If you can’t be your authentic self, it’s not a fit
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I’m going to tell you about a time I was rejected from a job I didn’t actually want.
A connection of mine DM’d me on LinkedIn. She asked me if I was interested in an org development role at a large multinational food service conglomerate. To be honest, I wasn’t super stoked about the company, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to interview.
I responded to her generous DM:
“I’d love to learn more about the role. Thank you for reaching out!”
My first interview was an initial call with a recruiter. It went well—they decided to move me forward in the process. Two weeks later, I had a call with the hiring manager (let’s call him Shawn). This also went well, and I was moving onto the next stage: the onsite interview. “I’ll have a coordinator email you dates and times that work for us.”
After two weeks of silence, I followed up with them. They finally scheduled me for an onsite. I’d be talking to five people in back-to-back interviews.
My first interviewer was with Shawn, again. He was smart but rambled a ton about their org’s problems. He asked a total of three questions, using most of our time opining on the “Galbriath Star Model,” the role itself, and the company’s culture. I’m all for interviewers being informal and conversational, but our conversation lasted for ninety minutes: forty-five minutes longer than it should’ve. Hello, meeting domino effect.
It turns out interviews starting forty five minutes late wasn’t a bother to my second interviewer. She opened our interview with, “So, did Shawn go on one of his long-winded rants?” Followed up with, “Why would you leave a super exciting space to work in a traditional company?” Yikes. I remember asking what they enjoyed most about working there because this person didn’t mention anything positive at all about the company.
The third interviewer opened up about how the company is a bureaucratic nightmare and how a lot of their younger employees have left the company. He even pulled the ultimate statement any interviewer pulls out to stroke a candidate’s ego:
“We could use help from someone with your background.”
I grew more hesitant about this opportunity, but I remained enthusiastic and still put my best foot forward. Why not see where it might lead?
After five intense back-to-back interviews, I reflected on how I felt about it all. I felt good about how I represented myself, but wasn’t sold on the opportunity at all.
Regardless, I sent all five interviewers a follow-up email the day after thanking them for their time. I didn’t hear back for two weeks, so I sent an email to the recruiter and hiring manager to follow up. A week later, the recruiter left me a voicemail:
“We decided to move forward with another candidate. We wish you the best of luck with your search.”
I asked for feedback. Never heard back.
I had two choices here:
Sulk in the sting of rejection.
Not feel bad, because I was content with how I represented myself to them.
I chose the latter.
Authenticity is a filter
If you’re early in your career like me, you might be familiar with this piece of career advice:
“Tailor yourself to the job you’re applying for.”
While I found this advice helpful in the beginning, I learned it’s shortsighted. I realized it’s less about tailoring yourself to the job and more about highlighting aspects of your authentic self that would show up in the role:
If there isn’t any commonality between your authentic self and the individual they want, it’s simply not a fit. For both you and them. In our earlier example, I believe I put forth my authentic self and still found it wasn’t a fit.
Despite it ending up in a rejection, I considered the experience a win: I know now that I don’t want to work at that company. And I had a low-stakes opportunity to practice an onsite day, which prepared me for future onsites I had.
Lastly, putting out an inauthentic self is not just fair for the employer—it’s not fair to you too.
If I signed an offer with them, I’d likely find the job unsatisfying. And they’ll likely find that they hired someone they didn’t want.
Authenticity escapes you from competition
I’ve been obsessed with a podcast that Naval puts out called, well, Naval. You know you’ve made it when the name of your podcast is your name.
There’s a great bit in Escape Competition Through Authenticity that relates to this situation:
“Sometimes you just get trapped in the wrong game because you’re competing. Competition is not just stressful and nerve-racking, but it often drives you to the wrong answer.
The best way to escape competition is just to be authentic to yourself.
If you are fundamentally building and marketing something that is just an extension of who you are, no one can compete with you on that. If you are competing with Joe Rogan or Scott Adams, it’s impossible.”
Though Naval is talking about entrepreneurship, I think this principle applies to job searching too. If you’re authentic, you eventually escape competing with others, and the right opportunity finds its way to you.
Find (or create) work where you can be your authentic self
The goal isn’t just to find a job.
The goal is to find a job where you feel like your guard won’t be up.
If your guard is up, you’ll be exhausted protecting your image for half of your waking life. From Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey’s An Everyone Culture:
“In an ordinary organization, most people are doing a second job no one is paying them for... Most people are spending time and energy covering up their weaknesses, managing other people’s impressions of them, showing themselves to their best advantage, playing politics, hiding their inadequacies, hiding their uncertainties, hiding their limitations.”
The goal is to find a job where you can truly be your authentic self.
A job where who you are is aligned with what you do, knowing that your authentic self is constantly changing, growing, and evolving.
I’m beyond thrilled that you’re one of the 400 subscribers reading this. Thank you to the folks at Creative Mornings for sharing my introductory article in their weekly newsletter. If you haven’t checked out Creative Mornings, you totally should.
Thank you to Ariana Bautista for your editing suggestions on this piece!