I had a great call with a client recently who wanted my help with prepping for a job interview. We talked through the typical questions and how best to present her skills, and she asked me, 

“How real are you supposed to be in an interview?” I left my last two jobs because my supervisor was an asshole, and I just can’t deal with not being respected in my environment. Honesty is important to me, but I know you’re not supposed to badmouth your former employers. How do I address this? How real is too real?”

I love this question because it’s not actually about interview decorum. It’s actually about “How much of MYSELF can I be without encountering negative consequences?”


“Can I say the F word around my mom and keep her respect?”

“Can I tell my partner how I really feel without screwing up the relationship?”

“Can I say no to my boss or clients and still keep my job?”

“Can I be honest in an interview and still get the job?”

“Can I be myself day-to-day without losing opportunities, disappointing people, and generally screwing up my life?”

The short answer: maybe.

The long answer: Yes and no, and here is why {and how to deal with the fallout}.

Okay, first of all, as someone who has interviewed hundreds of people seeking jobs, I’ll go ahead and tell you that saying that your last boss was a complete asshole, though honest, may not be the best way to get a job offer. Completely lying through your teeth, however; is also not an effective strategy for getting what you want in life.

When negotiating how real you want to get in a given situation, you have a few basic options: 


Balls Out Authenticity: Tell your truth and tell it loud.  "My boss was a jerkass, so I had to split."


Diplomatic Authenticity: Tell your truth, but tell it in a way that the person hearing it will best understand.  Let the interviewer know that your biggest work values are teamwork and respect, and you chose to leave a company that wasn’t on the same values page as you in favor of this incredible company you’re interviewing at because you really respect their teamwork philosophy and want to be a part of a team you can feel at home with and really make a lasting contribution to.  That’s true, but it sounds a lot nicer.


Professional, if not totally real: Let the interviewer know that you are leaving/left because of the increased growth opportunities in this new role.  Don’t address the team dynamic/respect piece at all.


I'm not necessarily advocating a specific choice here {though I do have preference}, so much as your ability to make the right choice for you and for the situation, because here's the thing: 

There are advantages and disadvantages to every option, and you may choose different levels of authenticity in different situations. 


Guys, you're in charge of how you show up with this, especially in an interview.  That’s not being fake so much as it is common sense.  My sister calls this, "being her, but being the best version of her for the situation."  In my close relationships, I usually opt for option #1, Balls Out Authenticity (or BOA for short) because when I’m not honest in my relationships, resentment ensues, and healthy relationships are paramount to my life.  In interview situations, I usually opt for #2: truth but with diplomacy-they don't know me, and I don't know them.  I want to hold a bit back to see if they're someone who even should get the privilege and vulnerability of my BOA self.

Option #3 is rarely my go-to because it feels icky in my body.  My throat gets tight when I feel like I'm stuffing down words, and it feels people-pleasy in my gut.  If you choose option #3 and tell the interviewer exactly what you think she wants to hear, you will probably get the job.  Which is great.  Until it isn’t.  You could also be completely wrong about what she wants to hear and end up sabotaging yourself, but that’s another blog post.

When you tell anyone else what you think they want to hear, you can become the person you think they want you to be…for a time. 


After a few months on the job, though, you’re going to feel stifled.  Constricted.  Tired of hiding your true self.  Itching for somewhere you can be real.  And then you’re going to start job searching.  Again.  And repeat the entire cycle without any real improvement.  This goes for finding your business niche/focus, too.


When you take the chance to be authentic, you might lose people.  But you might find your tribe.


When you tell the truth of who you are, even if you edit it a teeny bit, you stand up for who you are and what you want in life, and you create a two-way street.  Remember: you’re not only being interviewed to see if you’re the right fit for them, you’re also examining if they are the right fit for you. And if it isn’t a match, you’re saving everyone time, money, and anguish.  Yes, they might reject you, and that will be painful and disappointing, but being stuck in a job or relationship where you can’t be at least a version of your real self is also painful and disappointing.  And you can't very well expect your boss and your job to meet your needs and expectations if you've lied about what you need and expect in the first place.  That kind of goes for ALL relationships.

Authenticity has consequences.  You might get rejected, or you might find your people.  Assess the situation, look at your options, and decide what level of authenticity is right for you and right for the situation.  Then be brave and stand in the power of your choice. 

The goal is to be so in love with your decisions that it doesn’t matter if anyone else is.

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