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This is a blog about Truth, Justice and the American Way. The stories are true. No names have been changed to protect anyone's identity, including my own. If the story is about me, then I'll say so right up front. If I don't use a name to identify whom the story is about, then it's because it's not relevant. So please do not call me or e-mail me with your kind condolences or unwarranted congratulations about something that you believe is a cleverly disguised bio from my alter ego. These stories, like my photo, are unretouched.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Try Not to be so…..You.

I was headed to a job interview for a position that I was excited about. My friend, Professor Robert Littman, was giving me advice. “Try Not to be so....You.” I knew what he meant. I am unique/effective/charming/nuts/in-your-face/funny/weird (you choose – they all apply). I like to think of myself as just having too much personality for one body. But in a job interview, I should temper my sense of humor. I need to talk more slowly. I need to wear subtle colors and be careful not to overshare.

In the end I, of course, ignored his advice. Because if they had hired this serious, subtle, unassuming, low-key persona, in a few weeks the real me would have slipped out. I like to think that it would have been a lovely surprise for them but maybe not everyone would agree.

Do you know that if you Google “How to behave on a job interview,” you get 222,000 results? Really! There are whole articles written about how to dress, controlling your body language, never using slang, employing the proper handshake, the use of eye makeup, and correct nail polish colors.

You can hire a consultant to use for practice sessions. You can take multi-level courses on interview techniques, learning inside hints such as the initial interview is probably with a low-level HR person designed to weed out unqualified candidates so gaining “rapport” is a waste of your time. You learn how to cock your head ever-so-slightly and arch your eyebrows so as to appear "interested" in what the interviewer is saying. One special tip is to carry a thick portfolio with the client’s name on it, inferring that you have done a lot of research on their company. (It can be filled with blank pages – it’s the impression that counts.)

Sometimes the advice is contradictory. “Never cross your legs or your arms. Sit straight and at attention.” “Be careful not to look too stiff or uncomfortable. Crossing your arms just at the wrist conveys a comfortable but businesslike composure.” “ Smile; it’s a fact that smiling makes other people happy and comfortable around you.” “Don’t smile too much. It may look like you are not taking the interview seriously” Whew!

There are a lot of rules about your attire, too. Dress slightly better than the interviewer. Men should always be clean shaven. Never wear more than a watch and one ring. (Women are allowed to wear earnings that are small and do not dangle.) Never show any piercings and be careful to cover all tattoos. (Here in Hawaii, to comply with that last rule, all interviews would have to be conducted in Hazmat suits.)

If everyone were to follow even the basic advice of the “experts,” we would all end up looking and sounding like Stepford interviewees, rolling off a conveyor belt direct from the factory.

When I first moved to Hawaii 15 years ago, I tried very hard to fit in. Back in 1994, a potential employer actually suggested that I would do better in the job market if I would dye my hair brown and learn a little pidgin. More than one headhunter recommended that I “dumb down” my resume so as not to intimidate potential employers.

I finally had to give it up. In the words of cartoon character Popeye, “I yam what I yam…” I am a successful businessperson who is terminally haole (Hawaiian slang for Caucasian), terminally optimistic, terminally unique and I decided that those who couldn't handle that really shouldn't have anything to do with me. (There is a reunion of people who choose not to deal with me each year. It fills Aloha Stadium.)

It’s tough times for job interviews these days. There are so few jobs and so many candidates. And I worry that all of this interview advice is bad for everyone involved. Each side is trying so hard to put on a “good face.” Don’t kid yourself – the employers are doing the same thing. Employers are glossing over their financial difficulties (I have had some experience with this one) and purposely failing to disclose arduous job expectations in an effort to lure the best prospects.

Transparency is more important today than ever before. This corporate culture demands an almost unrealistic work output in order to keep afloat (unless, of course, you work for the government or a bank). We just can’t afford to play games with each other in the job market. Both employers and employees have a right to know what they are getting themselves into.

So if you interview me over the next few months and you frankly don’t feel up to handling that much personality without a couple of stiff drinks, just warn me and I’ll try not to be so, you know……me.


  1. Great to read a full on personality like myself.
    Whether a job search with interviews or with my speaking and print and eBook seminars (teleseminars now, so I can go barefoot)Ilove the interview format where I can be my humorous self and play with the interviewer. Just finished one-some laughing. Will it bring book coaching clients? Maybe. I let go of what happens after the "performance" and the true me leaks out like you too, That's why I got fired alot in my younger days working for the man.

    Now, entrepreneurial and loving it.

    Great thinking here!
    Judy Cullins at www.bookcoaching.com

  2. A friend recommended this blog. She especially recommended that I read this post and now I can see why. Seldom have I read such an entertaining article yet so full of serious research. I must agree with your observation about transparency being so very important today. Particularly financial transparency. It is true that many employers are glossing over their financial circumstances which causes many problems for new hires once they are on board.

    I have a friend who is currently going through a similar situation. As a jobseeker, she has found it difficult being lied to on a regular basis. But it's a buyer's market so there is little that can be done.

    All in all, however, a very funny and interesting post. Now that I have found you, I will come back and read other articles. Excellent job.

  3. I stumbled on this in a Google search about job interviews and I'm so happy that I did. This is exactly the way I feel. People want me to be something that I am not in order to get the job but I feel certain that if people would just get to know me, they would see that I am unusual, but wonderful.

    I like the bluntness and the way you don't sugar coat it. I know that this is an old post but I hope that you keep it up as it bears re-reading. Thanks.

  4. This is a scream! Love the hazmat suit.