“Be yourself” is the advice of teachers, coaches, parents, and motivational posters everywhere. But “be yourself” is pretty terrible advice when you’re searching for work.
How could that be? Shouldn’t we be honest and authentic? Shouldn’t be be clear and forthright? The answer, as with so many things in life, is yes….but….
© Flickr User Philip Dean
Your Goal: To Be Employable
The objective of anyone who is searching for a new opportunity is to be someone that a company can imagine employing. That means when you submit a resume, make a phone call, sit down for an interview, have a conversation, or even be active online, you need to look like you could become a great employee.
This might sound obvious, but most of us aren’t really managing our perception that consciously. Often, what we appear to be is somebody who is not readily employable for a variety of reasons. Here are some examples:
You’re already happily employed. Of course having a job is important, and one of the easiest times to get a new job is when you currently have a job. But if you talk about your current job with sufficient passion, an employer may feel like you don’t really want to leave. If that is the case, the hiring manager will have to make a bigger offer to convince you to walk away from your current job. So be careful about being yourself too much if you are relatively happy with your current job.
You’re busy with other things. Sometimes candidates use the hiring process to discuss outside interests, such as volunteering or hobbies. This might include the schooling that their currently in as well. It’s great to have a well-rounded life, but if you appear super busy with your own life an employer may not be able to imagine you dedicating 40 hours a week to them.
Furthermore, this could include all kinds of questions that are shady or outright illegal. If you talk about how much you’re looking forward to becoming a mother, you might put yourself out of the running. If you speak up about your pending college applications, your military experience and desire to serve again, or your aging parents who may require care, you’re putting yourself in a tough spot.
You’re biding your time. These days, employees are often asked to sign non-compete agreements. Or, they may be starting a new chapter in their life out in the future, such as an educational program or a long-term service opportunity like the Peace Corps. You won’t appear employable to people if they know about how you’re planning to do something else just as soon as you can.
You’re unemployed for a reason. Everybody knows you shouldn’t badmouth former employers. But if you are unemployed and your story makes it look like you might be a bad employee, that will count against you. While it’s true that the “real you” might have made a mistake or been wronged in the past, think about how a new employer will take that information if it comes from you directly.
Don’t Be Yourself. Be The Employable Version of Yourself.
Work isn’t about being a 100% authentic human being who has the right to express themselves. Work is about getting things done. Sure, you are a real person who brings real stories, flaws, and benefits to the organization. But for the most part, potential employers want to see you as someone who will be an asset, not a liability.
Yes, you can “be yourself” but be careful about how you present yourself. After all, you want to offered the job, not thought of as someone who wouldn’t be a good fit.