How Being Authentic at Work Will Help You Thrive
Business Development & Partnerships
3 min read
14 June 2021
Authenticity works. Employees who are authentic—behaving at work in a way that mirrors their own values and their sense of themselves—are happier and more productive, says Patricia Faison Hewlin, professor of organizational behavior at McGill University. “When we are authentic, we feel a greater sense of well-being,” says Hewlin. “We have lower levels of depression, we tend to be more satisfied with life, and we are highly engaged in our jobs.”
The recent pandemic has only strengthened this shift toward bringing our full selves to work, as colleagues increasingly depend on each other to overcome challenges. “The shared vulnerability of this time has given us a huge opportunity to bring real authenticity to company culture and transform work for the better,” says Jared Spataro, corporate vice-president of Microsoft 365.
Recruiters understand the value of genuine colleagues. “Hiring authentic people actually can help organisations because they are performing better and they are more committed, feeling more satisfied in their work,” says Dr Sunny Lee of University College London’s School of Management. While it is possible to get a job by saying what you think a recruiter expects to hear (rather than being yourself), this phony approach often ends badly for both the worker and the company, says Lee. “Over the longer term, a poor-fitting applicant who presents himself inauthentically in order to acquire a job will likely perform poorly, be less satisfied, and more likely to leave.”
Before diving into how to be authentic in interviews, it’s worth focusing on two preparatory steps. The first is to figure out what success looks like for you. “People chase after things other people told them they should want,” says Nicholas Pearce, a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “It takes a lot of courage to turn away and define how you plan to keep score, even if it doesn’t make sense to anybody else but you.” Spend time talking with people who know you well—colleagues, family, mentors—and identify traits and values that are fundamental to you. The second step is to plot a path toward a job that fits those values and matches your skill set. It may require a substantial process such as retraining; or perhaps it’s about finding the company with the right cultural fit.
So how can you bring your full self to an interview? Coach Pallas Hupé Cotter recommends being “strategically authentic . . . turn the volume up on the parts of yourself that connect well with others and turn it down on the parts that, at first blush, might not.” By focusing on those of your characteristics and abilities that match a specific job or working culture, you can show both passion and personality. Other useful tactics include asking questions (showing that you’ve done your research on the company and that you’re interested in learning more), keeping your answers relevant and brief, and telling stories—personal anecdotes that paint a picture of who you are and what you’ve done.
One classic interview question—what are your weaknesses?—can look initially like a trap. While you should avoid featuring a weakness that’s a key part of the job description, don’t be afraid to bring up skills you’re not strong on, says career coach Angela Smith. “If someone can be honest and have the self-awareness to answer that question, I think that says a lot about their emotional intelligence and their professional maturity.” Using that “weakness” to demonstrate a growth mindset and shaping the narrative around it clearly, can turn a negative into a positive. It shows the interviewer “that in combination with self-awareness, one also possesses adaptability,” says Dr Lee, “and the capacity to effectively regulate one’s behaviour.”
Authenticity is a pathway to enhancing satisfaction and engagement at work, as well as a key part of the job-seeking process. Being authentic during an interview can help you find a position where you’ll be successful and fulfilled. Informational interview platforms such as CareerLunch can provide an opportunity to practice being authentic, as the informal nature of these interactions makes it easier to be yourself. Meeting companies informally will help you get more comfortable with your communication skills, find out what tactics work best for you, and identify multiple companies and cultures where you’ll find a great fit for your authentic self.