Why Stellar Employees Sell Themselves Short in the Job Search

Earlier this month, I had a brief Twitter interaction with Jason Cortel of Leadership XL regarding my post, “Answering ‘How Have You Gone Above and Beyond in Your Work?’” Jason had liked the post and thought the question would be useful to him in his work.

A while later, Recruiting Animal had this to add to the conversation:

Why Doesn't Going Above and Beyond Feel Extraordinary?

I’ve been thinking about what he said ever since. In writing résumés and preparing folks for employment interviews, it’s my job to find the extraordinary that will set my clients apart. And yet, even the star employees I have worked with struggle to articulate their unique value. Why is that?

It goes back to what Recruiting Animal said: “I haven’t. I’ve just done a good job.” People who are really good at what they do don’t rigidly define their roles by what is written in the job description. They do what will get the job done, whatever that means for that particular day. For these folks, nothing they do is extraordinary; it’s just all in a day’s work.

A clear example of this is a story I read last week about a brain surgeon in Alabama who walked six miles in a snowstorm to perform life-saving surgery on a patient in another hospital. I realize that other parts of the country (including Wisconsin, where I live) were hit harder than the southern states, but consider:

  1. This is Alabama. They don’t expect to get snow, so they don’t have all the equipment to handle it. Even a half inch of the white stuff can create problems.
  2. While he was walking to the other hospital, he stopped to push drivers who were stuck in the snow.

But the good doctor’s response to the attention over this story? “I walk a lot so it really wasn’t that big a deal.”

While candidates don’t want to come across as egotistical divas when talking about their accomplishments, not recognizing the times that they put in extra effort does a huge disservice to them.

Does this sound like you? If so, take a look at the times when you had to stay late to get a deliverable to a customer or how you helped someone outside of your area to solve a problem with a project. When you talk about these stories of your career in a job interview and on your résumé in a humble, matter-of-fact way, they make you shine.

Does this article resonate with you? Let’s work together for you and your career!

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  1. You make a valid point, Melissa, but my comment had a different bent. I meant that everyone is writing about the need to be super-passionate about your work whereas I think that having the skills to do the job required reliably is all anyone needs from an employee.

    It might be different in a startup where the company is running on a shoe string and they need people who will work long hours without extra pay. But there’s a reason those jobs are usually for young people. Outside of work, they have no responsibilities. And if they’re nerds, they might not have any social life either.

  2. Melissa Cooley
    Twitter: TheJobQuest

    Thanks for the clarification, Recruiting Animal! Though I am glad that the conversation led to this train of thought for me. It’s sad when really good candidates are getting passed up because they don’t recognize/articulate their true value.

    I see what you are saying, and I sort of agree. Hard skills are important; if you can’t do the work as outlined by the job description, it’s a problem. But attitude is coming into play more and more. I guess it could be considered one of the required skills to do a job, especially considering how companies over the past 60 years have adopted a more customer-focused direction. Of course, a balance has to be struck; over-the-top passion can scare people away.

  3. Passion is an outward sign of an inward desire for the work. It doesn’t speak to the quality of work that someone is capable of doing, it does indicate that someone will offer some sacrifice to complete the job, not necessary with competency.

    I think a person’s attitude has value is when obstacles and difficulty affects the work environment, and the employee’s desire to finish strong is demonstrated. If a person’s passion is not sustained through trials and difficulty, then passion itself is moot.

    I agree with both of you in the long term. In panel interviews that I’ve been a part of, passion is never discussed. In some cases, it becomes a show, which doesn’t win favor of a group. But even that is argumentable.

    • Melissa Cooley
      Twitter: TheJobQuest

      “Passion is an outward sign of an inward desire for the work. It doesn’t speak to the quality of work that someone is capable of doing, it does indicate that someone will offer some sacrifice to complete the job, not necessary with competency.”

      Excellent point, Mark. I agree that passion and skill are mutually exclusive. For example, I loved basketball as a youth. Played every year in grades 5-8, and I was awful. My coach told my mom, “If heart was all it took, Melissa would be the best player on the team.” Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t.

      You talk about attitude coming into play when problems present themselves. I would suggest that if an employee doesn’t have the right attitude, it can actually cause issues in the workplace. You hear the stories about how a person knows the industry and can execute the technical parts of his/her job flawlessly, but when it comes to relating to others (which is often critical for getting things done), it all falls apart.

      So many ways to look at this issue!


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