Can You Prove That You're Amazing?

You have to do more than make claims - Issue #81

If you’ve ever been on an interview team, you know that the savvy candidates will talk about their love for your domain, company, and product. They know that it is something that they should say during an interview.

When I was a Director of UX at eBay, I can remember a few candidates who told me that they enjoyed using eBay as a buyer.

“Oh, I just love eBay! It’s my favorite place to find great deals.”

I’m sure you’ve experienced this with your interview candidates. The only problem is that you check out their account (or social media profiles, blog, etc.), and you uncover zero evidence of that passion.

They claim that they love using your product, but you only see a few transactions over the past few years.

They claim that they have a passion for your domain, yet they’ve never mentioned it once on Twitter.

They’ve never written a blog post about your industry. You search all of their profiles and websites, but you can’t find any proof that their stated passion exists.

Hiring managers and interview teams aren’t stupid.

Just because you say that you care about something doesn’t mean that you do. I tell my clients that they need to demonstrate their expertise and have proof of their passion.

Don’t just claim it. You have to show it!

What do you claim as your expertise?

What domain do you know inside and out? What skills can you claim as your expertise?

Include the knowledge and skills you’ve acquired through formal vocational training, college, independent coursesinternships, and apprenticeships. These programs tend to provide official certifications, credentials, or diplomas (e.g., a Nanodegree from Udacity).

This formal training will help back up your claims of expertise. The credentials of a program remain one of the core values of an advanced degree (that and the network you acquire). It demonstrates that you’ve received specialized education and training to develop this expertise.

However, many of us did not receive formal training for our current professions. Or, our careers slowly evolved and moved into different domains and responsibilities.

So, you may have developed your expertise on the job over the years. Your skills and experience create the foundation of your expertise, but you may not be able to point to some degree or certification as an easy way to claim it.

This is when references, testimonials, and portfolios can come into play. The truth is that these are better indicators of your talent, knowledge, and expertise than some paper diploma. But, the burden is on you to compile this proof.

Create a list of your most notable and valuable talents, strengths, skills, and knowledge. You may be a jack or jill of all trades, but companies rarely want someone who claims they can do everything.

Even rarer is the individual who truly is great at everything (i.e., a unicorn). Instead, you should focus, rank, and ruthlessly force the best to the top to use as the proof that you’re a fantastic hire.

What is your passion?

Expertise is an essential part of what you will demonstrate. But, passion also comes into play.

You can do what the job requires, but do you want to work in this industry, at this company, and on this specific product?

Do you care about the community you would serve? Do you believe in the company’s mission?

We all have several personal and professional passions. While your passions might be exciting, if they don’t intersect with your professional expertise, set them aside for this effort. Focus on the professional.

Your professional passions will most likely be related to your claimed expertise. After all, we tend to spend time learning and working on things that interest us.

Take things up a few levels to clearly define your “Why.” Ultimately, why do you do what you do?

Sometimes, people will laugh at the thought of interview questions like this:

  • What is your passion?

  • Why do you want to work here?

They’ll say, “My passion is to receive a steady paycheck. I want to work here because I need the money.

You probably won’t get the job if you answer like that, even if you are thinking it. But, more importantly, you’re shortchanging yourself with that attitude.

As you may have read in one of my previous newsletters, I do think that it is simplistic to try to “follow your passion” to make a living. Work is still work. Rarely can someone take something that they view as recreation or play and turn that into a regular paycheck.

However, you can align things that professionally interest you with job opportunities so that you end up doing fulfilling work that helps you learn and grow.

The question is: does anyone even know what your professional passions are? Have you revealed them, or are they locked away inside your head?

If you want to prove that you’re passionate about something, there must be evidence that others can see.

Demonstrate it

Now it’s time to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk. Show, don’t tell. 

Find the overlap between your claimed expertise and professional passion. Create a list of areas that you’d like to explore, bring to life, and discuss as a way of demonstrating that intersection.

For example:

  • If you’re a designer who loves the music industry, design the ultimate music experience that a true aficionado would adore. Put this passion project in your online portfolio as a concept piece.

  • If you’re an engineer who has a passion for sustainable agriculture, create a simple online service that lets people find local produce that comes from farms that have embraced sustainable farming.

  • If you’re a product manager who keeps her eye on artificial intelligence, start writing articles on Medium about the future of work where AI will have the most significant impact and the trends in the industries that are already incorporating it.

We all know that our real-world projects don’t always turn out the way we envisioned.

Trade-offs had to be made to ship on time. Technical limitations didn’t enable the exact experience you wanted. Or, the project launched as expected, but changed into something quite different over time (every consultant has experienced this frustration).

So, one of the most important things you can do is show how you think.

That’s one reason that I love writing on Medium and publishing this newsletter. Anyone can write stories as frequently as they want, with the opportunity to reach a broad, discerning audience who will often engage in discussion in the comments.

If writing isn’t your thing, you may want to explore podcasting. Sixty-seven million Americans listen to podcasts every month.

If getting started with a podcast seems overwhelming, create a vlog using your smartphone, and start sharing videos on YouTube or Instagram.

Pick your format (design, coding, writing, audio, video), choose your primary destination to build an audience, and just get started.

Demonstrate your clear passion. Show how you think. Have an opinion.

Be consistent with your professional presence on social media. Build a body of work that lends credibility to your expertise.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.

Don’t just walk into an interview and claim that you’re an expert. Don’t talk about your passion, yet have zero evidence online that it exists. 

Build a foundation of proof that speaks for itself.

When the interviewing manager and team research everything they can find about you online — and they will — they should be able to discover how you think. Your passions should be evident, and they should see real examples of the expertise that you will bring to the table when they hire you.

Lasting career success

You will be more successful in your job search if you tangibly demonstrate proof of your talent, knowledge, and skills. However, this is the gift that can keep on giving.

Your career won’t successfully evolve if you rest on your laurels. Every promotion and new job hunt later will be easier if you continue to build on the story of your expertise and passion.

Developing a body of work and growing an audience of followers is an effortful process, to be sure. But it will build momentum.

If you stop after you land a job, you’ll be faced with the cold-start problem again later. Think of it like a flywheel that will continue to return positive energy into your career progress.

Leverage your momentum, keep adding chapters to the Story of You, and you’ll never struggle to provide evidence of your talent and expertise again. People will see the proof that you are amazing and want to work with you.

Do the following Career Tips interest you?

  • Why having a creative outlet is essential in your stressful life.

  • How you can leverage the first few minutes in a job interview to your advantage, or risk being rejected within seconds.

  • Why you will face age discrimination at some point in your career, and how you can overcome it.

  • Why you can’t rely on external validation, and what you should do instead.

Don’t Forget: I will be hosting a meetup next week in Palo Alto on Friday, Dec 13th. Sign up today and join us!

What I’ve been writing

  • In Are You Ready for Immortality?, I shared some crucial truths about growing older and the implications for your career and retirement. What would you do differently if you knew that you might live forever? Would you change how you take care of yourself now to maximize the enjoyment of your life later? How would your career decisions change if you knew that you wouldn’t retire?

  • I also wrote about how to Use Your Power and Influence to Help Others. More likely than not, you are in a position of power and influence to be someone’s supporter and defender. It could be a friend, a family member, your children, or your employees. It is your responsibility to use your power to defend and help others when you are in a position to do so.

  • Finally, in How to Take Back Your Power at Work, I shared 10 steps to reclaim your personal power and never give it up again. A fear of pushing back on your manager, or even having a conversation about workload and priorities, is a symptom of a power imbalance. People are afraid to question their bosses. They don’t want to look like a complainer, sabotage their chance for a promotion, or risk losing their job.