In a recent survey of US-based human resource professionals conducted by Reader’s Digest magazine, one of the respondents stated that an interview was “not the place to be yourself”. According to the insider – an HR consultant in Raleigh, North Carolina – anyone who has even been told to let their true character shine through during an interview has been given “the worst advice ever”.
“We don’t want people who are neurotic and quirky and whatever else,” she expands. “All we care about is your skill and experience.”
It’s explosive stuff – but it isn’t necessarily a final nail in the coffin for anyone already daunted by the prospect of climbing the career ladder. Might it, in fact, be the get-out-of-jail-free card we’ve all been waiting for; carte blanche to start making things up when sitting in an interview for the job of our dreams?
While you might not be able to erase years of Facebook posts and thousands of mindless tweets, the persona you present and the words that tumble out of your mouth at an interview are something you have control of.
“One of the problems for jobseekers is the simple fact that there are correct answers to interview questions and there are very incorrect ones,” says HR expert Jessica Simko (www.jessicasimko.com), author of the book Why Can’t I Be Me?: Understanding And Rising Above The Fake It To Make It Work Culture. “One wrong answer in an interview and you can be tossed out of the candidate pool in a matter of seconds.”
It’s a rather sobering – and scary – thought, and Jessica makes it sound even more terrifying when she argues that when you’re being interviewed you are either consciously or unconsciously selling your brand.
If you’re not giving off what the employer is looking for, Jessica says, you’re in trouble. According to her, one of the few options available to you if you want to go any further in the process is to fake it.
“The ideal brand that employers are looking for is a person who has the skills to do the job, but also one who displays high levels of integrity, flexibility, innovation, enthusiasm and presence,” she says. “This brand also encompasses a person who is a strong and effective communicator, committed to excellence and consistently goes above and beyond.”
The people who get the best job offers either have those skills at a high level – or they were really good at giving the impression that they possess them during the interview.
“The ‘fake it to make it’ people are the ones who learned how to act like a person with those skills and became really good at it,” she says, and while she doesn’t actually endorse the practise, she rues that it has become the norm. “They’ve come to understand that they need to say and do all the right things in their interviews – regardless of the truth. And for the most part, they are right.”
It’s a shocking assertion – and one that you’ll struggle to find publicly endorsed by career advisors within the UAE. In fact, none of the Dubai-based professionals we contacted for a local opinion in this article advocated professional fibbing – it’s clearly a taboo subject that not many people are keen to talk about.
As Richard Scott Taylor of UAE-based human development consultants InnessKirk says, “The question is simple – ethics. If the applicant has ethics, lying is never an option.”
In UAE culture, presenting yourself as honest and trustworthy is not just desirable, but expected. And that’s all very well… until you find out that the next person in the interview queue is bigging himself up as the guy who taught Steve Jobs all he knew.
So what of our million-dollar question: if you’re fighting for your one shot at the job of your dreams, is it OK to lie?
“No!” says British career coach Shaun Thomas (www.shaunthomas.co.uk). “There is a big difference between positive exaggeration and unscrupulous embellishment. If anything, lying at a job interview is a sure way to court disaster because getting caught out on a lie at a job interview will not only damage your reputation with that company, but possibly also other potential employers. Never forget that your recruiter probably networks with other people in your industry.”
Bare-faced lies, then, are clearly out, but even exaggeration should be approached with caution. Overdo it, says Jessica, and you could run into trouble, especially if there’s a “disconnect” between the person you said you were in an interview and the person you truly are at work. “If you show up at work as a quieter individual who doesn’t do much more than is expected and rarely works overtime, that’s a big difference if, in the interview, you described yourself as an outgoing people person who always goes above and beyond and works a lot of long and crazy hours,” she says.
The goal, then, seems to be something along the lines of mild, positive exaggeration of the things you’re good at, such as your skills and experience, and playing down any less-attractive attributes like ‘quirky’ personalities or weird hobbies that might mark you out as a bit of an odd ball or a loner.
Add to this some careful research about ‘good’ answers to questions your interviewer is likely to ask and some thought about your personal branding, and your interview stands a chance of going well. But when looking at your potential in the job market, it actually makes sense to start leaving a trail of breadcrumbs long before you even get to the interview stage – and this trail should start with your CV.
Your résumé is either the bridge or the barrier between you and your chances of an interview, and it’s vital that you get it right – or, as the advice pages of UAE-based job website Bayt puts it, “Your CV is often the first interaction with your prospective employer and in a highly competitive market, the importance of creating a good impression can never be overestimated.”
Once again, however, you have an element of control over the way in which your CV paints you. And you should never forget that certain truths about your career really have no business being on there.
“As much as it’s extremely important not to lie on your CV, you also can’t tell the truth about everything that really happened in a previous job,” says American career expert Dawn Rasmussen (www.pathfindercareers.com). “You can’t, for example, write about a spiteful worker who sabotaged you or that you hated the job so much you had to leave. Résumés aren’t the place to explain what really happened.”
It’s certainly food for thought for anyone desperate to pour their heart into their CV about why they didn’t get promoted very quickly or why they flitted like tumbleweed from job to job.
As with interviews, it’s best to stick most resolutely to those facts that paint you in a positive light.
“The tactics employed by some HR departments can be quite punishing on certain candidates,” adds career expert Dawn. “If you’ve not been careful with your CV, your honesty in certain areas could be interpreted by HR departments as weaknesses.”
For example, she says, if you’re a perfect candidate with regards your experience and qualifications, but list your hobbies as reading, playing Minecraft and going for long walks on your own, you’re likely to be flagged up as unsuitable for a job where team players are important.
“Toning down those solitary aspects of what you do, and perhaps joining a club or two, could make the difference between interview and rejection,” says Dawn
And yet your personality may soon be removed from the interview equation entirely. According to business journal The Atlantic, we are entering an age of ‘Big Data’ when it comes to the recruitment process, with HR departments keen to make the most of the latest scientific thinking when hiring people.
There is even a start-up in Silicon Valley that has devised a series of computer games which, when played by job candidates, will help identify the strongest. No grinning interview persona needed.
The Atlantic article goes on to explain how software engineers can, without their knowledge, be identified and rated by a series of complicated algorithms that look at open-source coding they have written and which appears online. With the right tools, any interested HR department could also look at the coders’ popularity on internet forums and the language they use on LinkedIn and Twitter to ascertain their level of skill.
So you might one day be headhunted because of your commanding social media presence; you’ve already ticked all the right boxes before they’ve even met you.
But that’s for tomorrow. For today, it’s probably better to make the most of what you’ve got, and work with it.
“When you think about it, it makes perfect sense that if you have to stretch the truth about your character during a job interview, then the person you say you are is probably the person you need to be in order to succeed in that job,” says Jessica.
By making the decision to actually put personal development as a priority in your life, she says, and working hard at becoming the person you said you were in the job interview, that’s when your real success will begin.