How to be yourself at senior job interviews

Written by
Dan Cable

22 Aug 2017

22 Aug 2017 • by Dan Cable

Research reveals that the best way for senior professionals to land a job offer is to relax at interviews and be themselves.

So... how can you be yourself at job interviews? What does that really mean? Professor Dan Cable condenses it into five key points:

1. Be authentic

Interviewers are instinctively drawn to individuals they perceive as being genuine and this is why authenticity is so important. Rather than focusing on self-enhancement during interviews, which can encourage candidates towards a set of standard responses, our research suggests that top applicants should strive to present themselves accurately.  

In practical terms, if you're in the final running for a job, focus on being honest about yourself and emphasise legitimate and unique strengths without overstating them. Avoid mis-representation.

2. Demonstrate self-knowledge

Senior professional applicants who fit the role well, and who admit to occasional limitations and setbacks, demonstrate self-knowledge.This can be important in making you stand out.This means answering questions directly and completely without omitting aspects of your work or history.

The point here is to present yourself so that others understand you as you understand yourself. This is known as self-verifying behaviour. The film ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ illustrates the benefits of this approach: the star of the film, Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway) admits in her interview that she knows little of the fashion world but lands a much sought-after job in fashion journalism.

3. Rise to the challenge at the final interview stage

Our research shows that the value of candidates showing their true self grows as they reach the final interview stages, when they are competing against several others who could also perform the role.

If you’re in the final running, show yourself to recruiters as rare and attractive by striving to be genuine. Rare, because recruiters are accustomed to candidates who try to act according to an ideal. And attractive because recruiters will see you as being more authentic, enabling them to be more confident in their assessment.

4. Be open about your strengths and weaknesses

If people are prepared to be more open during the selection process, they are more able to identify organisations which share their values. Ultimately, this has long-term benefits for both individuals and employers.

The natural follow-on to an authentic interview means being oneself at work. Being open with new colleagues about strengths and weaknesses can help to build relationships based on trust.

In any event, gaps in knowledge will usually become evident fairly quickly. Our research shows that for medium and longer term happiness in a role, better understanding of colleagues, fewer emotional conflicts and ultimately higher levels of satisfaction and performance, honesty really is the best policy.

5. Are you really a good fit?

Importantly, candidates should recognise that this research is most relevant once you’ve established that you’re a good fit for a specific role.

But if you’re not well qualified for the position in question, being transparent could backfire as you’ll give interviewers even more evidence to reject you.  But that’s a good thing... if you’re not a good fit for the job.

These practical tips are highlights from recent research carried out by Dan Cable of London Business School, who worked alongside Celia Moore (Bocconi University), Sun Young Lee (University College London), and Kawon Kim (Hong Kong Polytechnic University). The full paper was recently published in the Journal of Applied Pyschology, “The advantage of being oneself”.