National poet of Scotland, Robert Burns (1759–1796), in his poem “To a Louse, On Seeing one on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church” is absorbed in thought over the ability “To see oursels as others see us!” He declares it a divine gift. In my experience, self-awareness is vital to career advancement and rising to your full professional promise.
If you are a rising executive who feels stymied recently by lost opportunities, there may be hidden reasons why the jobs are going to other candidates. Like that fine lady seated in the pew before Burns, let’s examine what could lie in your blind spot working against you.
It’s seldom a question of ability or work ethic, otherwise directors and VP’s wouldn’t rise to their current levels. More often than not, individuals are chosen for their potential to develop relationships versus core competency and capabilities. It is all about perception: How does the person who’s evaluating you think you would fit in the company culture?
The Ohio State University football coach, Woody Hayes famously said, “You win with people.”
The higher you climb up the org chart, the more people who are affected by your managerial experience and style. HR Directors and hiring managers look at how much social adeptness or political agility you exhibit. They’re looking to see how well you can get work done without breaking a lot of glass in the process. Will their current staff be motivated to work with you?
It’s vital for leaders to understand that persuasion begins with understanding your co-worker’s agenda and positioning your statement in a way that motivates them to get the job done. Are you able to articulate how you flex and adapt in order to navigate your team through tough problems? Unless you wield an abundance of positional power, to take an arrogant or reckless approach to managing people is not practicing political agility.
Not only will the person interviewing you be wary of how you might be received by the rank-and-file, they may wonder if you’ll be a thorn in their side too. Bad chemistry or the inability to “click” with senior leadership at the interview is a big red flag. If they don’t like you, or think they can’t trust you, they will not hire or promote you.
Job number one to getting a better position is proving yourself capable of getting maximum results with as little friction as possible.
Dress and Act the Part
Because “perception is reality,” your appearance and demeanor must inspire confidence during the interview process – and even more so after you’re hired or promoted.
Believe it or not, peers at senior levels can be very judgmental. Even if you have a stellar track record and resume, when your executive presence is perceived as lacking, it could be a dealbreaker.
Will you be a suitable “face” for the brand? Do you command your place at the table? And if you’re not willing to show up and try with everything you possess to win this job, can you be trusted to fight tooth and nail on behalf of the company?
Just as senior levels of leadership are no place for the reckless and arrogant, the C suite is no place for the meek and faint of heart, either.
Heads of HR are looking for stability within their organizations. They will hire the person they trust the most to stick around when new challenges arise. Competencies mean nothing if trust is not present. Address questions about loyalty and commitment head-on, particularly if your household is still facing challenges with childcare or eldercare introduced during COVID.
American companies amended the social contract with employees, especially key employees, during the pandemic. People became more emboldened to negotiate for flexible hours, remote work arrangements, and generous travel accounts if they were required to be present in the office.
We’ll see the pendulum swinging in the other direction as jobs get harder to come by during recessionary times. If asked about work-life balance, explain your plan for juggling work and family. Demonstrate that you can be trusted to run a business, because you already have your own life under control.
…But Not to a Fault
Loyalty can work against you if you’re an internal candidate who has been perpetually underpaid. Published studies show Black women will average nearly a million dollars less income over a lifetime than White males. The wage gap grows over time as annual raises are given on a percentage basis. Moreover, when a candidate with a salary in the lower percentiles tries to advance in rank, their ability to handle additional responsibilities is often questioned, based solely on the perception that they must be defective if their comp is so low.
People don’t get paid what they’re worth. They get paid what they negotiate. There are ways to talk about salary requirements that do not undermine your true market value and do not paint a picture of desperation. Desperation repels corporate hiring managers.
Position Yourself for Advancement
Most of the time, being overlooked for a career opportunity isn’t about I.Q. as much as it is E.Q. That’s why we developed the inclineHR 360 Feedback Assessment; to enhance our clients’ self-awareness and help them refine how they come across in the workplace or interview setting.
Every facet of our outplacement services – mock interviews, polished resumes, maximized LinkedIn profile and networking – move the needle to increase your chances of being hired. In the end, you cannot control the conclusion someone reaches about you, but you can control all the data they receive from you to inform their decision.
It begins with becoming aware of how people perceive you today. What may be holding you back is like that little louse in Burns’ poem. You will not know it’s there until someone else tells you.
Building Exceptional Leaders