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The Case for Greater Authenticity

We live in a world that rewards hype and dishonesty. Should we capitulate?

Geralt, Pixabay, Public Domain
Source: Geralt, Pixabay, Public Domain

Yesterday, I gave a workshop for job seekers. Many of the participants' questions were about how to deal with a big gap in their work history.

For example, one person who had been out of the workforce for four years to be a stay-at-home mom said, "My career coach told me not to mention the four years and if asked about it, talk about some consulting or volunteering." Lest you think ethical slipperiness is rare among job applicants, over half of all resumes and job applications contain misleading information.

Authenticity in a job seeker?

Here is what I honestly believe and told those job seekers in my workshop and my clients:

Both pragmatically and ethically, you're wise to mention, indeed lead by briefly disclosing your red flag.

From the pragmatic perspective, chances are the employer will later have found out and then summarily reject you because you hadn't disclosed it. Instead, get the bad news out first. That engenders trust. Employers are likely to think, "If s/he's that upfront about a serious weakness, maybe this is a job-seeker I can trust.

Preemptively disclosing is also wise from the ethical perspective. You want to feel good about the way you got the job. If you cheat or are withholding in landing the job, you're more likely to do so on the job. You don't want your success to depend on cutting ethical corners. You want to be able to put your head on the pillow every night feeling good about how you're living your life, the way you'd want your children to live their life.

So even if you've just finished 10 years in prison for armed robbery, up-front disclosure is wise. Imagine, for example, that you were an employer and received this letter from an applicant:

Dear Employer,

I suspect you'll be tempted to reject my application because my most recent "work" was 10 years in prison for armed robbery. And even though saying I've learned my lesson sounds hollow, it's true.

Frankly, I'm scared that no one will give me a chance, even to work my way up from the bottom. But perhaps someone has given you a second chance. I need someone to give me one.

I'm not all bad. (Insert what you bring to the table.)

So, I'm hoping, against the odds, that you'll choose to interview me.


Apart from that being honest, even in this extreme case, it's pragmatic. When I asked my audience yesterday to raise their hand if they would interview that applicant, nearly everyone did. And most people's disclosure wouldn't be as serious as having just gotten out of jail for armed robbery.

Authenticity more broadly

Of course, job-seekers' preemptive disclosure is merely one example of authenticity.

Despite society being wrapped in marketing hype, sizzle over steak, and deceptiveness, not just in advertising but in hypocritical blather by politicians, for- and non-profit executives, performers, clerics, and yes, journalists, most people crave authenticity.

I really do try to be as authentic as I can be, even confrontive if I believe it is that person's or society's interest. For example, in that workshop yesterday, I told a participant that her anger is hurting her business and herself, and I admitted that I must stay vigilant to keep my own tendency to anger under control.

That was just one of a number of examples of my authenticity and of directness in the workshop, so I feared that my evaluations would be terrible. In fact, they were uniformly excellent, with comment after comment saying they particularly loved my "hard-core" honesty and authenticity.

A takeaway question

It would be inauthentic of me to even request that you be fully authentic.That's very hard and sometimes not even advisable. But I do feel good about asking you whether you're as authentic as you want to be, in your worklife and personal life.

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia. His new book, his 8th is The Best of Marty Nemko.