If you look up the dictionary definition of "code-switching", you'll find it described as "the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation." However, for me, it was more than going from AAVE (African-American Vernacular English) to Standard American English. It meant a complete personality and appearance overhaul. Code-switching is expected to some degree by prospective employers, but I was creating unreasonably high standards for myself that I failed over and over again to live up to.
Full disclosure: I was a serial job hopper.
Unlike most people who probably dread the interview process but thrive in their profession, I am the complete opposite. Interviewing is a high for me akin to an Esports player reaching the highest score possible in their favorite video game. I would apply to jobs I had no interest in just to challenge myself. I loved researching the company, specific departments, and their executives. I'd scour social media to see if there are any photos of the employees in the office so that I'd know exactly how to dress. I'd ignore any red flags like negative press and unfavorable employee reviews because job-hopping can put a dent in your wallet and I needed financial stability.
The company's Instagram, Twitter, and Glassdoor pages helped me craft exactly the right answers and verbiage to use. I was a real-life workforce Barbie who at the change of an outfit could transform into whoever I thought I needed to be. If my interviewer mentioned liking some activity or artist, I loved it too. Despite living across the country from my tight-knit family who celebrated all holidays and special events together, I'd tell them I was a workaholic who didn't mind coming to the office on Christmas and New Year's Eve. I'd receive an offer letter with a potential start date shortly after walking out of my interview. There was only one problem:
These carefully crafted responses, outfits, and quirks that got me the job were not my own.
I had mastered the art of creating the ideal employee. It was easy to keep the facade going for a few rounds of interviews, but I eventually became emotionally exhausted. I had always been qualified for the position I accepted but my disposition and the quality of my work would start to suffer. I would be bombarded with questions about the sudden change. My work friends and manager would voice their concerns, thinking that something must be wrong. There was nothing wrong. They were just beginning to meet the real me. A version of the real me whose self-esteem had whittled away almost completely as a result of each failed attempt to find fulfillment by pretending to be anyone other than myself.
Usually, at this point, I would conclude that I had picked the wrong field or company. At my last job, it finally clicked that the problem might lie within me. After searching for answers to my dilemma, I found that journaling helped. I recognized the pattern and what triggered my sudden shift in mood. Most of my jobs became unbearable around the same timeframe. I noticed that suppressing my personality had become unbearable by the second month at most of the places I had worked. I knew that the best thing for me after this realization would be to hand in my two weeks' and continue the self-exploration process.
Instead of hopping right back into the job search, I took some time to reflect. I took accountability for the actions that led to me being chronically unhappy in all my previous positions. I always knew I had the skills on paper to excel in the role, but I never felt that who I was as a person was good enough to land the gig. I realized that I had never given my real self a chance. I felt that my idealized persona was more socially acceptable. Acing every interview only further supported this belief. The reception I received from my previous colleagues after my mood shift was not because there was anything wrong with me. They just noticed a drastic change. If the roles were reversed, I might be confused as well.
I've since stopped code-switching completely and have taken a different approach to research a company.
Now, when I investigate, I make sure that the company's values are in line with mine, maintain a high retention rate, and employees are compensated fairly. My next interview outfit will reflect my style and any rapport built with my interviewer will be genuine. This may have adverse effects but I know that any job offer I don't receive due to not being the best-fit personality-wise will save me time and suffering.
Being true to yourself is more rewarding than any fleeting external validation.
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