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Why You Can’t Be Yourself During Job Interviews

Why You Can’t Be Yourself During Job Interviews

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The job interview process should be relatively simple because you just are sitting down with some people and talking about yourself. How hard can that be?

Makes one wonder why, at the end of it all, millions struggle to get the job offer and often find themselves searching online for articles (such as this one) that will help them ‘pass’ their next job interview.

I’d like to tell you that, since you just have to talk about yourself, the best advice I can give you is to just be yourself. The potential employer is just asking questions about you and your background, so just be honest and answer them. While that would make the most sense, sadly and unfortunately, this is not the answer for most job seekers.

Why You Can’t Be Yourself During Job Interviews

The problem lies in the simple fact that there truly are correct answers to interview questions and there are very incorrect ones. In fact, one wrong answer and you can get tossed out of the candidate pool within mere seconds of the words coming out of your mouth.

Employers are searching for a certain brand of employees and you either are that brand or you aren’t. But if you aren’t (like most people), and you need and/or want a job, you will likely resort to learning what to say and do, the ‘fake it’ during the interview.

This is the truth about the job interview process because the one who says and does all the right things the best, gets the job.

The Ideal Brand

The ideal brand employers are looking for is a person who has the skills to do the job (obviously) but also one who displays high levels of integrity, accountability, flexibility, innovation, enthusiasm, passion, and presence. This brand also encompasses a person who is a strong and effective communicator, committed to excellence, consistently goes above and beyond, and walks the talk in all that they do.

In a job interview, specifically in behavior based or situational questions, potential employers are looking for mounds of evidence that show you represent this ideal brand. Answers without this evidence are typically wrong answers.

This may not be ‘new’ information, but the problem is it actually matters a lot whether or not you are such a person. If you can honestly look at yourself and see that you may not exhibit all those qualities consistently on a high level, what you do with that knowledge will determine your career success – in the job market and in the workplace.

Only approximately 20% of any given staff authentically exemplifies this brand. A lot of these skills are mentioned as ‘required’ in job postings but since they are soft skills versus hard skills most people don’t consider or care if they have those skills, nor do they realize how important they truly are.

The people who get job offers either have those skills at a relatively high level or they are really good at faking it in a job interview. The “fake it to make it” people are the ones who learned how to ‘act’ like a person who has those skills and became really good at it. The ones who fake it came to understand that one must say and do all the right things in their interviews – regardless of the truth – and for the most part, they are right.

This plays a big part in why the majority of the workforce ends up disengaged at work. Many get hired based upon passing themselves off as someone they are not and therefore immediately cause a disconnect, with their manager, when they are hired.

The disconnect exists between the people they said they were in the interview and the people they truly are at work. If you show up at work as a quieter individual who doesn’t do much more than is expected and rarely works overtime, that’s a big difference if (in the interview) you described yourself as an outgoing people person who always goes above and beyond and works a lot of long and crazy hours.

Your manager will likely be put off by this disconnect and that’s where the friction begins.

Furthermore, you may spend a good part of your day trying to actually be the person you said you were in the interview because you know this is the best way to keep your job and/or get promoted. This is a painful and exhausting way to go about your job because it rarely works as you would hope it would because it’s not authentic. And you can’t possibly be fully engaged in your work, when operating in this manner, because you have to disengage with yourself, just to pull it off.

For example, you might volunteer for extra work you don’t want to do, spout off opinions you don’t believe in, or do work in a way that doesn’t fit your beliefs– all to try to pretend to be what you believe is expected of you.

This is the “fake it to make it” epidemic that is rampant in the job market and in the workforce. And whether you realize it or not, pretending to be someone you aren’t will chip away at your self-esteem every single day until there is little left. While you may not consciously think about it, it hurts to believe you can’t get hired or aren’t ‘accepted’ as who you truly are. You believe this because if you didn’t, you would have been completely yourself in the interview.

The job interview is truly a game. The only way to win the game is to look hard at the soft skills listed above that describe the ideal candidate, and understand that to succeed in Corporate America you do need to have those qualities/soft skills developed at a pretty high level. Most of us have those skills at various levels- strong in some and weak in others. But very few have them all authentically and consistently at a high level.

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense that if you have to stretch the truth about your character, in a job interview, then the person you say you are is probably the person you need to be in order to succeed in that job. When you make the decision to actually put personal development as a priority in your life and work hard at becoming the person you said you were in the job interview, that’s when your real success will begin.


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Jessica Simko Jessica Simko is a senior-level HR Consultant and job search/career strategist. Please feel free to download her FREE report on "The Job Interview Game."