Brene’ Brown

How Vulnerable Should You Be in the Workplace?

by Jenny Szakonyi
Sr. Recruiter, projekt202


When you think of how the generations have changed, we went from a very silent generation, to now a very open and “share everything” generation. So how do we determine the best candidates for our company?

Social media has opened up a whole new light to what we reveal in our personal and professional lives, but when is it too much?

This leads me to the topic of vulnerability. Is being vulnerable “being too open?” Or putting yourself out there “too much?” Let’s look at this in terms of the workplace.

Brene’ Brown’s article in Forbes -- “How Vulnerability Can Make Our Lives Better” -- talks about the challenges of measuring this vulnerability and the fears that people often face thinking about this in its true form. What’s more important, and why I write this article, is, what about vulnerability in our professional life? We may often hear things like, to be loved you must give love, or love with risk, or a great relationship comes from true vulnerability, but what about how it affects us at work? Is it a good idea to be vulnerable in the workplace and, if so, how much?

There are many myths about vulnerability that have been reported on this topic, such as vulnerability means weakness, vulnerability means to air all of our dirty laundry or being vulnerable means you get to opt out.

So let’s think about the real definition of this word. Vulnerability is showing up and being seen, and not fearing what the results will be or how others will respond. It doesn’t mean we hurt or offend others, but rather we have the courage to act, and we take risk by being true to ourselves and our own character.

Is this a good idea in the workplace?

As a corporate recruiter, one thing I have learned is to stop looking for the “perfect” candidate. When I first started my career as a recruiter, I was often told I would get “candidate crushes” as I talked them up to my hiring managers. I would reveal a long list of things that this candidate did or qualities they had in an effort to “sell” this candidate based on their credentials.

But as I grew into my role, I began to see that it was the imperfections, or the “vulnerability,” in the candidate that made them an even better consideration. It doesn’t mean I hire someone who has several flaws, but it means I am more interested in the candidate who isn’t afraid to share their challenges or their struggles, and how they overcame them.

We have to be willing to be vulnerable ourselves in order to get it on the receiving end. Here are some of the qualities that vulnerability births:

  • Courage
  • Empathy
  • Trust
  • Change
  • Communication
  • Accountability
  • Creativity
  • Innovation
  • Problem solving
  • Feedback
  • Joy
  • A sense of belonging

As hiring managers, if we aren’t vulnerable in our own approach, we won’t recruit candidates who are more likely to have these qualities. These are all qualities we want in our company from our top performers.

So how do we as recruiters and hiring managers find these people, and how do we as candidates ensure we’re being as vulnerable as we can in our interviewing process?

We have to be willing to take a risk and we have to be willing to fail. There is zero innovation without failure. Top performers in companies most often have stories of failures. Many of them had to struggle in order to get where they are. As a company, we want to allow “opportunity” for these failures in order to find the qualities that make top performers. We identify that these struggles and challenges often are talent that is transformed to becoming resilient, self-reliant, with great purpose, very driven, incredibly dedicated, and problem solvers.

Once we begin to weed through the “perfect” resumes, or perfect credentials, we no longer risk overlooking qualified candidates who are vulnerable enough to show their struggles and true selves. It doesn’t mean we look for people who often make mistakes and forget about the good folks; it just means we get “real” and look at who people are, and not only about what they’ve done.

A personal experience I’ll share about my own vulnerability was how I became a recruiter. I was working part-time in a completely different role and one day decided I wanted more hours. The budget wasn’t there and I didn’t have any experience in most of the other roles available, so I didn’t see much option. When I saw that our HR department needed assistance, I thought perhaps I could increase my hours by offering my time there. It took me a while to ask because I was actually afraid I’d get turned down. I feared, since I knew absolutely nothing about HR at the time, that I may fail at it. I wasn’t sure I should take the risk of putting myself out there.

Instead, I decided to be vulnerable and honest about what I wanted. I stepped out, showed up, and told it how it was: “I don’t know anything about HR yet or if I’ll be any good at it, but I’d love to have the additional hours to help the company more.” That opened up the opportunity to take on HR tasks. A year later, I moved into full-time recruiting.

Without stepping out there, I would not be doing what I am today. Without the company being willing to take a risk, I would not have had that opportunity.

So how vulnerable should we be in the workplace? There are boundaries and it isn’t necessary to be a victim, but we need to be vulnerable enough to allow our true character to shine. Vulnerability creates a natural desire for striving, but not for the purpose of perfectionism or for the sake of others, but for the sake of self-improvement.

We as both employers and employees have to figure out what’s keeping us out of the arena, what do we fear about it, and why do we fear it?

We are quick to critique others on their weaknesses, but the critic is usually the one who won’t step into the arena. As a vulnerable person, you must be “all in,” and you must embrace both victory and defeat. It’s the only thing I believe will promote the top performers we want in the workplace.

So, for every recruiter or hiring manager, open up the doors for vulnerability. For candidates looking for opportunity, be willing to reveal your greatest challenges and struggles, and step into the arena and be seen.

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