You’re looking to land your dream job. But so is everybody else. How do you stand out from the competition especially if they are more seasoned or better connected?
You want to be ethical so you wouldn’t dream of padding your resume. But what if you employ ambiguous adjectives to embellish your experience? Or research your prospective interviewer online to find conversation points that might create rapport?
Such tactics are tempting and easy to rationalize. After all, marketers use them on us all the time.
The power of suggestion
Imagine that you’re shopping for a bottle of wine. If the store is playing German music in the aisle, you’re 70% more likely to buy German wine. When French music is playing, you’ll favor French wine by the same margin.
That’s what an oft-cited study from the University of Leicester found. And it’s only one element in the arsenal of marketing ammunition sellers deploy to influence buyer choice.
Product placement, price bracketing and anchoring, color schemes, background images, and font selection all influence our subconscious minds and affect our decisions. Even advertising copy composed with alphabetical sequencing appeals to our subconscious desire to find patterns in life, thereby making products seem more attractive.
As science learns more about the human brain, the more it reveals about tactics that can be used to manipulate ourselves and others. And if it’s okay when marketing products, shouldn’t it be okay when you’re marketing yourself? After all, in the case of a job interview, the product you’re selling is you.
It pays to be authentic
In his business classic, Good to Great, Jim Collins offers this advice to leaders:
“Widen your definition of ‘right people’ more on character attributes and less on specialized knowledge. People can learn skills and acquire knowledge, but they cannot learn the essential character traits that make them right for your organization.”
This is good news for job seekers who want an inside edge.
In a world of flash, exaggerated claims, and high-pressure tactics, it’s harder than ever for us to trust that any seller has our best interests at heart. We suspect every vendor as unscrupulous and every petitioner as motivated solely by self-interest. They tell us what we want to hear so they can get from us what they want.
That means that others are also suspicious of us. And you can turn their suspicion to your advantage.
Just as the smell of deception from every slimy sales pitch repels us, the fragrance of authenticity can prove irresistible. That means that the most effective way to influence others is by convincing them of your sincerity.
And the best way to do that is by actually being sincere.
Leverage the authenticity gap
According to career coach and LinkedIn influencer J.T. O’Donnell, many employers are not widely posting job openings because they don’t want to be flooded by undiscriminating candidates. That means that a combination of discernment and good, old-fashioned research will enable you to step up to the plate. Then, by presenting your best, authentic self, you can hit the ball out of the park.
Here are three ways of responding to typical interview questions that will set you apart from the field.
Tell me about yourself. This is not an invitation to recite your resume. It’s an opportunity to define yourself as an individual. What are your values, your goals, your career aspirations, and life dreams? Without actively selling yourself, illustrate how you will contribute to a healthy and vibrant company culture.
Why do you want this job? This is where you need to have done your homework. You need to know the company’s mission statement, not so you can repeat it but so your answer shows your alignment with the company’s vision and purpose. Articulate what attracted you specifically to this company, indicating knowledge of the company and why you’re a perfect fit. This is a good place as well to ask what the company values in its employees, the work culture, and the challenges of the job.
Tell me about your biggest success/ toughest decision/ greatest challenge. This question may be an attempt to discern character rather than accomplishment. What is your definition of success? How do you approach difficult decisions and complex dynamics? Are you up for the challenge? How do you gauge whether it’s time to lead or time to follow? Do you give credit to those who support you or do you grab the spotlight for yourself?
Character and integrity can’t be faked, they must be developed over time. When it comes to selling yourself, the best strategy is to project an authentic image of character, principle, and vision by letting your best self shine through. The most impressive person is the one who radiates, quality, competence, and confidence without trying to impress.
Skills can be taught but character and attitude are priceless commodities. The companies that recognize that are the ones most worth working for, as well as the ones that will recognize those qualities in prospects like you.
Yonason Goldson is a speaker, trainer, and coach. His most recent book is Grappling with the Gray: An ethical handbook for personal success and business prosperity.