How Does One Be Oneself in Non-Academic Interviews? : Raising Issues of Authenticity and Authority on the Job Market

Reading over le Business Insider’s recently published article on a speech pattern called “Vocal Fry” got me thinking: even if speaking in my voice’s lowest register is part of who I am, and I might get hired in spite of myself, are my vocal chords deep fried? I mean that, although it’s comforting to know that employers hire based on trusting the authenticity of my self-presentation, how can I be confident that I’m presenting myself in my most authentic light, especially if I’m applying for a job that might not want to hear about my academic identity?

On one side of the fence, job interviews are like auditions for a play. Human Resources wants to know if you can act a part in their company. Their stage is a long, rectangular table. The panel are seated at the far end wearing berets, black turtle necks, and smoking cigarettes. Very French:

“Show me… leadership!”

You puff out your chest, gaze skyward, mime speech with sweeping hand gestures toward the imagined audience.

“Okay. Good. Now give me teamwork.”

You dribble a ball, pass left, run to the top of the key, step back, catch the pass, shoot the jumper, score.

“Excellent. Now conflict.”

You duck, jab, throw the uppercut, sidestep falling opponent, raise arms victoriously, cry tears of joy.

“Brav-oh! Well. Done! Will someone pass me the tissues. (Blows nose tearfully). When can you start?”

On the other side of the fence (perhaps the more authentic one), job interviews are like talking with a member of your extended family you’ve never met before. You know that you’re related, but you don’t know exactly how, other than the fact that you share very similar DNA. For a job interview, this very similar DNA may be your shared passion for kids, education, food, or books. It may be your desire to serve underserved communities. Whatever it is, it is actually likely that you have more in common with your potential employer than a member of your extended family (Sorry cousin Jimmy, you just didn’t like Harry Potter enough for us to have a reasonable conversation about wizardry). In this situation, your goal is not to impress the panel with your performance, but to find out how much you really have in common, or how much you fit in with them. Emphasis on them. In this situation, the question is not what do you bring to the table; it is what can I do for you?

It seems like going into an interview with this second mindset may bring a greater sense of authenticity and even personal authority to the entire situation. You make it seem like you’re interviewing them for the job instead of the other way around. But this also raises the issue of authority. Is it possible to direct too much focus onto the interviewer instead of the interviewee? Would this be a breech of the balance of power so carefully crafted and established in workplaces around the world?

My gut tells me that it would be. So much of it is striking a balance. Where do we find it? How do we straddle that fence? If everyone’s voices are deep fried, will we all sound equally delicious? 

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