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Be Yourself: Why Strategic Authenticity is the Key to a Successful Job Interview

This is the time of year when we think about what to be for Halloween: A ghost or monster? A politician? Celebrity? A zombie? Or a hot dog? And that’s all very well. But when it comes to job interviews, a success strategy means going as the best candidate for the job: You. The real, honest-to-goodness, confident and un-costumed you.

Sure, you have mastered interview questions and perhaps even bought a new outfit. But that does not mean you should treat your interview as if it was a theater performance. In fact, a 2017 study found well-qualified candidates who try to present themselves accurately also significantly increase the likelihood of receiving a job offer.

“Interviewers perceive an overly polished self-representation as inauthentic and potentially misrepresentative,” says lead author Dr. Celia Moore of Bocconi University. “But ultimately, if you are a high-quality candidate, you can be yourself on the job market. You can be honest and authentic. And if you are, you will be more likely to get a job.”

Like a first date, you want to come across as your best self, but still yourself, to make a good impression and find a true match. To describe this process, Derek Attig, director of career development at Illinois Graduate College, uses the term “strategic authenticity.”

“Strategic authenticity is a way to be yourself in a particular situation and toward a particular end,” Attig writes. “It’s not about who you are forever but who you are right here, right now.

Being yourself means you and a potential employer have a chance to genuinely learn about each other. Don’t fake it to make it. Putting on a front means both of you are bound to be disappointed, either before or after you start the job.

Being yourself allows both parties to realistically gauge if you are a cultural fit. Often organizations are defined by their culture, and that culture means a set of beliefs and how people operate within those beliefs. The best hires and the happiest employees work at businesses that align with their values and goals. Without that connection, studies show employees can feel isolated and unhappy and are more likely to leave.

Being yourself means you are less likely to raise red flags. If you pretend to be something you aren’t or come across as overly polished, experienced interviewers will see right through you and begin to wonder about your honesty, trustworthiness and loyalty. Others who are less experienced may offer you a job for which you aren’t really qualified (and may not even really want). And that just wastes everyone’s time.

Being yourself means telling—and not embellishing—the truth. Don’t lie. Your failures, as well as your successes, present opportunities to highlight your resilience and other strengths. An experienced recruiter can help you spin your defeats into job interview gold by talking about how you overcame challenges in ways that are relevant to the opportunity at hand.

Being yourself means not faking knowledge about your soft and hard skills, your resume, potential employer or an industry as a whole. You don’t want to mold yourself into a perfect candidate who—surprise!—isn’t the same person who shows up for the job. Being upfront and honest helps ensure that you can do what you were hired to do and keeps you from getting in over your head.

Being yourself means you learn real lessons about what works and what doesn’t. If you did poorly on some questions, take time to think about how you could approach them from a different angle. And if you did well, consider how you might enhance or build on those answers.

Striking the right balance between selling yourself and being yourself is always a fine balance, yet it’s one that pays off in long-term career success.

Do you agree?