Overselling Yourself Could Come at a Cost

by Brian Skory

We pitch ourselves to prospective employers in a number of ways. There’s our resume, our 30-second “elevator speech,” our LinkedIn profile (and other professional social media profiles), and then there’s ultimately pitching ourselves to a prospective employer in person (interview, networking event, etc.). 

When it comes to crafting each of these pitches, the vast majority of the advice I’ve offered has to do with effectively selling yourself. As I've discussed over and over, these are your opportunities to present yourself in a way that persuades a prospective employer that you are, indeed, the person they've been looking for.

But there’s one more person you’ve been pitching yourself to, and that’s yourself. When you’re considering applying for a new position, you’re the first person you have to convince that you’re a good fit. And sometimes we are maybe a little less than honest with ourselves about that. Now, I am not talking about situations where someone blatantly lies about their capabilities. Claiming to know C# when you have only casually dabbled in it would be an example of that type of fabrication. Rather, I'm talking about making ambitious promises to yourself and others—which, while well-intentioned, have a good chance of bouncing back on you if undelivered.

I’ll give you an example. One company we know had a need for business development in a very specific technical space. One of the candidates they were interviewing had plenty of business development experience in several different sectors but not specifically in theirs. He didn't see it as an issue, however. Business development was business development in his mind. So he worked very hard to convince the hiring manager of his capability to transfer his skills and knowledge base to their particular space. Eventually, the hiring manager was sold and decided to bring him on. Coming up to speed on their product line proved far more difficult than he had anticipated, however, and eventually he was let go for "weak performance."

Another company was doing scientific development in C#. One of the developers interviewing for the role was well versed in their scientific domain—but as a C developer. He, too, convinced the hiring manager that it was a small task for him to come up to speed on C#, but after months of frustration on many fronts, both he and his manager decided it was not a good fit and they parted ways.

The biggest problem in both of these cases is that each candidate must now account for the fact that they were only at their new position for a handful of months. They could choose to simply not list the position on their resume, but they’ll nevertheless have to account for that period of time in some way.

It is much better to avoid these complications by being honest with yourself about your capabilities and not setting yourself up for these types of failures by overselling yourself, first to yourself and then to the hiring manager in your job interview. Promise to deliver what you know you can and your new job experience should be a much more pleasurable experience.

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