To be (authentic) or not to be (authentic)…in your job hunt?

Posted in: Advice, Applications, Career Choice

This blog post was written by colleague Debbie Pye

A cautionary tale

Once upon a time there was a final year politics student who wanted to get a place on one of two advertised public sector Graduate Management schemes. She failed to pass the interview stage of the first, receiving feedback that she was “too nice” (their actual words).

Two weeks later she had an interview for the second graduate scheme. By now she had done her research (this was pre internet days so resources were limited) and psyched herself up to be “less nice”. She aced the interview and the assessment centre and got the place. Then she spent six years getting promoted fast and furiously up through the ranks of public sector management by remembering not to be “too nice”. She learned masses, earned well….. and hated her job. However, after an exciting career diversion through management consultancy – where she could be mostly nice AND learn masses of new stuff -  she retrained as an executive coach and careers consultant, a profession where she (still) lives happily -and really nicely- ever after. The End.

Being “authentic” is one way to set yourself apart from the competition. Hopefully it also means that (unlike our politics student) you won’t end up feeling like a square peg. After all, as the side of many a coffee mug and fridge magnet points out “There is only one you!”. These days being “true to ourselves” has become an ever-present life goal, right? But is there a middle way between Phony and Too Much Information when it comes to job searches?

  1. First, check that your target organisation and you seem to be a “good fit”:
  • Check there is a reasonable match between what you know about yourself (values, motivators, behavioural style) and what you can find out about your target organisation.
  • Company “About” pages will often talk about culture and values
  • Read about previous graduate recruits’ experiences on the careers pages and on the business’s LinkedIn pages.
  • What “competencies/attributes/capabilities” will they be assessing you against? These are huge clues as to the culture of a place.
  • What’s their stance on Corporate Social Responsibility? Look at Glassdoor reviews too…but remember that this site can also attract rants from disgruntled ex-employees.

Still enthusiastic about the role, course or scheme? Great. Now it’s time to inject just the right amount of authenticity into your CV/application/cover letter. You are aiming to come over as both someone who has the potential to succeed but also someone who will be enjoyable to have as a colleague.

Here are some straightforward ways to hit the right note:

  • Actions speak louder than words. Think about something special you are involved in which speaks to your values, for instance the student I met recently who is a Police Community Support Officer in their “spare time”. Don’t hide it away in passing as a one liner in your “Interests” section.
  • …But sometimes words can set you apart too. Little glimpses or vignettes can hook in the reader of your application. Like the student who wrote an extremely impressive cover letter which set out their values around product sustainability. Included was a comment from their mother who’d recalled that this company’s baby products had been a “Godsend” two decades earlier!
  • Let the story do the work. Telling a personal story can be an effective way to underpin the truth of your motivation. Like the student who was applying to a Grad Medical School; in their personal statement they described the insights they had gained into the importance of great listening skills when a relative had been seriously ill. They went on to talk about their own volunteering experiences where they had applied these skills.
  • Or let others tell your story for you. Most of us find it hard to sing our own praises…so it’s much easier, and arguably more authentic, to refer to feedback or comments you have had from others. “I’ve been told that I was a great listener when I noticed that a project team member was struggling with their experiment”.

Hopefully that has given you some ideas about integrating authenticity into your applications in a professional way. Just make sure you are ready to talk about it in much more depth at the interview stage – practice using the STAR technique on your examples to get a head start. See applications, CV and cover letter guide

Posted in: Advice, Applications, Career Choice


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