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Why Selling Yourself Doesn't Get You the Job

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How many times have you been told you need to “sell yourself” in an interview? Or maybe a mentor passed on some sage advice about “selling yourself” internally to get a promotion.

It’s advice we’ve all heard before, and it’s wrong. Here’s why.

What comes to mind when I say the word sales?

Pushy, sleazy, fake, manipulative, used car salesman, The Wolf on Wall Street?

Unfortunately, due to the poor selling habits we’ve been subject to over the years, this is the image that comes to most people’s minds. I’ll admit that was one reason I got into marketing – because I hated sales.

What if you thought of selling differently though? What if it could look like a conversation where two people shared stories? Wouldn’t seem like a sales conversation, right?

It’s not nice to brag

One reason why people don’t like to talk about themselves in an interview is that we’re told it’s not nice to brag. Yet in an interview, it’s expected to talk about your achievements. This is not the same as bragging although it may feel like it to most of you.

The definition of bragging is overexpressing your value. And it’s not what you should be doing in an interview. You’re not going to say “I’m the best thing that your company has ever seen,” as that will get you shown to the door pretty fast.

This is precisely why selling yourself doesn’t work in interviews. People don’t like to be sold, but they like to buy. The same is true in recruitment. Hiring managers don’t want to hire someone who is like “look at me, aren’t I great?”

However, hiring managers will get excited about someone who can share a good story about what they did and why it’s important to them (or their company).

Think about how you tell someone about a great day you had at work. It’s usually with genuine enthusiasm and passion, right? That is the same attitude you need to approach in your interview.

So you don’t need to “sell yourself” in interviews. You simply need to share stories and show how they are important to the interviewer.

You’re irrelevant

Whether you’re going for a job or a promotion, when you concentrate on selling yourself you could likely be setting yourself up for failure. This is because you’re not taking into account how your skills and experience fit into that next opportunity.

Too often we rehearse what we want to make sure the hiring manager wants to hear and forget about how that relates to the job.

Your hard work may not be recognized but your potential will

On the internal side, people often have the misconception that their hard work will simply be recognized and they will get a promotion. In reality, it’s far from the truth.

When you’re too busy getting stuff done, it often barely gets noticed. This is because you’re too busy doing and not doing enough communicating. And this is when we’re often told you need to always be “selling yourself.” Selling yourself, in this case, is not going to help either.

A set of studies conducted by Stanford’s Zakary Tormala and Jayson Jia and Harvard Business School’s Michael Norton showed an unconscious preference for potential over documented success.

I know it seems counter-intuitive since believing in potential over proven success is quite risky. There are no guarantees, right? However according to these findings, the potential for success, as opposed to actual success, is more interesting because it is less certain.

So instead of keeping your nose to the grindstone, look up and volunteer for projects that get you visibility and challenge your skill set at the same time. There is a reason companies tend to invest in programs for emerging leaders. The more people see your potential the more likely you’ll be considered for a promotion.

In the end authenticity wins

Although the phrase “sell yourself” is popular when it comes to furthering your career, most people try too hard and fail in the execution. “Selling yourself” in interviewing, internally or externally, comes down to showing the real you and how you’re relevant to the future of the organization. That’s when you’ll win the role!

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