Executive job seekers may not be giving themselves enough credit by expecting too much.
We acknowledge that we take things for granted. Yet we never acknowledge that we take ourselves for granted.
I’ve spoken to groups of award nominees where not a single person had any idea what made him or her different from the others. (This wasn’t an epidemic of false modesty, either. That’s fairly easy to spot.) Every person in the room was genuinely surprised at having been nominated. Some people speculated about what made them different. But, like job hunters, they never made it past unmemorable generalities like, “Well, I guess they appreciated the fact that I am always on time and never missed a client engagement.” Yawn.
Never was this more apparent than during a lunch keynote for the Temporary Staffing Association. The group invited me to speak at a ceremony honoring the Temporary Staffing Employee of the Year. There were many amazing nominations: During one Chicago snowstorm when no one else was willing to work, one gentleman in his early 60s rode his bicycle over 15 miles in the snow and arrived with a smile on his face and icicles in his beard. The morning of the event, I arrived early so that I could greet everyone as they registered; I congratulated the nominees and asked the same question: “Do you know why you were nominated?”
With so many high achievers, I fully expected at least a few would have some idea what made them special. But alas, this was not the case.
A certain type of person
At first, I wondered how so many people could be so clueless about the influence they wield on their organizations. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. People with a strong work ethic and the three magic ingredients – passion, initiative and resourcefulness – simply can’t imagine any other way of doing business. Their brains don’t work like that. Maybe you can relate.
Internal motivation versus external motivation
If you seem to fit the description above, are you aware that not everyone shares your same work ethic? Probably, but you don’t compare yourself with the slackers of the world. Instead, you are internally driven. In other words, your inspiration and motivation come from within — not from the hope or expectation of recognition and reward.
Appreciating what you bring to the table
If you find yourself in a similar situation, you may have to work a little harder to see the world from the perspective of the people who truly appreciate your efforts. You may even have to ask directly.
For example, you might find a trusted co-worker and say:
“I’m doing a self-assessment to look at my strengths and weaknesses. Would you be willing to share your thoughts about what I do well and where I still need to improve?”
It helps to ask about opportunities for improvement because it will lessen any fears you may have about fishing for compliments. At the same time, when you do hear the compliments, make sure to drill down and get the person to provide specific examples. You will be amazed by what people remember and appreciate.
This may seem like an uncomfortable exercise, but it is an important step in marketing yourself effectively. After all, there is no possible way you can communicate what makes you different if you don’t know why people appreciate you in the first place.