Interview adage: If you can’t get hired being your true self, you don’t want to work there.
Life adage: If you’re not comfortable showing your true self then you probably have a disconnect between who you are and who you want to be. You really need to address that before it derails not only your career but also your relationships.
Here are three ways to make sure you stick to who you are when you interview:
1. Recognize that who you are is a moving target.
I find that showing my true self stems from knowing my true self. I am always learning about who I am, and then I always have to how I convey myself to other people—the two need to match, and I have found that it’s not so easy.
For example, we had guys come to put new roofs on old barn buildings.
The farmer told me that most of the buildings we are re-roofing are buildings people around here would tear down. People build new, shiny metal buildings now. Our yard full of old, wooden sheds, is something between a historic monument and an abandoned farm.
I knew for sure that I love the old wood buildings too much to tear them down.
I imagine the conversation went something like this:
Roofer: You’re gonna put a new roof on that thing?
Farmer: Yeah, my wife’s from New York City and they really like the old wood barns there.
Roofer: [Shakes his head]
Farmer: [Makes some odd motion with his head that is a cross between women-are-crazy and please-don’t-talk-to-me-I’ve-gotta-go-feed-pigs.]
The farmer leaves and I see the guys are putting on metal roofs instead of shingles.
I call the farmer. He comes back.
I tell him, “The roof’s gonna be gross. Shingles go on top of a wood shed.”
“The guy said metal lasts longer.”
“It’s not period-correct.”
The farmer says, “We’re in this period. People do metal now.”
2. If it’s not working you are probably not being your true self.
I’m silent so the farmer says, “Okay. Talk to the guys. See if you can change to shingles. But you can’t spend any extra money on it. The farm is paying for it and my parents will think you’re nuts.”
So I yell up to the roofers about how metal is not period-correct.
They don’t even stop working.
I say, “How much is it to switch to shingles?”
Turns out they’d have to throw out the metal.
I want to be an accommodating, don’t-rock-the-boat farmer’s wife. I want to just let them go ahead, but I can’t stop having ideas, and I’ll have to look at this roof every day for the rest of my life.
I try to use a nice, non-threatening voice: “Can I call the place you buy the metal from to see if they’ll take it back?”
I call. It doesn’t work. And really, trying to be nonthreatening was a nonstarter for getting someone to take the metal back.
The thing is, I’m glad I tried. At least I know now that there was no way to get a shingle roof. And it feels good to be annoying and pushy because that’s who I am. I think maybe people here in farmland are getting used to it. I like to think they are charmed. Or at least curious.
3. Don’t let the type of person you’re dealing with change the person you are.
So right in the middle of me trying to figure out if I can be my regular self or if I need to be a little nicer and maybe ask people about the weather a little more often—right when I’m trying to figure that out, I get this email from executive search specialist Kathy Harris, about how to be your real self in an interview no matter what sort of person you are facing across the table.
I think everyone we talk with fits into one of these categories — even the roofers (which I think fall into Kathy’s “disinterested” category). So here I give you Kathy’s list of the types of people you might face, and how to best respond to them:
Autocratic — This domineering style might put you on edge or distract you with concerns about the work environment under this type of authority. Don’t take it personally or let it throw you off. Even the most approachable CEO can have a bad day or quirky interview style. It’s not necessarily reflective of their management style. Candidates should almost over prepare for interviews by researching the company, key executives and initiatives. It’s not just enough to look at the website and know revenues and industry position. Candidates who prep by rehearsing their key messages and questions for the interviewer are more confident and less likely to be caught off guard.
Folksy/Neighborly — This overly casual style might make you lose focus or feel so comfortable you let the conversation drift to off-topic matters. This can be especially deadly — it’s still an interview. Smile and look for a segue to bring the conversation back to the company and position. “I can see why people like working here. You’ve reinforced my desire to join and make a contribution to this organization. Please tell me more about some of your top initiatives.”
Uninterested — This distracted style might make you wonder if they are even seriously considering you for the position, or perhaps they are just going through the motions for some unknown reason. Keep in mind that a busy executive wouldn’t spend time in an interview for no reason. They may have come from a difficult meeting, be trying to solve another problem, or haven’t had time to thoroughly review your resume. They are listening and you’re in their office. Stick to your plan.
Salesy — This “look at everything we can do for you” style might make you feel this is a slam dunk and leave you complacent. Don’t get overconfident — you don’t have the job yet. Most senior hires are consensus decisions made by a team. It’s important to give them the answer to the question “Why hire him?” that will inevitably come later.
Brick Wall — This hard-to-grasp style might be frustrating in its lack of feedback. You just can’t get a read on them and think to yourself “who is this person?” This is where preparation builds the confidence to speak to the value you bring to the organization. Keep it business-like and professional. A good question to ask is what do they see as the greatest challenge facing the company at the present time. Sometimes even senior people need an icebreaker.
Contrarian — This style seems to be just plain argumentative. This is especially tough for candidates to get past. I’ve known organizations where an interviewer intentionally takes this position to see how candidates react in difficult or stressful situations. Will they lose their cool? Become agitated or distracted? Smile. Take a breath and think “Teflon.”