Authenticity is key to landing that interview and even that job.
By Rishelle Wimmer, SWE Editorial Board
Congratulations, you’ve been invited to a job interview!
Well prepared, you’ve collected background information on the company and the people who will be at the interview, as well as specifics about the position. You have even chosen what to wear. Before you enter the room or digital room, you are filled with heightened expectations. Just as the interviewer hopes to find the right person — someone who is competent and fits into the company’s culture — you want to know whether the job and the company are the right place for you. What influences the perception that someone is the right person for the job, and can you prepare to be “a good fit”?
Being selected as an interview candidate is an invitation to engage in a relationship.
The foundation of any relationship is trust, and this holds true regardless of the setting. In their book “Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2020), co-authors Frances Frei, Ph.D., a Harvard Business School professor of technology and operations management, and writer Anne Morriss identify three core drivers of trust: authenticity, competence, and empathy (ACE). Our ability to exhibit ACE qualities is the basis for building trust in any situation. In an interview, when comparable levels of competence are exhibited among candidates, emanating authenticity and empathy can make the difference in who gets the job.
Bring your authentic self
People experience trust when they interact with the real you, rather than a contrived image. We have experience presenting ourselves in many familiar situations and adapt to each one by slipping seamlessly into the appropriate role, depending on whether we are with family, with friends, or at work. Of course, the interview is not a familiar situation, so we might not have yet developed an interview persona, which adds to our uncertainty of how to act. View the interview as a performance, with you in the role of the applicant who wants to convince the interviewer of your competence, authenticity, and sincere interest in the company and its success. Before the interview, it is worthwhile to consider how you want to be seen: You want to be viewed as relaxed but professional; confident but not arrogant; considerate of others, but assertive; likable but not trying too hard. Be strategic and present your authentic professional self. Highlight how your accomplishments, competencies, personal qualities, and interests can contribute to the position and the company’s goals.
By bringing your authentic yet professional self, as it corresponds to the company’s interests, you can build trust with your interview partner.
One of the biggest misconceptions about interviewing for a job is that you need to pretend to be someone you are not. Think beyond the interview situation and imagine how satisfied you would be at work if you needed to suppress who you really are.
Empathy relies not only on us finding what we have in common with others, but also on our ability to put ourselves in their shoes. In this case, expressing empathy requires putting yourself in the interviewer’s position. Do your research to discover the values of your prospective employer so you understand what they care about. As you acknowledge their needs and concerns, be a responsive listener. Listen for opportunities to express any of your personal values that correspond to the company’s values.
Focus on balancing expressions of your authenticity, competence, and empathy to win the trust of your interview partner. SWE’s annual conference provides a great opportunity to practice your interviewing skills and to “ACE” that interview.
Tips for Representing Your Best Self
- Have a positive attitude. The interviewer is evaluating you as a potential co-worker, so remain upbeat.
- Behave like someone you would want to work with.
- Be authentic and don’t misrepresent yourself, make excuses, or exhibit frustrations.
- Be composed and let them know what you have to offer.
- Respond to questions about yourself with specific examples.
- Be empathetic and express your interest in the company and the position. Don’t put your own interests first.
- Be confident and effectively communicate your ideas; prepare and practice.
- Be thorough in your responses, while being concise in your wording.
- Ask for clarification if you don’t understand a question.
Rishelle Wimmer (she/her) is a senior lecturer in the information technology and systems management department of the FH Salzburg University of Applied Sciences in Austria. She studied operation research and system analysis at Cornell University and holds a master’s degree in educational sciences from the University of Salzburg. She serves on the SWE editorial board and the research advisory council and has been the faculty advisor for the Salzburg SWE affiliate since FY17.