Interviewing is stressful: Aside from the pressure to sound as informed as possible, you might feel like you have to present the most perfect (and not always real) version of yourself.
When Susan Lee, VP of people at Warby Parker and former HR professional at Spotify, first interviewed at Warby Parker, she definitely felt the tug to be someone else. It was the most simple of questions that caused her to consider lying during her interview: “What are you reading right now?”
“I thought, Oh jeez, okay,” she told an audience at a New York event last week. “In my head I’m like, ‘Think of something good! What’s a really important book in HR or leadership?’ And then I thought, ‘I don’t read those things!’”
Lee reads romance novels in her spare time. So she took a deep breath and talked about her romance novel. “I went into the whole story,” she says. Lee says that Neil Blumenthal, Warby’s CEO, was a bit confused and startled by her answer, but she was glad she was honest.
She said she realized that pretending to be someone else would backfire in the end. If she had to hide her personality in order to fit in at Warby, then she wouldn’t thrive there. Just because she didn’t read industry books in her spare time didn’t mean that she wasn’t serious about the position. She demonstrated knowledge and commitment in other parts of the hiring process.
“If you are hiding, then you’re always afraid you’re going to be found out,” she says. That means having no shame about your personality quirks, and being up-front about things like family commitments. Lee believes this sort of attitude toward work can help you not only to be more comfortable at work, but also to express the things you are most passionate about.
That’s exactly what happened with one of Lee’s employees, Jen Zeckendorf. She noticed that Zeckendorf had an amazing capacity for empathy, and so she moved her from hiring talent for stores to handling employee engagement and relations. It wasn’t long after Zeckendorf took on her new role that some of her coworkers started to tell her that their gender was being mislabeled in the administrative system, or they weren’t being addressed by their proper pronoun. Lee recalls that there were about 10 people, or nearly 1% of the company at the time, that came out as transgender.
Warby had no diversity or inclusion program at the time, and the revelation that a number of employees were transgender raised a lot of questions about how the company could be more inclusive. “A lot of these questions were coming up, and Jen was naturally very passionate about this,” says Lee. That passion became the starting point for Warby Parker’s diversity and inclusion program. It’s also worth noting that Warby Parker does now support gender reassignment surgery and other transgender services through its medical benefits package.
Being open about who you are and what you care about can even launch your career, Lee says. “Let it be known what you’re passionate about. That trickles over to the work you do today, but it can also trickle over to the opportunities for tomorrow, and that may not even look like what you’re doing today.”