You’ve probably run across articles or blogs that advise job hunters to “just be yourself” to succeed in a job interview. Ostensibly, this would seem to be rather sound advice. After all, no one enjoys dealing with a phony or someone who comes across as disingenuous. Still, I’ve always had problems with such advice, primarily because it tends to be far too ambiguous and is therefore somewhat useless advice for a job candidate. It’s tantamount to telling a candidate, “just do your best,” without providing any specifics on how the candidate should go about doing that.
None of us possesses just one “self,” of course, and the self we choose to show others depends largely upon who those others are and under what circumstances we encounter them.
We each have our private self, which most of us show only to a very select few. Then there is our social self, which we show to friends and acquaintances. And, of course, there is our professional self, the one that’s on parade while we’re on the job.
So, the question becomes, then, to which “self,” exactly, are those who recommend “just be yourself” in a job interview referring?
APPROPRIATE BLEND OF SELVES WORKS BEST
In our executive recruiting firm, The HTW Group, we coach candidates we present to our hiring company clients to emphasize an appropriate blend of their various selves during the job interview, with the strongest emphasis being placed on the professional self. This approach allows the candidate to come across as being human, while at the same time, as also being a true professional. After all, hiring managers and the companies they represent are looking for someone to do a specific job. They are not looking for new friends!
Suppose, for example, that your social self is characterized by a tendency toward gregariousness. You’re seen as someone who laughs easily and a lot, and as someone who also enjoys making others laugh. In other words, you’re simply fun to be around! Is this the “self,” though, that you should be during a job interview? Of course not. It’s certainly OK—even highly recommended!—to let this part of your overall personality, your social self, shine through somewhat during the interview, but it should not outshine your professional self. If it does, you risk coming across as someone who doesn’t take professionalism all that seriously, and that could quickly get you eliminated you from further consideration!
Or what if your social self is rather reserved and apparently unassuming? Is this the “self” you should be in a job interview? Well, not exactly, unless you want to risk coming across as someone who lacks assertiveness, or as someone who seems difficult to interact with or engage in any meaningful way. In this case, during the job interview, you would be well advised to sublimate, as much as possible, your social self and focus on polishing your professional self to project a strong, confident image and bearing.
POLISH YOUR PROFESSIONAL SELF
I trust that, at this point, most people would agree that the “self” you should be, as well as the one you should primarily focus on and most strongly emphasize during a job interview, is your professional self. However, if you are like the typical job seeker, your professional self quite probably could use a little polishing before it’s ready for prime time. That’s particularly true if it’s been a while since you’ve had a new job interview.
While an in depth examination of how to create and maintain your professional image, your professional self, is beyond the scope of this post, here are some key considerations:
- Do your homework well before the job interview to learn as much as possible about the company and the person who will be interviewing you, if at all possible. (Check out company website, news releases, LinkedIn, Google, etc.)
- Make sure your professional image, your brand, is perceived as top-notch in each and every correspondence/contact with the hiring manager/company. (This includes your résumé and cover letter, telephone calls and emails.)
- Compile a list of questions you can reasonably anticipate being asked in the interview, e.g., “Tell me about yourself,” “Why are you seeking this position?” “Tell me about your current boss,” etc., and then prepare and rehearse appropriate answers to these questions before going in to the interview.
- Prepare a list of your own questions to ask during the interview, e.g., “Can you tell me a little more about (a new product or service) ABC Company just released?” “If I am the person you ultimately select for this position, what would I have had to have accomplished during the first year for you to be able to say you made a good hiring decision?”
- Be able to demonstrate how you can make the company money, save the company money, or both. (Make sure your résumé features evidence of how you have already accomplished these things by citing dollars and/or percentages saved or earned on projects you either led or participated in, etc., and then re-sell the hiring manager on how you can also do this for his/her company.)
- Show up on time for the interview! (Nothing can get you eliminated from further consideration faster than not showing up on time—no matter how qualified you are or how sparkling are your career achievements!)
- Make sure you send a “Thank You” note or email after the interview.(Most candidates not only don’t do this, most don’t even think about doing it!)
HOW WELL CAN YOU ‘PLAY’?
The process for preparing for a successful job interview is often compared to the process for preparing for a “first date,” and that certainly is a good analogy. An analogy that I think fits even better, though, is an audition for a band.
Suppose your musical specialty is playing lead guitar. You’re looking for a new gig and you learn that a top band is looking for a new lead guitar player, so you arrange an audition. What do you suppose will be the very first, most important thing the band will want to learn about you? How well you actually play the guitar, right?! Every other part of your “real” self is meaningless until you demonstrate how well you can play!
To be successful in your next job interview, approach it with this same type of understanding and mindset. First, show the hiring manager how well you “play” in your professional specialty, then show him/her how rewarding it can be, from a human standpoint, to have you join the “band.”