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Be yourself during the interview

Find the right company-candidate fit
Sonia Acosta, CareerBuilder Writer

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Your résumé was impressive enough to be picked up from a pile of hundreds for a second look. You have the required experience and skills, so now they'd like to meet you and see what lies beyond the carefully orchestrated résumé you worked so hard to complete.

So why isn't the job just handed to you on the spot? You're qualified for the position. Your presentation was flawless. But the important question is, who are you, really? How does your résumé translate into personality, work ethic, company culture and the ability to work effectively with the existing team? This is what the interview is really about.

Many job hunters are bogged down by the myth that they should go into an interview as a rigid, professional, almost inhuman version of themselves. They think they should put up a front, leave their real selves at the door and suck up at every available opportunity. Did you ever think that the company brought you in because they want to get to know the real you? Be genuine, be honest and yes, be yourself, as scary as that might sound at times.

The direct approach wins.
Sarah Connors, staffing manager at Waltham, Mass.-based staffing agency Winter, Wyman, offers a great example of how far honesty can take you.

"When I was first out of college and not sure where I was going to start my career, I had an interview for a sales position," she says. "The interview was going quite well, and I was selling the hiring manager on why I had what it takes to be a great sales person. He asked, 'What makes you the best person for this job?' I stopped mid-interview and said, 'You know, I think you could find better. I am brand new to the area, I've never done 100 percent cold calling, and I'm just not hungry enough for it right now."

Oh no, she didn't. Well, yes, she did, and it didn't turn out so bad.

"He was shocked," she admits, "but also impressed. He told me he had never had someone be so honest in an interview and wondered if I would be interested in meeting with the operations side of the company instead. I interviewed with operations the next day and had a job offer the day after."

Show enthusiasm and build rapport.
Craig Vived, CEO at Denver-based professional staffing firm Vivalta Inc., says the interview is essentially about two things: confirming the credentials and skills a candidate has stated on his résumé are accurate and gauging whether the company and the candidate would be a good personality fit.

"Consider how you will handle any objections the hiring manager might bring up," Vived suggests. "For example, if the interviewer is concerned you don't have enough experience doing X, reassure him or her that while it is true that you don't have a ton of experience in that area, in your last job you didn't have a lot of experience doing Y and you learned very quickly, exceeding your previous boss's expectations."

Show enthusiasm for the position, and let your personality shine through, he suggests. After all, who wants to bring on board a highly qualified applicant who is uninterested in the actual job and doesn't really want to be there?

"Remember, it is just as important for you to be yourself and strike a rapport with the interviewer to ensure you are a good cultural fit, as it is to answer every question to perfection. You never want to come across as mechanical and overly rehearsed."

Change your interview mindset and relax.
Laurie Haskell, assistant director in the Office of Career Planning at San Francisco's Golden Gate University, says, "You want the employer to hire the real you, not a phony you."

If you are hired under false pretenses or due to a cooked-up personality, imagine trying to live up to this fantasy, day in and day out, if you do get hired, she says.

Haskell says there are two key ways to be yourself during an interview without crossing professional boundaries.

"Change your mindset. Most interviewees focus on the fact that, during the interview, they will be evaluated by the employer. Try to think of the interview as a two-way experience -- it is just as important for you to evaluate the job and the company," she says. "Once you truly believe this, it is easier to be yourself, because you have nothing to lose."

The second key is so simple, but often overlooked. Just relax.

"A guided visualization done in the days before an interview ... or a deep breathing exercise done just prior to the interview can help," Haskell says. "It is hard to be yourself when you are nervous and tense. Being relaxed also makes it more natural to show your true self via body language, eye contact and facial expressions."

Haskell says creating this shift of power in today's tougher-than-tough job market can seem daunting, but your ability to do so will go a long way for the effectiveness of your interview, and your chances of being hired.

Act like the best-behaved version of you.
It's easy, really. Be honest and genuine. Listen, show enthusiasm and be respectful. Be you, albeit the version of you who doesn't curse like a sailor or make offensive jokes only your friends will find fascinating.

You will be amazed by how much more successful the interview is when you are not working so hard on remembering this interview Joe Schmo you rehearsed in front of your mirror. Answer questions to the best of your ability, but never exaggerate. Be open and willing to admit failures and celebrate accomplishments. Companies want to hire people with brains, emotions and personality. Otherwise, they'd cut the interview process all together and haul in the robots.

In the words of Joni Daniels, an organizational expert, speaker and consultant based in Baltimore, "Bending yourself into a pretzel in order to make the other person want you tends to backfire. It's easier to honestly connect when you can."

Sonia Acosta researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder. Follow @Careerbuilder on Twitter.

Last Updated: 01/11/2011 - 12:56 PM

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