A few weeks ago I went for a job interview that was one of the strangest ones I had ever experienced. As a contractor and consultant, I am used to going on job interviews all the time so I thought I was prepared for just about anything people could throw at me. As I am always going for short-term contracts, interview questions are generally along the lines of “give me an example of where you have done such-and-such” – they don’t really care about your long-term career goals if their intention is for you to complete your project within the term of the contract (typically 6-12 months) then leave, so I never get the “where do you see yourself in five years” type questions.
So what made this particular interview rather unusual was a comment the interviewer made toward the end of our hour-long conversation: “You look too relaxed. I’m not sure you can handle the hot-headed execs who have their jobs on the line if this project does not meet its deadlines!” Wow! If I had known that appearing relaxed was going to disqualify me for a job I would have called the Qantas reservations line prior to the interview so that I could be put on hold for an hour listening to their rendition of “I Still Call Australia Home” on repeat!
I have never been good at pretending to be someone I’m not. It doesn’t matter if it is for a game or for real. Many years ago, when I was at university, a friend invited me to her “How to Host a Murder” party. If you are not familiar with this game, it is like acting out Clue where the ultimate objective of the game is to solve a murder. Prior to the party, each of the guests is given a role to play and you have to come to the party dressed as that character. The theme of that particular party was “Who Hung Woo” – yes, the characters were all Chinese although I was the only guest who was actually Chinese. I still remember getting my invitation and going home to ask my mother how I was going to go to this party dressed as a Chinese person (yes, insert laugh track here).
As the party commenced, each participant was given different clues that provided them with their alibis or something about another character. The game was fun in theory, but for someone like me who has the worst poker face in the world, it was agony. Not only could I not lie, but I wasn’t even any good at deflecting suspicion away from myself and throwing them at someone else. I can’t remember now if my character was the murderer but it sure felt like I must have been!
Even in real life I am no good at pretending. Friends will know if I tell them I like their haircut then I must mean it, otherwise I would not even mention it. As the saying goes, if you have nothing good to say, then say nothing at all. I’m a strong believer of this. So if you ever ask me for my opinion, be prepared to accept the truth, good or bad. I often wondered about sycophants. I am positive I was born without the sycophantic gene in my DNA because I take after my father in this regard. Surely it is exhausting for people to “suck up” to their bosses or clients or other people of power and influence?
I once worked in a company where a fellow project manager was known to deliberately take the same ferry home as the Managing Director where possible just so he could sidle up to the MD for a chat. This guy was so transparent that most of senior management did not give him too much credence. Meanwhile, I apparently ruffled the feathers amongst the boys’ club by delivering the first real result on the program in three years within a short three months, and got a pat on the back by the MD. I am certain that if the other guy had spent more time managing his project stream and less time sucking up to the bosses and stakeholders, he might have actually delivered something.
But being without the sycophantic gene has its drawbacks. I was ultimately “voted out” of the boys’ club because I refused to play their silly games. Perhaps I still need to learn the delicate balance between diplomacy, office politics and honesty. It continues to be a “weakness” on my resume that I am not a good liar. I am who I am. If someone doesn’t want to hire me because I appeared relaxed, then I am grateful I did not get the job because I don’t particularly enjoy being stressed. Life is too short to be unhappy and to be someone else. I am not an actor pretending to be someone else. No Oscars ™ for me. And I’m OK with that. I hope you are, too.