How to Be Yourself Without Being Unprofessional

Authenticity is crucial to success, both in interviews and in the workplace, but it’s not always clear where to draw the line. Few of us can call on years of experience from a job search agency-but you can call on ours.

Some people cross that line without realizing they came within a mile of a taboo subject, while others do so attempting to establish a rapport with others. But clamming up tight and shrinking into your chair won’t impress anyone, either! Learn to strike a balance between showing people what drives you without alienating anyone.

Become a Character, Not a Commodity

Application tracking systems can’t replace the relationships that we build with employers because they boil down job seekers to bullet points on a résumé. That’s why you need to stand out with genuine character—someone else out there will have one or two more “relevant skills” than you. Earning an offer will probably come down to how employers perceive your “fit,” if you meet the skill requirements to a reasonable extent.

The good news is that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The simplest characteristics often lay the best foundation: a happy disposition, an eagerness to learn, and the drive to do excellent work for its own sake will take you far. Use that as a foundation to move forward in any interview situation.

View Yourself From the Employer’s Viewpoint

Once you’ve thought about what defines you as well as a way around the company’s ATS, you can begin aligning your character with the culture of the place you want to work. Go through the exercise of articulating why you’re a good fit. Then demonstrate how you fit into the culture with examples from your past experiences, even if it’s personal or during volunteer work.

Take an educated guess at what your employer wants. Does this manager want:

  • A software engineering workhorse with an eye for detail?
  • Someone with an editorial mindset who can see the big picture?
  • A systems-oriented team member?
  • A creative spark?
  • A niche legal specialist, or a counsel generalist?
  • A jovial attitude to improve the mood, or a firm leader?

Frame yourself as someone who wants to pursue the role for your own inward fulfillment. Do you want to be a compliance officer or an IT specialist for a specific reason? Think of one. Support that strategy with examples of how you bring a personal and controlled flair to your projects. Most hiring managers want someone who can grow with the organization—and maybe even to be groomed for higher responsibilities. Think about that even if you entered the organization through a staffing agency and no connections otherwise.

Say Just Enough to Get an Approving Nod

You don’t need to spend 20 minutes convincing people that you work hard-just sell them on what motivates you with a classic “start with why” play. For example, everyone thinks they work hard, but they rarely believe those claims coming from other people. We also want to avoid appearing lazy just because we enjoy taking vacations. In this instance, position yourself as a dedicated team player who “leaves everything on the field.” You can demonstrate that you work hard without staying late just to be seen doing so.

The trick is to let your interviewer and coworkers fill in the blanks on their own. By leaving the implications of what you say open to a fair degree of interpretation, you can avoid being put under the microscope of another person’s values.

Drawing the Line Between Authenticity and Unprofessionalism

There are several taboo topics to avoid altogether:

  • Income and benefits
  • Your emotional state
  • Family drama
  • Personal health issues, physical or mental
  • The details of past workplaces or coworkers
  • Political leanings
  • Plans to climb the corporate ladder
  • Relationship issues or personal troubles

It’s tempting to break social conventions in a bid to build trust, but this can backfire just as often as not. Regardless of your belief in the role money plays in our lives, for example, you simply can’t know if it will rub somebody the wrong way. Even if you’re 100% sure that the person to whom you’re talking won’t be offended or alienated, your conversation may be overheard or retold.

Be the team member that employers and coworkers want in the office.

Draw the line at personal details if you’re ever in doubt. It’s okay to say that you have a medical appointment, or to give general reasons for leaving your past jobs, but you don’t need to get into life stories. Not in the office, and certainly not with an employer. Show others the best side of you-the side that gets things done-and then let them figure out what that means to them on a personal level. You can’t please everyone with your personal details, but you can rise in an organization by showing people what gets you out of the bed every morning.

Learn how to find that balance with executive search professionals who understand interviewing and culture development inside-out. Call us at the Career Path Group to put your life back on track.

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