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Should We Be Ourselves in Interviews? Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Workopolis.com Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit www.CareerActivist.com.

Dear Mark: I have been getting feedback from interviews saying that I am intelligent, well spoken, and qualified, but I don't show enough passion or enthusiasm. How do I change my personality when this is how I have always been?

-- Chris N., Toronto
Dear Chris,

Welcome to extrovert world, where somebody else's public display of keenness could trump your technical ability to do the job better than they can. This is one of the downsides of our marketing-driven culture. The focus can tend to be on appearance, not necessarily what's genuine deep down inside.

It kind of makes you wonder if 'being yourself' is enough to cut it anymore. Ideally we should be able to stroll into a potential employer's office at interview time, act naturally, show a measure of enthusiasm for the position being offered and the organization we've applied to, then get judged on the basis of our work history and skill sets.

As it turns out, our personality - and the perception of how excited we are about the job - are very often factored into the hiring equation. Employers want people who are not only competent, but also pleasant to work with. And the more outwardly thrilled we are about the opportunity (though not in a desperate or obnoxious way, of course), the more it may indicate we'll be willing to put in extra effort and be loyal to this particular employer.

So what to do if our authentic style just doesn't lend itself to wild demonstrations of ecstasy? Basically we can either pump up our existing approach a little, keep looking until we find someplace that'll hire us based on exactly who we are, or else fake things big time.

In terms of pumping ourselves up a notch or two, I'm not suggesting that we start leaping up and down like a crazed contestant on Deal or No Deal. We simply amplify the volume on our existing ways of showing interest. For instance, we can give a big smile and firm handshake at the beginning of the interview. Lean forward toward the interviewer when they speak to us. Do extra homework beforehand so that we show off our knowledge of the company and the issues it's facing. As the interview ends, we can vocalize our desire to come back for the next round because we really want to work for these folks (we can always turn down an offer later if we decide to do so).

As for faking it entirely, this isn't very advisable. The thing is that we are who we are. Therefore if we come across in the interview as Mr. Dynamo, but show up on our first day of work as the less outspoken person we actually are, they're going to wonder what's wrong. Could be they'll feel like we're regretting taking the job. Mind you, we could always try to keep pretending we're the Energizer Bunny, each and every weekday that we drag ourselves into work, progressively feeling more and more like a fraud. However that kind of sham can only last so long (see my article on ' Should We Cheat on Pre-Employment Tests' for related info).

Finally, we can keep looking until we come across an employer that hires us just as we are. No games or gimmickry on our part required. The upside is that everyone knows where they stand. Unfortunately, we may still run into the problem of being perceived as unenthusiastic.

Keep in mind that job hunting is a lot like dating: both sides put their best self forward at first to generate the maximum initial attraction. We end up a winner when the front we've presented is very much in line with our usual disposition. What we hope for then is that theirs is too.

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