You get a lot of advice when you’re about to start your first career. People tell you to “fake it till you make it”. In interviews, you are told to assume a very professional persona even if it feels unnatural. The one thing that you’re never, ever told to do is “just be yourself”.
Today’s job market is very difficult to break into. In order to get hired, you have to stand out from the pack. Everyone has a degree these days, so in order to stand out it’s important that you have a lot of valuable experiences. The most valuable kind of experience you can have is experience in the industry. In order to gain experience in the industry, you have to get hired. Are you beginning to see the difficulty here?
When you’re trying to impress a potential employer, the most important thing is to believe in yourself and your accomplishments. Of course, this is hard to do when you’re fresh out of school and have no idea what’s expected of you. In order to command respect and admiration, you have to actually know what it feels like to experience success (or be really good at convincing people you do).
I recently took the Myers Briggs personality test, which revealed that my personality type is ENFP (people use it as an organizational tool to see what jobs they're suited for). For those of you who don’t know, the Myers Briggs test is a not-so-scientific but weirdly accurate personality test. I got Extroverted-Intuitive-Feeling-Perceiving, which means I’m a dreamer, a big thinker, and easily inspired, but I sometimes lose interest in the details of carrying my ideas out. It’s the same personality type that Cher from Clueless, Ariel from The Little Mermaid, and Pippin from Lord of the Rings have. I think Barack Obama is also on the list of famous ENFPs, but you can imagine who I typically remind people of when they first meet me (I’ll give you a hint: it’s not the male, first black President of the United States).
The fact is, I don’t really have the air of someone who can deliver a stellar client presentation or submit an outstanding industry report—at least, not if I’m really being myself. It’s not that I’m not smart or competent; those just aren’t things you would learn about me after one 30 minute interview. And really, that’s only because no one has ever been exactly like me before.
And guess what? You guys are all beautiful, unique snowflakes too! No one is going to know how well you can do a job until you actually do it.
It’s hard to see ourselves as high-powered business people or industry professionals because we have never been those things before. To make things more complicated, when it comes to important career decisions it’s not about seeing ourselves doing a job (which would be easy) but filling a role (which is somewhat more difficult). The problem is, employers tend to have very specific ideas about what it means to fill a role. Some won’t hire you unless you are the prototypical person to normally hold that position. It’s a shame, but any little thing can make a potential employer decide not to hire you. Maybe they don’t like the way you wore your hair that day; maybe they feel like you’re a bit too soft-spoken; maybe they don’t like the giant scary tattoo you have on your face (helpful hint: try not to get a face tattoo before you go to a job interview). The best you can do is try to anticipate what an employer is looking for and do your best to convince him or her that you’re a good fit.
Here’s the amazing and wonderful thing: the people who have the hardest time of filling a role are the ones who are destined to forge a new path. The corporate landscape is ever-changing, and if you’re lucky, you can be the one to change it. Until then, you have to learn your lines, exaggerate, talk yourself up…and fake it till you make it.