Melissa applied for a position with a new company. Not too long afterwards, she was called for an interview. She called me shortly thereafter in a panic. “I applied for a position that was a little out of my reach. What if they decide that I’m really not qualified for the job?”
The discussion that followed reminded me that we face similar problems selling our value as businesses, too. It’s usually not that we are overbilling our skills, rather we are underselling ourselves.
My advice: dream more, imagine more.
Melissa worried that she wasn’t being honest about her skills. That wasn’t really the case. What she feared wasn’t that they would “see right through her.” No, she was afraid that how she imagined herself — as a good fit for the job — wouldn’t be how they saw it. Like so many of us, she was afraid of being judged poorly so decided to make that very judgment for them in advance.
It is my assertion that promoting yourself and your business has to rely on imagination. Indeed, how do we ever reach the next stage without both imagining ourselves in the new position — as their new project manager, as the winning bidder on the project — and explaining our potential based only on our current skill set!
It’s possible that you’re the wrong choice.
Is Melissa right that she may be judged poorly? Absolutely. It is the role of any buyer to evaluate their purchase (whether of labor or project) based on a whole set of parameters, most of which we cannot entirely know. Sure, some of those parameters are described in the written job announcement or the request for proposal. However, so much more of that is in the backstory of the individuals and organizations making the evaluation.
While it is our duty to try to find out as much as possible about any project or position in advance — for example, its responsibilities or how the selection process really works — it’s not unusual for organizational outsiders to be provided with the thinnest amount of information. That means that all you can do is your due diligence.
Is it therefore still possible that another candidate will be judged as the better choice? Yes, and for reasons completely beyond your control. That you may be judged poorly doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility of presenting your best face. That you may be judged poorly also shouldn’t stop you.
So how do you proceed when all of the information may still not be available to you or when there’s a real risk that missing information will work against you? Take the real experiences that you’ve gained from the tools and people with whom you worked and declare that these alone make you the right choice for this new opportunity. You have no real idea whether that’s true. You’re developing another possible reality to describe yourself. You cannot possibly know whether this new opportunity — with its new tools, new people, and new parameters — will equal anything close to the success you’ve enjoyed before.
And, you know what, it’s totally okay to stretch and say, Yes, I can.
But it’s possible you’re the right choice.
So what can you do? Dream. Allow yourself to be challenged not by where you are now but by where you want to be later. Feel free to re-imagine, to extrapolate based on an honest assessment of your current skills, challenges, and successes on to what you can do for this new opportunity. Don’t be afraid to help your evaluators believe that the work that you have achieved to date could equal the same success for them. Feel free to let them make their own decision without you getting in your own way.
That is, as I said to Melissa, for goodness sake, stop anticipating No. Imagine Yes.