During a few lunchtime conversations with my recruitment colleagues about interviewees, the same topic kept repeatedly popping up: Authenticity.
Namely, “Why does one interviewee come off as completely phony and another absolutely authentic?” and “What does it really mean to be authentic, anyway?”
If you’re currently interviewing, or will be in the future, your own authenticity in an interview is something about which you should care deeply.
It may be the thing you need to get your next job.
With the number of talent on the market today, many of them are looking for the same or similar roles as you, are speaking to the same businesses you are, and have a very similar skill set and experience to your own. The fact is, if you want to set yourself apart, you can’t really afford NOT to be authentic if you want to get that perfect job.
Recently, I stumbled upon a fantastic TEDx talk from motivational keynote speaker, coach and author, Mike Robbins. In it, he shares his concept of viewing authenticity as a continuum where the three main elements of this continuum live. They are, from one end to the other: Phony, Honesty and Authenticity.
This continuum is fairly self-explanatory. At one end we have Phony which, as Robbins explains, is not in any way malicious, but simply happens when people are acting in a way that they think they are ‘supposed’ to in order to impress or influence others.
At the midpoint of the continuum is Honesty. Obviously, as we are moving along the scale, honest is better than phony, however Robbins points out that it is not always ‘the best policy’. He goes on to say that due to its brutal simplicity, honesty can be seen as being judgmental and/or self-righteous and can make others feel inferior or even offended therefore it is too problematic.
Finally we come to the other end of the scale: Authenticity. The reason authenticity is given its high status is due to its perfect mix of ingredients: honesty (minus the judgment and self-righteousness), a complete lack of phoniness and finally (and most importantly) its addition of vulnerability.
Robbins stipulates that vulnerability is really the key aspect to being truly authentic. As challenging as it is for most of us to be vulnerable, without it you cannot experience true authenticity and the liberty and freedom it provides.
So how does this relate to you and your upcoming interview?
First, let’s start with what many people think that they are ‘supposed’ to do in an interview.
4 Common Misconceptions about Interviewing
When people struggle being authentic in their interview, a lot of issues start with misconceptions about how you should act or what you should say in that type of environment. Some of the most common we find are:
- You need to answer absolutely every question positively. We’ve all been there before and we all know that sometimes things don’t go according to plan. But trying to spin things in a more positive way can come off as phony. The interview questions are designed to understand how you deal with failure or pressure; your ability to be honest and vulnerable with your answers is the key to success.
- The aim of an interview is to only sell yourself. Particularly in this current market, it is more important than ever to understand if the role is the right place for you as much as the business determining if you are the right talent for their role. Overselling yourself also comes off as phony. Don’t miss your opportunity to discover more about their business, the people you will be working with and the values they promote.
- You need to somehow act differently than your usual self. Whether you are trying to seem more confident, relaxed, casual, or friendlier than you really are – anything other than who you actually are – it is the biggest mistake people make and comes off as 100% phony. Employers want to meet and get to know who YOU are, not whom you think you should be.
What NOT Being Authentic Looks Like
The last point is one of the biggest barriers to authenticity. While it may not be specifically malicious or intentionally misleading, it can be highly stressful, which is not conducive to building trust and a rapport with others, particularly new acquaintances. Let’s look at a well-known example of a frequently asked question that trips up many interviewees.
Question: “What is your greatest weakness?”
Typical Answer: “I can become over-committed to a project and overly obsessive with the details”
While this answer sounds perfectly reasonable to most people, it does come with a few red flags; you are answering a question designed to understand how self-aware you are of your actual weaknesses (the key word here being “self-aware” not “weakness”) with an answer that highlights strength. This kind of response can appear phony, disingenuous and at absolute worst it can come off as almost cringeworthy.
An Authentic Alternative
In my opinion, the most appropriate and authentic way to answer this type of question is to draw upon real-world examples and situations that highlight weaknesses you have identified through self-reflection and experience.
Question: “What is your greatest weakness?”
Authentic Answer: “As a junior designer, my attention to detail was an asset as I could quickly identify any issues or errors however, when I moved into a more senior management position in my most recent role I discovered that this became my biggest weakness as I wanted to check every piece of work and fix all the errors myself. This was obviously very inefficient and I had to adjust my approach and learn to rely on the skills and experience of my team, allowing me to focus on the bigger picture and delivering the project as a whole.”
The reason this answer is far more authentic than the first is that it combines honesty from a real world experience, the ability to reflect with a high level of self-awareness and—above all—it comes from a position of vulnerability. Now it can seem daunting to be this open and humble in front of someone that you’ve only just met, particularly someone that you would like to impress, but I can say from experience that the impression received on the other side of the table is one of a genuine and lasting kind.
So, upon reflection about your last few face-to-face encounters, whether it be in interviews, with clients, with managers and staff or even with your family, ask yourself the question: “Do I come across as authentic?”
From my experience most people’s response is; “I don’t know,” which is really the whole point of this blog.
We can’t get better at something unless we are aware of it.
So the next time you’re in an interview, just remember the three key ingredients:
- Be yourself to avoid looking phony
- Be honest without being harsh
- Last, but most importantly, be vulnerable
These, in turn, will ensure your increasing ability to be truly authentic.