I often come across advice to “be authentic” in your job search and personal branding. I have personally found it challenging at times to balance personal authenticity and professionalism, so I decided to go on a search to find out what it means to be authentic. I proceeded to ask several career professionals to define authenticity as it refers to job searching and personal branding. Below are some of their thoughts:
Interviewing with authenticity
Being authentic means being the person you are most comfortable being. If you have to struggle in an interview to show your personality it may mean that you are not showing the real you. Showing the real you will help you decide if this employer is a good match for your personality and if hired, you’ll be able to thrive in that environment. – Jill Panté, University of Delaware Career Services
False self-portrait can get you fired
[Authenticity is being] honest, truthful and genuine. Some individuals when faced with terms like personal branding are tempted to portray themselves in the way they believe is an employer’s ideal (accurately or not). Since it is relatively easy to create a false persona online and in employment documents, employers have been burned by this new form of false advertising. Some have terminated a new employee for not really being the “person they hired.” – Andrea Dine, Brandeis University, Hiatt Career Center
The process of discovering your unique, authentic self
It would be super exhausting to live out a personal brand that doesn’t actually fit who you are. Being authentic in your job search means knowing yourself REALLY WELL, including strengths, weaknesses, things you want to learn about, your work values, what you want in a work environment, etc. And then picking the top 3-5 things that you want people to think of when they think of you. Some may be quirky, but if they are truly YOU, why would you want to work for someone who didn’t find your personality, abilities, or overall package to be amazing? I think it takes a long time to decide on one’s personal brand, let alone be ready to broadcast it to the world. Take time to think about who you are and what aspects of your professional self you want others to see and know intimately. Then shout them from the rooftops, post them all over the internet, and bring them to the table with each new person you meet during your job search and beyond. And don’t be afraid to let your brand shift as you go along . – Samara Reynolds, Duke University Career Center
When asking a follow-up question to Samara, “Do you see any ways that personal authenticity might conflict with expectations of professionalism?,” she replied:
Great question… When choosing the top few qualities you want to make your trademarks, make sure they are ones that are…for lack of better word…flattering. If you were choosing 5 things about yourself to be in your brand, why would you choose laziness? or a past fight with a coworker? or that you are allergic to bagels? Basically, just as when someone asks you in an interview to tell them about who you are — you don’t need to tell them about every personal detail. You would keep it as “who I am in the context of my applicant status” or “who I want to be in this new job.” — you can be authentic in your job search and brand development without advertising personality traits or experiences that don’t put you in the best light.
These quotes illuminate some of the most important issues you should consider when seeking to be your authentic self. Basically, portraying a false persona in your job search will not only be very draining, it could also get you fired. Of course, be sure that you represent your best traits as they pertain to your desired career, and not focus on insignificant or potentially negative details.
Also remember that discovering and branding your authentic self is a journey and not a destination. Be open to modifying your message as you grow and learn new things.
This final quote illuminates some of the essential things to keep in mind during your job search:
Being authentic in your job search means to pursue jobs that match your interests and qualification in an honest and straightforward manner. Follow directions, provide necessary information, don’t embellish your resume and cover letter, demonstrate as much enthusiasm as possible, be cordial in all your dealings with support staff, follow up and maintain contact without being aggressive. Try not to take rejection personally and learn from each experience. – Marianne Green, University of Delaware Career Services
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with these statements? Please share your comments on what it means to be authentic.
Lori Bielek is the Marketing and Technology Coordinator at University of Delaware’s (UD) Career Services Center where she advises students in the arts and sciences through all steps of their career development. You can connect with Lori through LinkedIn or her UD Career Services Twitter account (@UDcareers).