve taught yourself how to write code, for example, and the interviewer mentions that a coding training program is available to all employees, you probably shouldn’t say something like, “Oh, that’s cool, but I learned that on my own in, like, a day. So that’s not very useful for me.”
Humans have thousands of thoughts each day, and, furthermore, not all of them are legitimate. James McCrae, author of Sh#t Your Ego Says: Strategies to Overthrow Your Ego and Become the Hero of Your Story, poses that you shouldn’t give weight to every word that passes through your brain. “When we examine our long patterns of brain activity,” says McCrae. “it’s clear that thoughts can be unstable and often arbitrary, shifting depending on context and contradicting our better instincts.”
It’s what you do with all thoughts that comprises your personality and builds your character. You need to consciously decide what you should (and shouldn’t) say, as well as the appropriate time for it. It’s great that you’re a self-taught individual, and you definitely want to showcase that. But you can save that fun tidbit for when you’re asked what your biggest strengths are, and you can share it in a much less condescending manner.
“One of my biggest strengths is that I’m really driven and always want to expand upon my skillset. Last month, I spent a weekend teaching myself how to code, and I’d love to continue learning more about it.”
As Grant says (and this part I do agree with), “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.”
So, yes. You should be yourself. The person vetting you for the job does want to get to know the real you. The trick is making sure you’re showing him your best self.