You need to steer a confident path between sounding like an unmanageable free spirit and a pre-programmed robot which spouts out corporate buzzword bingo on repeat!
This blog was written by colleague Debbie Pye
In my first post on authenticity I described the pitfalls I experienced as a new graduate applying for graduate schemes. Actually being too effective at adapting my responses (either at the application stage or the interview) to what I thought was the “right” answer meant that I got the job…..but it really wasn’t a career where I could be myself and so I hated it. Pretending to be someone I wasn’t was not sustainable in the long term.
However, of course that doesn’t mean that you can afford to adopt a “take me or leave me” approach; being 100% focussed on being “true to yourself” can come across as inflexible, intransigent and frankly arrogant. I’ve come across applicants like this in my work as a leadership coach – they can’t understand why despite their qualifications and experience being spot on they aren’t getting past first interview stage.
As in most things, what’s needed is a willingness and ability to be reasonably flexible and adaptable. This means reading the demands of specific situations and pivoting your style to achieve the goal in hand whilst also retaining working relationships and your personal brand. In your applications/interviews it’s all about demonstrating that you can be an “authentic chameleon”. Whilst that might seem like a contradiction in terms, most of us are actually pretty adept at adapting our behaviour depending on the circumstances, social mores, the background or “rank” of the other person etc. That doesn’t mean we are compromising our core belief system or genuine character. Being adaptable – sensitive to the situation at hand - also showcases our empathy and our self-awareness : two key facets of emotional intelligence which are core “transferrable skills” frequently sought by employers.
So here are some ideas for communicating to potential employers that you are both genuine and adaptable. Give examples in cover letters/personal statements and interviews of situations where you have:
- Flexed your “go to” style in leadership situations – perhaps shifted into listening mode rather than your natural approach of leading from the front? Or motivating your team with a description of your vision for the way forward and then shifting into coaching mode to help them deliver success?
- Describe the range of your work and voluntary experiences in such a way that demonstrates you can be an effective contributor as a team member in a wide variety of contexts – in a charity shop working with elderly ladies, on the gate at a Bath rugby fixture or tutor to a demotivated GCSE student
- Describe situations where you have had to pause and take time to reflect on the best course of action, or perhaps have changed course half way through because the circumstances have changed, or because your initial approach wasn’t working
- Be comfortable with letting your actions speak for themselves; hobbies, interests and voluntary work will often speak volumes about your core values and motivations
- Give examples of where you have really had to put yourself into the other person’s shoes (empathy) before deciding on your next steps: presentations, delegating tasks, marketing events or societies all require an ability to consider the audience’s viewpoint
Finally, in demonstrating that you can be authentic and adaptable you are communicating the fact that you are not afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and try new things/approaches – a quality that will attract any graduate employer’s attention. With the predicted super-fast pace of change in the careers landscape over the next few decades, who can blame them?!