People-pleasing in an interview: how a minion mentality can derail your career

Dec 13, 2022 6 mins

People-pleasing in an interview: how a minion mentality can derail your career
author
Kim Cunningham

Editor at Welcome to the Jungle

Do you have a hard time saying no to people, feel guilty setting boundaries, or bear a constant need for approval? If this sounds familiar, you may be a people pleaser. Feeling the need to prioritize others over yourself can seem like a good thing, but extreme people-pleasing tendencies can be detrimental in the long run. So what does this have to do with finding a job? Think of it this way: you’ve landed an interview for your dream job and you want to do everything you can to impress the recruiter—saying yes to tasks you don’t quite master, agreeing with everything they’re saying, admitting to aligning with values that are actually contradictory to your own … Do you see where we’re headed with this?

People-pleasing in an interview can work against you and backfire pretty quickly. How can you avoid it then, you may ask? To find out, Emily Durham, Toronto-based recruiter and content creator, gives us her advice and insights. When she’s not working her regular 9-5, Durham shares career advice on TikTok with a community of over 220k people. She’s also admitted to having people-pleasing tendencies in the past, and shares what she’s learned from her mistakes.

What is a people pleaser?

A people pleaser is someone who tends to agree with or to someone or something despite it maybe not being the best choice for them. A 2022 YouGov report found that almost half of Americans would call themselves a people pleaser, while also admitting that others would describe them this way. The report also found that women are more likely to self-declare being people pleasers than men.

When analyzing why people feel this way, the report revealed that people pleasers do what they do to avoid conflict, put others’ needs before their own, and because they don’t know how to say no. These factors can be rooted in something deeper, according to Psychology Today, including underlying fears of rejection or failure. If people pleasers ignore these traits and continue to go about their lives with no change, it can lead to long-term social, mental, and physical problems. The consistent need to please can over time develop into self-neglect, resentment, stress, and depression.

What can people-pleasing look like in an interview?

Being a people pleaser in your personal life is one thing, but when it comes to your professional life, it’s not a recommended route to take. Durham explains that ultimately, adopting people-pleasing habits in an interview will only hurt you in the long run: “It really is doing yourself and the people around you a disservice by not advocating for your boundaries. By admitting when you don’t have the answers, you can learn and grow in those areas.”

People-pleasing in an interview can look different for everyone, but Durham gives a personal example of a mistake she made early in her career. “I used to go into interviews and say that I was awesome with data. That’s just not what I do,” she says. And while it wasn’t completely out of her scope, she was over-selling herself on a skill she didn’t master. “Yes, I could make it work if I had to, but I ended up doing myself a disservice because when I needed to ask for help in those roles, I felt embarrassed or that I was taking on too much and wasn’t able to balance it all.”

While lying on your resume with the hopes of standing out is one thing, lying in an interview to impress or please the recruiter is another story. Durham shares that this is typically common for more junior candidates who want to shine in the interview, not knowing how it looks on the other side. For example, if you’re looking for your first job out of college and you’re passing off projects as your own to appear more skilled than you are, the recruiter will likely be able to tell. Digging a little deeper, they may see that you actually completed these tasks as part of a group project or with support from someone else, which is ok. “There’s nothing wrong with you not leading the entire thing—you’re early in your career. The whole point is for you to be learning. The expectation is not that you’ve got it all figured out right away.”

How being a people pleaser can hurt your career

Having the urge to be a yes-person or come across as a candidate who can do it all may feel like the right thing to do, but people-pleasing in an interview can set you up for failure in the form of stress and burnout. “You need to be mindful and sell the things that are authentic to you because that’s what’s going to set you up for success,” Durham explains. Exaggerating your skills and competencies is not what’s going to get you ahead. “If you’re selling yourself on skills that maybe aren’t completely baked yet, you’re basically setting yourself up for failure in a public setting.”

For women of color and BIPOC communities especially, Durham explains that people-pleasing can often be used as a crutch to cope with imposter syndrome and to make sure they’re coming across as strong as they would like. However, she reiterates the importance of being honest with what you can and can’t do to avoid misunderstandings, excessive workloads, and unrealistic expectations in the workplace.

Can people-pleasing ever be beneficial?

While a lot of people-pleasing tendencies can have negative repercussions, there are some—rare—scenarios in which it’s ok to do so. “It’s ok for you to lean on the people-pleasing side if that’s authentic to who you are and you genuinely feel that you can show up and perform on the things that you’re talking about. It’s not about selling yourself short, it’s about making sure you’re selling the right things. If that feels authentic, amazing,” Durham shares.

She explains how even though it’s fairly uncommon for a job candidate to tick every single box on a job description, if that is the case for you, then great. Use that to your advantage and sell yourself as you are. While it may seem like you’re people-pleasing or being a yes-person, at the end of the day, if you’re comfortable with what you’re saying you can do, that’s all that matters.

Durham says that when it comes to her own job description, “I’m kick-ass at nine out of ten things, but there’s still those one or two things I’m pretty good at but I need some guidance or coaching on. It’s ok to people please through the lens that, ‘I’m really great at this, I’m pretty good at these things, and I’m excited to learn more with you to help me get here, but I will never say no to a challenge that scares me.’ That’s a good way to people please. Be hungry for learning, not hungry to be perfect.”

How to avoid being a people pleaser

If the scenario above doesn’t apply to you and you’re not confident you can take on everything in the job description, there are ways to learn how to stop people-pleasing and avoid future failure. Durham says, “It starts with how we talk to ourselves. Stop putting pressure on yourself to be perfect on day one. I make mistakes every single day in my job, and it doesn’t mean that I’m not good at my job.”

People pleasers want to do so because they feel internal pressure to be perfect, but Durham states that companies don’t want that. “Stop thinking that companies want you to be perfect on day one. Frankly, if a company wants that, that’s not a place that you want to work—that’s reflective of their culture.”

Wanting to please the interviewer by any means possible is tempting, but no matter how much you want the job, being honest about your skills and what you can do is paramount. “Be honest with yourself about the amazing skills you bring to the table, and be honest with yourself about the areas where maybe you have a little bit of room to grow and develop,” Durham says.

Being able to own your weaknesses while also showing how you’re working on them is the key to steering away from people-pleasing. “If you feel uncomfortable or a little bit nervous to say something like ‘I’m not great with data,’ always follow it up with an action plan,” Durham shares. She advises saying something like, “Naturally I’m not good with data, but here’s what I do to ensure I’m performing well on it.”You can then give specific examples of how you learn and train yourself on weaker skills. “It’s ok to admit when you don’t have the answers, as long as you’re sharing what you’re doing to get closer to them. It’s really all about your mindset and how you’re willing to learn and grow, especially early in your career. The idea is not that you’ve got it all figured out.”

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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