Regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, or walk of life, Brené Brown has influenced a multitude of lives with her research. Her TED Talk on vulnerability skyrocketed to popularity shortly after it was posted, garnering millions of views. But while most people take Brown’s lessons to heart in their personal lives, her message can also be applied to the professional world.
Brown’s work revolves around the idea that the people who have the most successful relationships understand the power of vulnerability. They’re comfortable being their true selves, so they’re able to develop real, intimate connections. That kind of authenticity can help us cultivate healthy, valuable relationships with our peer groups, managers, and subordinates in the workplace.
I talk to accounting and finance people all day. Because we’re discussing their job searches, those conversations tend to focus on their technical skillsets. The same goes for when I’m coaching someone ahead of an interview. We’re emphasizing their professional background and how they can best articulate their experiences for a hiring manager.
But after watching Brown’s vulnerability TED Talk, I was reminded that interpersonal connections are as important as technical experience and proficiency when you’re looking for a job. Companies hire based on experience, yes. But they also look for candidates who will fit in with the team.
Hiring managers assess applicants’ personalities, interests, and demeanors as much as their professional accomplishments.
This realization transformed my approach to coaching. The biggest mistake accounting and finance candidates make is focusing on the technical at the expense of relating on an interpersonal level.
Your Three Most Important Attributes
You can’t form substantial connections unless you’re confident in yourself. And you can’t develop that self-assuredness until you’ve owned your triumphs and failures.
Once you accept yourself, you operate from a place of strength and openness – and that’s what attracts other people.
Hiring managers often ask candidates about their greatest weaknesses or failures. Accounting professionals in particular often respond with canned answers because they’re afraid to shine too much light on their mistakes.
A better approach is to respond with vulnerability. Tell the whole story:
“I was laid off from a previous job because of this error.”
“I lost my job because I was lazy.”
“I wasn’t in the right role and I was scared to tell my manager the position wasn’t working out.”
Real, honest explanations like these take the conversation deeper. Hiring managers will appreciate the candor, and they may identify with your struggles. That human connection is increasingly important in hiring decisions.
These are the qualities decision-makers look for in potential team members:
Transparency means being honest about the good and the bad in your professional past.
Be forthcoming about anything that could be a red flag to prospective employers. Rather than hurt your chances, transparency cultivates trust.
I recently worked with a candidate who wanted to transition out of public accounting. He ranked towards the top of his peer group, had worked with a long list of successful clients, boasted a strong undergraduate GPA, and had a wonderful personality. He was a shoo-in for a great position.
However, he failed to tell us he had quit his job with the public accounting firm.
He interviewed with one of our clients and they were thrilled with him. But when they called around to check his references, they learned about how he had left his last position. When we asked him why he hadn’t disclosed that information, he said he worried about how the move would be perceived. He wanted to “wow” the hiring manager and secure a new job before telling them about his past experience.
Unfortunately, his plan had the opposite outcome.
Even though the client liked this candidate, they chose not to move forward with him because they felt he wasn’t honest and transparent. The decision had nothing to do with the fact that he quit his job and everything to do with his lack of openness.
I also encourage employers to be transparent in their interview process.
I’m working with a company right now that’s in a transition period. They have a brand new CFO and a new controller, and they’re hiring for multiple director-level positions because the entire financial leadership turned over in the past six months. Historically, the company wasn’t a fantastic place to work. But the culture has changed.
When the CFO and controller interview prospective hires, they’re transparent about the business’s previous problems. They explain that some stressful circumstances remain and that new hires might experience them as the company evolves. But every candidate I send them has nothing but amazing feedback and is dying to work for them.
People respect honesty, no matter which side of the desk they’re on.
Often, when I’m helping candidates prep for interviews, they’ll say, “Tell me about the person who will interview me. What’s their personality? What type of personality should I project during the interview to make a good impression?”
The first question is valid. You want to know something about your interviewer before you sit down with them. But you should never present yourself as someone you’re not.
You don’t want hiring managers to think you’re an introvert when you’re an extrovert, or that you’re a “details person” when you’re actually a visionary.
If you don’t showcase who you truly are, you may get hired under false pretenses and you’ll land a role that’s not right for you. Maybe the interviewer will see through your strategy and opt not to hire you because they think you’re fake.
Instead of worrying about who you should be, instead, concentrate on who you are. Knowing yourself leads to confidence, and confidence is what wins you the job. Once you’re clear on who you are and where your strengths lie, then you can focus on other people. Here are some better questions to ask a recruiter ahead of an interview:
- What type of person tends to do well within this organization?
- What kinds of personalities does the hiring manager connect with?
- How would you describe the personality of this team?
- What can you tell me about the company culture?
Those queries provide useful insights into whether the company suits your personality and interests. Learn about your interviewer and prospective co-workers so you can connect authentically, not so you can fashion yourself into a person you think they’ll like.
An essential part of being vulnerable is putting yourself “out there.”
For instance, you might interview for a job that seems a bit out of your league. It’s scary to put yourself in a position where you might be rejected, but such instances enhance your character. Taking risks is what makes for an exceptional career rather than an average one.
I recently worked with a Big 4 senior manager who wanted to transition out of public accounting into a director-level position at a technology company.
One of my clients was seeking someone for a director level, and they were clear that they weren’t interested in hiring someone straight out of public accounting. But when the candidate learned about the opening, she insisted I make an introduction. She said, “I know I’m not the perfect profile for what they’re looking for, but I’m going to show them I’m the right fit for this job.” She ended up not getting the job, however, my client loved her and they were both grateful for the introduction.
This scenario could have played out either way. The lesson is that she put herself in a position of vulnerability, and it paid off. As Brené Brown says, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
Vulnerability isn’t just a tactic for landing a new job. It’s a way to develop lasting quality relationships as you move through different phases of your career. The more real you are with people, the more enthusiastic they’ll be about providing references or advocating for you in the future.
There’s no greater asset than an authentic network that you build through vulnerability.
What’s your Brené Brown story? If there’s a principle or insight that resonated with you, share it in the comments.
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