Interviews can be tricky as you navigate the pitfalls of trying to show yourself in the best possible light in order to get the job or apprenticeship. Of course, you don’t want to straight-up lie (“I once ran my own international corporation”), and yet you will want to present the best image of yourself possible. So where do you draw the line? The key is in showing the aspects of yourself that you need for the job and leaving the rest outside the interview room.
Your interviewer will be keen to find out about you, not just as far as doing the job itself, but also what sort of person you are - how you deal with pressure, tricky situations and difficult people. The exact details will largely depend on the role you are applying for, but generally there will be a few questions designed to test you and find out who you are as a person. These may include, ‘can you tell me about a time when you felt under pressure and how you dealt with it’ or any other ‘tell me about yourself’ type questions. While these type of questions are pretty common they can still catch you unawares or slightly off-guard, and that is what they are designed to do.
Answering tricky questions during an interview requires a little bit of thought. You need to show your true authentic self, and yet this needs to be balanced with not saying the wrong things or giving the wrong impression.
In these days of social media we are all used to sharing things about our lives with others, but even here it is common to hide aspects of your personality. There is a difference with being true to yourself (or at least an aspect of yourself) and over-sharing. The fact is your potential employer doesn’t need your life story, so save yourself the trouble and stay focused on the type of things that they will be looking for.
Your replies need to remain based on the workplace, even if your examples aren’t. So, for example, if you are asked about dealing with a difficult situation, you can explain what happened and how you resolved the matter without saying that you wanted to scream, cry, or punch someone in the face!
It is not about creating an idealised version of yourself, but rather about showing the right aspects of your authentic self. Just as different friends and family may have different views of who you are as a person, so your employer should too. It is not about making things up, but keeping things relevant. Does your employer need to know about the time you wet yourself at nursery school? Probably not, but they may be interested in how you captained a sports team at school, or how you coped with a difficult person at your weekend job.
However, in this quest to show yourself off as the perfect candidate you can go too far and strip away your personality. Showing that you are a real person is important too. Before you go to your interview have a think about the sort of person you are and try to think of a few examples that show this. Are you helpful? Conscientious? Hard-working? These examples needn’t be from work but can be from everyday situations that show a little of the person you are.
Remember, it takes time to get to know someone properly but an interview provides a snapshot which you can control. The interviewer only has the information you present them with to go on, so make sure you don’t weigh it down with negative tales. Everyone likes socialising with their friends, but too much focus on this can lead you to appear like you don’t care about anything else or are potentially unreliable. It is best to only bring things that relate to the job to the table – the rest can wait for later.
So yes, tell the truth, be authentic, but don’t over-share! It’s an interview not an autobiography!