You put on that freshly-pressed outfit that you hardly ever wear, run through your answers to some commonly asked interview questions, and practice your friendly—yet professional—smile in the bathroom mirror. You have a job interview this afternoon, and you’re determined to knock it out of the park.
Preparing for an interview can often feel like getting ready for a theatre performance. It’s tempting to transform yourself into the person that you think the hiring manager wants you to be—whether that persona actually fits with yours or not.
Yes, you want the job—and ultimately there’s nothing wrong with adding a little polish in the attempt to impress the hiring manager. You should absolutely showcase your best self in a job interview. But, while it’s easy to think that best is the operative word in that sentence, you might want to place a little more emphasis on another: self.
Why Authenticity Matters
First things first, it’s important to recognize that “being yourself” doesn’t equate to showing up 10 minutes late and admitting that you didn’t have time to shower because you overslept. Remember, there’s a big difference between authentic and just plain unprofessional. But you shouldn’t feel overwhelming pressure to play a role.
There’s one big thing that both you and the employer are looking for during this process: a mutual fit. And, there’s no point in faking your way through a job interview only to land in a role that isn’t suited to your interests, skills, or passions. You’ll end up disappointed, and so will the company that hired you.
Being honest and letting snippets of your personality shine through—whether it’s a funny remark added to your “What’s your greatest strength” spiel or a genuine assessment of what you’re looking for in your next role—will allow both you and the employer to discern whether or not you’d make a decent match. Your authenticity will give you the opportunity to find a company and a position that falls in line with your values and goals, and vice versa.
Another reason that being up front is crucial? Put simply, the truth comes out eventually. So, if you paste on a smile and put on a show in the interest of just scoring an offer letter, you’re bound to be found out sooner rather than later.
How to Be Yourself in an Interview
You understand the importance of being yourself. But, you’re not quite sure where the line is—how personable can you be, without crossing over into unprofessional territory?
The first key is to avoid over-preparing. If you’re ready to go with dozens of canned responses in your head, you’ll run the risk of reciting them like a robot. While it’s a good idea to have a general idea of how you’d answer specific questions, there’s no need to memorize a script. Give yourself some flexibility so you can follow the flow of the conversation.
Secondly, when answering the hiring manager’s questions, work in personal anecdotes wherever possible. Whether you can mention a cause you volunteer for or even tie in a memory from your recent trip to Thailand, those little additions can reveal a lot about who you are and what you’re passionate about—without sounding like you’re blabbering about irrelevant personal factoids.
Finally, feel free to make small talk. Chat with the receptionist about the weather or strike up a friendly conversation with your interviewer while you stroll to the conference room. These sorts of pleasantries might seem insignificant, but they’re actually a great opportunity to establish rapport and loosen up a bit.
Plus, word spreads unbelievably fast in office environments. So, establishing a reputation as the candidate who held the elevator door and offered a friendly compliment will take you further than you might think.
Job interviews are nerve-wracking, and your uneasy feelings are usually enough to inspire you to take on a totally different identity—one that you’re confident will land you the job.
But, remember, holding back who you are or being dishonest about what you want out of your career won’t do you any favors in your job hunt.
So, take a deep breath and remind yourself that—as anxiety-inducing as it might seem—a job interview is really just a conversation. And, the most engaging and memorable conversations? They happen when you’re being yourself.