Thursday, September 15, 2011

Can you be your "true" self at work or are you keeping up appearances?

Hey, you know that blogger extraordinaire Hurricane Mikey is posting again, and on his original site, right? One of the reasons Mikey took a hiatus was because he was conducting a job search and wanted to shield his personal life from prospective employers. Fortunately, as he’s recently reported, his current employer “doesn’t give a rat’s ass” about what he does outside of work.

As it should be.

Recently I told you that the contract on my job will be over at the end of the month. Weh. It’s been a wonderful gig, especially the telecommuting part. And now that I’m on the prowl myself, I’ve been thinking about Mikey and what employers need—and don’t need—to know about you.

I’ve never been big on editing out parts of myself in order to comply with corporate expectations; I’ve learned that it’s better for employers to know who you really are right from the beginning. Years ago, back when I was still following the rules, I got hired for a position no doubt because I performed so beautifully during an interview. And it really was a performance; I totally convinced them that I was a straight and narrow, by-the-book professional.

Of course, I couldn’t keep that boring persona up for too long and my true, fun, personality seeped through. I did a great job as far as my work went, but joked around with my staff a lot. They loved me. Yep, everybody under me loved me, but those above me on the food chain couldn’t stomach me at all. I wasn’t a fit for their culture; I was nothing like what they thought they were getting. That turned out to be the worst place I ever worked, just a miserable experience.

Ever since, when presenting myself to prospective employers or consulting firms, I’ve been my true crazy self. They can take me or leave me, and fortunately, I seem to be what they’re looking for. But I do have a very strong resume and an impressive portfolio of work. That’s the key—the more skilled you are, the more you can get away with being your authentic self on the job. If you’re really, really good, you don’t have to spend so much energy creating a professional persona. And you can direct all that energy toward doing a good job, which, after all, is why you're there in the first place.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not too relaxed.  It's not like I throw the F word around on interviews… or at all in the workplace. Well, I try not to.

This is funny. A few years ago, I had just started a new job—I was there maybe three weeks. About twelve people from my department were sitting around the conference table; each person had to give a brief report on what they’d been doing the past week. When it came to be my turn, I excitedly told my coworkers—and boss—of the progress I’d make on a task that was particularly challenging. I was feeling great about it all and at the end gushed, “And this a huge fuckin’ project!”

Immediately, I realized what I’d said and covered my mouth with a big “Oops!” but it was too late. Everyone in the room cracked up. For the rest of that day, people were high-fiving me and saying things like, “That was the greatest moment of my worklife!” and told me how much they liked me and wanted to work on projects with me. I was like a folk hero. Even my boss thought it was an awesome slip. (He was a nut himself, believe me.)

Anyway, in the words of Popeye, “I am what I am.” For some reason, it seems to be working.

How about you? Can you be your true self at work? On a scale of 1 to 10, how surprised would your coworkers be to know the “real” you?


The Vegas Flea said...

What an ironic post Linda. As this is a subject that's been weighing very heavy on my mind lately.

As you know, I graduated from college in my early 30's. Immediately afterwards I entered the professional workforce.

And....I've been generally miserable. Why? Because I've recently came to the conclusion that I've been acting like someone I'm not.

Since college, I've given very, very little information to coworkers and employers to actually who I am (hippie biker dude, for those that don't know me).

Well, that's over. I'm now searching for a new job. The interviews that I have gotten, I've been completely myself. And man, it feels great!! However, I'm still professional about it. I'm not showing up in a tye-dye for the interview. And I certainly keep the cussing to a minimum (at least in the interview).

How surprised would my coworkers be if they knew the real me? 10 being the most surprised, with some jobs I've had, the answer would be a definitive 10.

Very timely post!!

Vegas Linda Lou said...

It is liberating when you can just be yourself! As with a love relationship, an employer relationship will be much more satisfying if the person "gets" you and accepts you for who you are.

Love those hippie biker types!

Julie D said...

Oh hell, my coworkers and everyone who has ever met me, knows the true me. I don't pretend to be someone I'm not. It's too damn exhausting. Plus, my boss has known me for over 20 years from when we worked together when he was first becoming an interior designer, and so we were friends for 15 years before I came to work for him. I have seen him naked for God's sake. There is no hiding anything with us! haha

In other news...I'll see you in six days. I just blogged about how close it is! Woooohooo! Darlene is coming Saturday or Sunday, she's not sure when yet!

Hey, do you know anything about the Orleans from a hotel standpoint? I think we might stay there Sunday night since we're gonna be there for the stand up thing anyway. It's the only night we haven't booked anywhere to stay, and it's pretty cheap.

Joyce said...

Well, when my beautiful, brilliant, sweet, Chemist cousin told her new boss at her employer of 14-years that he was an "idiot," which he is: She was fired. No problem, she was snatched right up by a better situation. But, perhaps there is a limit to our honesty at work.

I have been looking for employment for 15 months. I fear I am becoming among the "chronically unemployed," so, I will behave anyway they want. Being 60 doesn't help matters.

But, since I am always looking, when I saw this post, I thought of you: *Technical Editor — Maintenance Publications Requisition ID 1103521. The job is with American Airlines ( us--careers). Don't know if it is your "cup of tea." Also, it is in Tulsa; but, perhaps you can again arrange some sort of telecommute situation. I sense the pay at AA is not spectacular, but the benefits are good and the travel benefits for you,spouse, parents, kids,and some friends are fabulous. In fact, it could be possible for you to commute on an AA carrier every week between Tulsa and LV (or some such). Just FYI.

Congrats on the WSJ mention. So, happy your story did not have to end like Anna Karenina (or Love Story (Gag!) for that matter)!
Best wishes.

Vegas Linda Lou said...

Thanks for the lead, Joyce, and good luck to you. I know it gets frustrating, especially as time goes on. I hope you find something fun and rewarding.

I know what you mean about Love Story. I saw the movie about a year ago--I don't think it withstood the test of time. I wonder if the book would. Kind of doubt it.