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How Authenticity at Work Makes You A Stronger Job Candidate

Authenticity is more than a buzzword. It can actually help you find a job. Here’s how authenticity at work can make you a stronger job candidate.


Authenticity has become a buzzword over the last few months. You may have heard people talking about authenticity at work or seen lists like “three ways to be an authentic leader.” When the business world starts talking about something, it’s smart for job seekers to take notice.

Now, you may be wondering how a call to be authentic fits in with what you know about professional norms. How do you balance authenticity and professionalism, especially during a job search? Great question. Let’s take a closer look at these two ideas to find the answer.

What Professionalism Is, and Isn’t

Employers don’t hire interchangeable “professionals” they hire individuals. Whether you’re looking for a new job, or hoping to hire your next great teammate, there should be no contradiction between authenticity and professionalism. Both of these characteristics can and should co-exit.

Professional norms are supposed to help get the job done. When we talk about what makes someone a professional, we should be talking about things like timeliness, courtesy, and ethical behavior. This can and should include things like following established processes and a shared model for setting priorities.

The problem is that we often use the wrong signals to gauge or show professionalism. As a result, we rely on subconscious biases rather than real indicators.

Professionalism is not:

  • How you wear your hair
  • Your name
  • Your age
  • Whether you wear makeup
  • Your accent or speech patterns
  • The type of car you drive
  • Hiding all emotions and opinions
  • Posture or physical ability
  • Having the latest technology or gadgets

These kinds of characteristics can point to someone’s level of wealth, cultural background, upbringing, or state of health. There’s an obvious problem with using any of these characteristics as gauges of professionalism—not only do they disadvantage certain groups of people, they have little or nothing to do with the job.

Professionalism is:

  • Communicating clearly
  • Managing your emotions
  • Showing that you care about your work by holding yourself to high standards
  • Working with people even if you don’t get along personally
  • Accepting and even welcoming feedback
  • Being on time and meeting deadlines
  • Treating coworkers with respect

Whoever you are, you can do all of these things while remaining authentic to your personality and values. To simplify: professionalism is what you do, authenticity is who you are.

What We Mean by Authenticity at Work

Being authentic at work doesn’t mean sharing your deepest, darkest secrets or treating coworkers like your best friends. To be authentic just means to be true to your personality and values. So, if you’re naturally reserved, you don’t have to pretend to be gregarious and bubbly. If you value your family life, you shouldn’t have to pretend it doesn’t bother you to work late and miss your daughter’s hockey game.

Some people take this as permission to behave at work the same way they’d act at home or with friends. We’ve all heard the stories about an employer crying when they lay someone off. There’s a difference between authentically sharing your emotions, and dumping emotions on coworkers.

So what does it mean to be authentic?

  • Share only the personal details that you feel comfortable sharing
  • Dress and present yourself to fit your self-image
  • Express concerns and opinions in a way that seeks solutions
  • Communicate clearly and proactively to avoid misunderstandings
  • Stand by your core values
  • Set and uphold boundaries that protect your mental health and wellbeing
  • Ask for help and support when you need it

Authenticity at work isn’t always easy to achieve. There are times when you may choose to be less authentic in order to keep the peace or get the job done. The point is that you get to choose when and how you prioritize authenticity.

Ways to Use Authenticity at Work To Find Your Next Role

Authenticity may feel particularly risky when you’re job searching. You might worry that showing your true self will cause employers to avoid hiring you, but the opposite is often true. Smart employers know that your personality and values affect your ability to do the job. They’re looking for individuals who will be a good fit. As a smart candidate, you should also be seeking a job that fits your personality and values.

Here are four ways you can use authenticity to find a role that fits:

1. Express your values and philosophy of learning.

Take the time to identify your values and how you think about learning. Weave these two ideas into your cover letter, resume bullet points, and answers to interview questions.

2. Let your personality shine through.

Forget overly stiff, formal language unless you naturally speak that way. Employers want to work with actual humans and part of the process is to understand what it would be like to work with you. Aim to create a conversation and allow others to see how you think, communicate, and collaborate. Remember you can be yourself while still demonstrating your professionalism through courtesy, sharing your knowledge, and outlining your values.

3. Share your real experiences and how you’ve learned from them.

Employers often use behavioral questions in interviews. These are the questions that start with “Can you tell me about a time when…?” Don’t try to find some magical perfect answer. Instead, share your real experience and what you learned.

4. Gauge fit based on company values.

This is a big one. You may come across organizations that don’t align with your personality and values. That’s perfectly okay. It’s better to find that out before you get hired. You want a job where it feels psychologically safe to be yourself, so you’re free to do your best work.

Find Your Best Fit Role with Teamed

At Teamed, we don’t just place candidates, we get to know them so we can match qualified teammates with the organizations and roles where they can thrive. For help finding your next role, visit our job board or contact us today.

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