Not too long ago, I was talking to a 3rd Year med student who was about to start her clinical clerkship year. She dropped by my office to get some advice and asked, “What is the secret to doing well?”
“Authenticity”, I said. She was confused.
I ask her, “When you were a first year student and were interviewing pre-meds for the Admissions office, how did they seem to you?”
She said, “They seem to be nervous, stifled, with a veneer of false bravado.”
I said, “That’s what you and your classmates seem like to the attendings. It’s better to just let go of that.”
In my work in business schools and med schools, I’ve helped many people prepare for high-stakes interviews. They initially think that preparation was all about developing snappy answers to potential questions, such as, “Tell me about a weakness of yours.” However, that approach only creates more inauthenticity.
Authenticity, What Employers Really Want
Let’s say you get home and open your mailbox. You grab the the mass of mail and begin to sort them. Within that large pile, there is a letter written to you by your best friend. Also in that pile are offers for credit cards and insurance. Contrast how you feel about that letter from your friend and a piece of junk mail.
If these letters were applications or job candidates, you would be attracted to the former and annoyed by the latter. Your reaction is akin to how authenticity and inauthenticity are received.
Ever since 2008, we have been in an expanding economy with many job opportunities. We have been in a “seller’s market”. Candidates would enter interviews and say a lot of words, but convey very little, but they could get away with it because of the times. In a seller’s market, employers had to take whom they could get, even if the people they hired didn’t present themselves in an authentic and compelling way.
We are now in a “buyer’s market”. Employers now get to be picky. This does not mean that there are no opportunities. In fact, this is a great time for those who truly have something to say or offer to separate themselves. Employers will pick those who can make the best case for their “authentic” value.
Your Stories Convey Your Authentic Self
But who is your “authentic” self? We can only be authentic to the extent that we know ourselves.
In helping people prepare for interviews, I don’t try to prep them to answer a thousand different questions. I help them to better understand who they are. This mainly consists of having them reflect on their three core strengths and their life story.
Core Strengths. It’s not so much about how much you are just like everyone else. It’s about the areas where you are exceptional. If you are interviewing, you must know the three areas where you are exceptional. If you are struggling with that, may I recommend three resources: CliftonStrengths, VIA Character Strengths Test, and the Reflected Best Self Exercise.
Life Story. In business school, we call your life story, your “Odyssey”. This “Odyssey” is a story of adventure. It consists of your past, your present, and your future. Consider the following three questions:
Where did I come from? (your past)
Why am I here? (your present)
Where am I going? (your future)
Can you combine the answers to these questions to form a compelling story of you? (for more, you can download my two-sided mini-guide on creating your story — then start with 1. Background)
Once you identify your three core strengths and are able to articulate your life story within the context of your interview, you will have a greater sense of knowing yourself. Knowing yourself better will translate to you being more comfortable in your own skin during the interview which will allow you to be more authentic.
Sometimes I feel like relationships consist of telling your same life stories to different people until someone finally appreciates them.
~ Kate Rockland, Falling Is Like This
Be Objective: Would You Hire Yourself?
As a final point, let’s sanity check ourselves. Ask yourself, “If I showed up this way, saying the things I did, how compelled would I be to hire me?”
As a corollary, “Who would I need to become to be the kind of person that I would choose?”
You will find that if you fully explored the ways that you are exceptional and had the courage to tell your story, you will be the authentic person that you would choose (and so would the world).
No one man can, for any considerable time, wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne