Getting a job used to be easy, I felt. Opportunities came by more often – sometimes just over a cup of coffee with an acquaintance or over a friendly chat at a networking event. In my early-mid 20s, I was once confident that I was the best person for the job and knew how to sell myself as being so. But now in my 30s, I find it isn’t so easy anymore. Those were the days. It had served me well the majority of time I worked in Asia.
Don’t get me wrong: My confidence is still intact, but I find it more difficult to sell myself. Now I am older (for sure), wiser (hopefully) and humbled (definitely) by my past mistakes that has led me to the place I am today. Additionally, I’m still in the process of learning how to balance cultural differences that happen in a job interview. Now that I’m living in London – I find myself battling between my Eastern roots and Western expectations.
Throughout my upbringing, I have been heavily influenced by Eastern morals and values – modesty, humility, and courtesy are some of the characteristics I have been expected to possess and display. These values, unfortunately do not equip me well when I apply for jobs in the Western world.
You see – in my culture, ‘Selling’ oneself is akin to boasting. When applied in an interview process, I tend to dumb down any slight notion that I could come across as sounding self-important and egotistical – I mostly succeed at great lengths and then some. But this is not what Western employers are looking for – they want a confident “I can do the job, give me the job” gung-ho attitude, whereas I don’t believe in telling the interviewer that I’m very highly qualified and can do the job better than anyone, because in honesty, I really don’t know. There are so many factors why jobs don’t work out once you get in – and since my words carry weight, there is no way I can guarantee this – especially, over a job description.
Instead, my responses are usually more restrained – applying the “I think I can do the job” or “I’ll try” which frankly, I admit, does not sound very encouraging to the interviewer. That’s not to say when I say “I’ll try” that is exactly what I’ll do – most definitely I will give it my all, and if I do not have the current skills to do it, at least I’ll be willing to give it a shot. Instead, I prefer to demonstrate my skills in the workplace, to let achievements speak for themselves. Is this too high a risk to take for potential employers?
From my point-of view, let’s face it – nobody can be THAT confident when they say they can do the job. Not least before they had the chance to step through the doors, work three months in an organisation and learn the ropes and understand its culture. I’ll let you correct me if I’m wrong.
So I am now placed in a part of the world where people constantly teach you on “The Art of Selling Yourself”, “You as a brand” and “Promote yourself”, where it is highly encouraged for you to speak about your achievements, your successes, your contribution – in a self “pat-on-your-back” kind of way. This approach is just so individualistic and full of hot air. The Western interviewing process, to me, breeds Talkers. When perfected, those who seem to know the solutions to everything, have grand plans on how to do something and only celebrate successes (and forget learning from failures).
The more confidence stemmed from this ‘skill’ to sell yourself is just bluffing everyone along. It conflates talking with doing. And if you do a lot, more often you find you do not know how to describe it. You just take what gets thrown at you, find a way to work around it and get it done – sometimes it is a success, sometimes not. How do you articulate this in a job interview to make it sound more glorified than it actually is? When you are the do-er – the sheer act of it is simple. It is the Talkers that pull wool over your eyes and manipulate you into thinking the task was more complicated than it actually was.
BUT, I too have some experience on the other side – as I see candidates walk through the door. Each of them ‘chest-thumping’, every one of them better than the previous one who walked through the door. I often wonder…how much of their individual contribution is real? If in fact they worked in a group or managed a team, it is therefore highly unlikely to take credit for individual successes unless the responsibilities were so explicitly clear – to the point of being black and white and working within your boundaries. Putting myself in their shoes – in my current position where I work across departments, across many teams – how do I attribute my individual contributions here? I work the darndest each and every time – many times moving roles between consultative, supportive or just administrative. To me, the overall success of the team’s project is what matters most – forgetting all together my individual impact whether it was as miniscule as convincing a fellow teammate to carry his/her weight or that defining moment of being the only one ballsy enough to stand up against an idea which could have, would have, led to the failure of the project. How do I sell myself here? Mostly it came down to the adaptability, gut-instinct and mostly cummulative experience gained over many, many years on the job that helped define my decision-making at that moment in time.
So, if you see me coming to you for an interview…hear it from me first: I am not so sure that I am the best for the job if all you want to hear from me is how I can outshine someone else. What keeps me going is that I am more qualified now than I ever was, when I had the pride and confidence. So, take a chance. It just might be the best decision you have ever made in awhile.