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Be yourself, sort of

Published February 27. 2010 09:00AM

My favorite television show of the new season is "The Middle" on Wednesday nights.

It focuses on the Hecks, an average, if a bit quirky, family, living average lives, trying to get by just like everyone else. In a recent episode, the father, Mike, loses his job as a quarry foreman. He'd worked there for quite a few years, and was shell shocked when he found himself out of work. To make matters worse, he's hopelessly out of touch with how to find a job.

He's not too computer savvy, so applying for jobs online is a foreign concept; he tells off one of the vendors at a job fair he attends, and is beyond frustrated when his teenage son, Axel, is having more luck finding an after-school job through Facebook than Mike is having looking for a full-time position the old-fashioned way.

Mike is finally called for an interview at a mill, and isn't sure what to make of the HR director who interviews him. She has a huge smile on her face and it seems as if she's never been happier to see anyone in her life than she is to see Mike at that moment. Reluctantly, Mike sits down and waits for the questions to start. "Tell me about yourself!" she says brightly.

He answers after a few moments: "Tall….Mike…a man."

And it goes on from there. He isn't sure how to approach her question "If you were a superhero, what superpower would you want to have?" Finally exasperated, he speaks up and says he's a good, honest worker, is never late, and has worked at the quarry for more than 10 years, and figures that should be good enough.

Back at home, Mike's wife Frankie explains that he needs to learn to "play the game" on interviews. She tells him that he needs to seem more interested and excited about these jobs he's applying for; don't just give the first answer that comes to mind.

He tries to follow her advice. He does his best to convince the next hiring manager he meets that nothing would make him happier than to work for their septic system cleaning company, but falls short again. "He said he didn't buy my completely false sense of enthusiasm," he tells his wife after he gets the call that they "went with another candidate."

The Hecks are just TV characters, of course, but their conversation was very real. Most job candidates fake their way through most interviews to some extent. It's hard to be enthusiastic about every job that comes our way; especially if we're up to our 20th interview with no offers yet. And as Mike Heck found out, there's a fine line between being ourselves as we truly are (just like Mike when he gave brutally honest answers to the questions) and a more enthusiastic but not completely fake version (like Mike at the septic system company).

The secret is to find that line but not pole vault over it, where it's clear to everyone that your heart's not really into this opportunity.

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