Is it possible to oversell yourself? The short answer is definitely ‘yes’. Let me explain.
When engaged in the job market or in employment endeavors in general, it is always good form to put your best foot forward. This has ramifications with the way you dress, present yourself, and communicate. Communication can be formal or informal, direct or indirect, as well as verbal or nonverbal. As we know, in today’s world, much of communication is virtual and digital. This can take the form of conversing by phone or presenting yourself “on paper”. The latter might mean by way of an email or resume, which is sent in the hopes of being considered for a specific job opportunity or in general.
That’s all great and appropriate. But, what does overselling mean and why is that not such a good thing?
By way of housekeeping, I am not referring here to misrepresenting yourself. That could be by taking credit for things you have not done, projects you did not really manage, numbers you did not achieve, or degrees/certifications which you have not (yet) earned. That would amount to fraud, which is inappropriate on a variety of levels. And in most cases, that will ultimately backfire. I am talking about stretching yourself on a level a bit more nuanced than that.
My colleague J.T. O’Donnell of Careeralism.com recently wrote about having a “crush” on a job. What that means is that for a variety of reasons, a person will see a job which looks ideal or “perfect” and fails to look beyond that opportunity. It could be the compensation, location, company, or other factors which are appealing about the job. Having a crush means that you are infatuated with the opportunity, failing to look beyond it.
A couple of things can happen when one is laser-focused on a single job to the exclusion of others. First, it will suppress any serious other prongs of a job search. Today’s job search requires investment of time, resources, and emotional capital. Being fixated on one ideal job will detract from valuable job search time that could be spent elsewhere.
Second, it will often decrease the level of objectivity when evaluating the job requirements and duties relative to what one truly brings to the table. Any gaps will be compensated for with “potential”. The problem is that hiring managers today are not searching for potential, as great of an upside that might be. They are looking for experience, in the context of finding someone who has been-there-done-that, and can start next week with minimal training.
Another manifestation of overselling comes from trying to sell yourself not for a specific job or job family, but across multiple ones. You might review the description for Job A and read yourself into it. You might to the same for Jobs B and C, when they are very different from A and dissimilar to anything which you have done recently. That might very well earn you a reputation as being all over the place, lacking focus. Furthermore, the label of “serial job applicant” might be assigned to you. I have written about the importance of “filtering” during a job search. That essentially means being selective in the jobs to which you pay attention and invest time applying to. That is certainly salient here.
Similarly, if you have an advocate for your job search by way of an “agent”, that party should also be careful not to oversell you. You might in fact tell the agent to keep you in mind for multiple scenarios. But, when that person does this indiscriminately, he/she will come across as referring you for everything from Receptionist to CEO. Depending on who your agent is, he/she has to take into account his/her credibility, professionally or otherwise. Overselling you, simply based on relationships, will not lead to a net gain for anyone in the long run.
I am not saying that you should not have career ambition. That is critical to your career trajectory. In addition, it is often necessary to be flexible and be open to go beyond your “comfort zone”. If, for example, you are by nature introverted, you might need to come out of your shell a bit. This might come in the form of self-promotion or becoming comfortable making a presentation to a large group. The key is to do this within your background and competency set. The key is to be selectively proactive in your job search. As my colleague, Marc G. says, “be realistic while aspiring”.
Furthermore, you need to have some level of flexibility, especially if your field of expertise has evaporated and you need to reinvent yourself to land your next job. This is where portable skills come in. This means that you will need to be able to leverage things you have done in the past into a new career. But, this must be done with objectivity and humility, perhaps requiring a step back.
So, in the end, we have to be honest with ourselves. We have to recognize both our strengths and limitations, and conduct our job search activities accordingly. We must understand that in many cases, especially in today’s job market, there will be “must-haves”. This requires a careful reading to the entire job posting, especially the requirements. Are those deal-breakers always correct? No, but that’s not the point. If a hiring manager or gatekeeper is evaluating your credentials against those must-haves in a literal way, they can and will be impediments to your being considered if you fall short. In some cases, you might have strengths which might cause what you are lacking to be overlooked. But in a competitive job market, employers often believe that they can set the bar high and still find candidates at that level. That’s the point. And that is why you need to set your sights accordingly.