Be Yourself in the Interview

Have you ever hired someone and wondered if there had been a Dr. Jekyll/Mr.Hyde situation between the interview and the first day on the job?

Obviously, I’m not talking about transforming into a brutal monster, but some people tend to ‘act’ in the interview and revert to their real self once they get the job.

Years ago, I was interviewing for my first dean position. When I arrived at my hotel and began unpacking my suitcase, I found a note my husband wrote and stuck in the suitcase. It said, “Do your best. Say what you mean. Have fun.” It was a great reminder to me to be the person I always am.

What I’ve learned over the years, both in the workplace and in other parts of my life, is that people can fake who they are for short periods of time.

For many years, I advised the chapter of a college sorority. Every year the chapter participated in recruitment for new members, also known as rush. Women in the chapters might get 5-10 minutes to talk with a rushee at the recruitment parties. It’s easy to act like someone you’re not for that length of time. I always cautioned the chapter members to look a little deeper and to rely on recommendations from home.

The same applies in the workplace when interviewing candidates for jobs. If you have a fairly thin process and only a few people see the candidates for a limited amount of time, your preferred candidate may not be what he seems to be.

I accepted my first “big girl” job after college after individually interviewing with seven people over the course of two days. I thought the process was overkill at the time—and it may have been for an entry-level position—but today I get why they had me talk with so many people. It’s hard to hide who you truly are for that long.

Why would you want to get a job under what might be considered false pretenses? In all jobs, the candidate should be looking for a great fit between their experiences, education, and temperament and what the organization is looking for. So if a candidate is faking who they are during the interview, they may get the offer. But most candidates will not be able to maintain the deception once they arrive. So they get to work and are a different person and no one is happy, including the new employee.

If you are interviewing for positions, just be yourself. Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” You have unique talents and abilities and no one else has your spirit. You bring experiences and outlooks to the interview that, if the fit is there, should be apparent.

I’ve pulled out of job searches because, while being myself, I realized that there was not a good fit between what the organization stood for, the job they expected, or how I felt while talking to the interviewers. If I know I will not be able to be myself and enjoy the work, why would I wait for an offer? And even more to the point, why would I accept the offer if it came?

I understand that people need jobs. So maybe some candidates feel a desperation to be someone they are not to get an offer. But I hope that’s never you. And I hope, in my organization, that we have enough folks see the various candidates so that we don’t hire someone who was one person in the interview and a totally different person when he arrived for his first day on the job!

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Lynne Richardson is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington.

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