WorkWise: Overconfidence in your job search

December 20, 2013 

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Confidence without arrogance can sideswipe a job search. You might be an expert in your field. You might have an excellent network. You might be skilled at job hunting. For these reasons, you might not recognize the problem.

When job seekers tell people a job had their name on it but it went to another person, you might assume that they overlooked something. “Our perceived expertise (can) become a silo of knowledge that significantly limits us,” observes Vivian Carrasco, managing member of Carrasco Group LLC in Weatherford, Tex. She’s worked extensively in connecting the Army, veterans and spouses with corporations.

A Harris Interactive survey in July and August on behalf of the Career Advisory Board of Downers Grove, Ill.’s DeVry Education Group Inc. finds a huge discrepancy between applicant confidence in understanding an interviewer’s expectations (56 percent) and employer concurrence (15 percent). These statistics come from 507 adult job seekers in the United States and 500 hiring managers at some of the nation’s largest organizations.

Employers can often tell when a job seeker is too confident. Beth Carvin is co-founder and CEO of Nobscot Corporation in Honolulu, Hawaii, which markets technology for employee retention and development. After more than 20 years in recruiting and HR, she views the problem from the standpoint of cultural differences.

“I’m originally from the Boston area, where overconfidence is valued,” she says, “and I currently live in Hawaii, where modesty is valued. Corporations view the expression of confidence differently. For many years, you may be taught to be confident, only to find that it may or may not work in some positions, companies or locations.”

Alexandra Levit, speaker and author on securing and providing meaningful work, and co-founder of the Career Advisory Board, reports that statements attributing the problem to “the market or the interviewer,” or, ultimately, “everything except me,” suggest overconfidence.

Levit further mentions an improved economy but continued unemployment or failure to seek an outside opinion on what you’re doing. “You might also not quantify how previous experience benefitted employers,” she points out. “You should be able to rattle off the last in one minute.” She sees a particular need for mentors among senior people with a career to market but whose experience gives them false confidence in a world that’s changed.

Carrasco sat on panels for more than six months and watched more than 100 job seekers interview, the majority of whom failed to ask questions or listen to what employers were asking. “Turn the conversation around and reframe your focus,” she advises. She adds that job seekers tend not to “figure out the why,” their point of differentiation with others.

You can check yourself for overconfidence. Carvin recommends going into an interview and assessing right away where you belong on “the confident-humble spectrum. It will probably be somewhere in the middle. Sometimes you’re focused on your own behavior. Stop, listen and get to know the person.”

Carrasco suggests asking questions, down to “Did I answer your question?” which she considers closing and which she’s observed engage a panel.

Levit says that you’ve been too confident if you’ve interviewed 20 times, on paper you looked like a fit and you didn’t check in with a mentor to make certain everything you’re doing is on track. “There’s always more to learn,” she comments. “You don’t necessarily have to go back to school.”

Finally, Carvin says quite simply, “Look within yourself.”

Dr. Mildred L. Culp of WorkWise® welcomes your questions at culp@workwise.net.

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