How to Be Yourself in an Interview

You walk into the lobby, practicing your greeting, handshake and mentally going over all the facts about yourself. By the time you’re called back for the actual interview, your brain has gone into crisis mode, and you’re wondering if maybe you should’ve just been a farmer like that aptitude test in seventh grade said.

Interviews are stressful. If you have any level of social anxiety, they’re next to impossible to feel comfortable with. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it! In fact, part of personal growth is working hardest on the things that are most difficult for you — but that can be understandably difficult with something like interviews.

Job interviews are not an insurmountable obstacle. They can be difficult and challenging, but there’s one thing both you and your interviewer are looking for: a good fit. You want a company and position that meets your needs, and they want an employee who will do the best job in the role. Since you’ll be working there as yourself and not Interviewee No. 23, it’s best to be as genuine as possible. Knowing how to do that can be tricky, but don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.

Don’t Overdo It

It’s good to be prepared, but it’s not good to sound robotic. Though you may have built it up in your mind as some kind of exam, an interview is really more like an interaction between two people to see if you’re a good fit for each other. It’s a little bit like a first date, without the dinner and a movie. The key here is to know enough about the company that you feel good getting the interview, and enough about yourself that you know you can answer their questions confidently.

You should look up typical interview questions, especially if you haven’t had many interviews before. A lot of them do require some self-reflection, so it’s good to take time and think about them. Knowing yourself doesn’t hurt. Thinking about those questions, however, means just that. It’s OK to run through a few scenarios to plan how you’ll respond, but don’t rehearse answers. There’s a fine line between the two, and you have to find that sweet spot between a genuine personal interaction and a prepared, rigid speech.

Make Things Personal

Your interviewer has asked you to come in because they want to meet you. They can read about your accomplishments and accolades on your resume, but they need more information than that. They need to know why this position is important to you, and why the company seems like a good fit.

Talk to your interviewer like a person. If you can manage to talk to them like they’re an old friend, even better! But don’t be afraid to stray away from the facts. Tell anecdotes about yourself, as long as they’re related to the conversation. And while you’re swapping stories, hopefully, the person you’re talking to will reciprocate.

Highlight Your Accomplishments

Every interviewer is going to ask about your best points. You should know what they are, of course, but again, you don’t need to have a speech rehearsed for each one. That would be over-preparing. What you can do is highlight what you’ve done. When you are talking about successes, try and tell a whole story. Talk about which parts were the hardest, who helped you overcome them and what you learned from them.

You can also flip it around and use this same technique with your failures. Everyone has some failures, and even if they aren’t related to your current position, they are important. Many times you will learn more from failing than you will from succeeding, but only if you reflect on the issues and what went wrong. It gives you a chance to get more out of them, and to convince your interviewer you aren’t content to accept a mistake but will continue to get the job done.

Talk to Everyone

While you’re in the office, talk to anyone and everyone you possibly can. Say hello to the receptionist in the lobby, or the janitor in the hallway. Greet the mail person when they show up. The more time you spend talking to people, the better a feel you’ll get for the place. Do the people seem happy? Ask how their day is going, what their job is and how long they’ve worked there. It’s simple, polite small talk, but it can also give you some valuable insights into the workplace. You’ll be able to get a glimpse and see if there are some red flags to follow up on in the interview.

Making small talk does more than give you some additional intel. It also helps you loosen up and get into the groove of the office. When your interviewer comes out, you can mention how nice so-and-so was, and how they were pleasant to talk to. It lets you seem like part of the team, without actually being on it.

Interviews are stressful by nature, but they don’t have to be torturous to go through. A little bit of practice at small talk and some substantial self-reflection can make them much more bearable and give you a better shot at actually getting the job! Let us know about unusual interview questions you’ve been asked, and sign up to get more tips to survive job changes and climbing the corporate ladder!

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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