By: Diana Tullio, Business Technology Strategist, Aileron

“The greater our knowledge increases the more our ignorance unfolds.” -John F. Kennedy

“Our knowledge is a little island in a great ocean of nonknowledge.” -Isaac Bashevis Singer

Why is it that we believe that not knowing everything is a sign of weakness? Who actually knows everything? It sounds crazy, but this is something that I hear from people a lot. People that are smart, accomplished, and successful. I’ve been susceptible to feeling this way myself at times.

Take this situation for example:

You are called to come in for an interview for a job that you really want. You read through the job description, and you know in your heart that you have the experience and knowledge to rock it. Man, this job is perfect for you! The day of the interview you are a nervous mess. You sweat waiting for your name to be called to talk with the hiring manager. You say to yourself, “Why on Earth did I fool myself into thinking I could bluff my way through this interview? What if this person realizes I’m a fake and busts me on it?” You make it through the interview… barely. No one arrested you for falsifying your experience or knowledge, but you still have a lingering feeling that you pushed yourself beyond your rights to go for this great opportunity.

I know that I have been in this situation before. What about you? You may have gotten the job and felt that you “pulled it off”, or you may not have gotten the job and felt that the interviewer saw through you but was too polite to tell you in person. If you didn’t get it, is it possible, you were qualified, but you didn’t seem committed to wanting to make the change to the role that the hiring manager was looking to fill?

I recently had lunch with a very talented person that has a ton of experience and knowledge in a highly sought-after skill set and industry. This individual talked with passion about his work, and he showed a love of learning and self-motivation that gained him invaluable experience that any company would love to have in their organization. My lunch date went on to tell me that he wanted to grow and take on more responsibility in another organization, but… 

I was stumped by this abrupt change in demeanor. When I asked him about his hesitation, he said he was terrified that someone would see through him and realize that he didn’t have the right college degree or time in the industry. 

There are so many things that are concerning about a potential epidemic of self-doubt in the workplace. After being on both sides of the interview table, I can see the potential damage from the perspective of the professional and the potential employer:

Qualified Professional

  • Being stuck in a job that is no longer challenging or helping grow you into your next best self
  • Beginning to dread going to work in your current workplace
  • Not sharing your ideas that make you stand out and could make a difference in improving your current or future companies
  • Not even attempting to pursue a role because you don’t think you meet the requirements in the job description (maybe even one requirement you don’t have)
  • Thinking that there will ever be a time that your knowledge and experience will be complete versus embracing and leveraging your curiosity for what is still to be known and experienced

Potential Employer

  • Not getting the best candidates to apply for your needed roles
  • Getting candidates that are afraid to show their true capabilities in interviews with you
  • Retaining employees that should move on to grow their talent even if it is not with you
  • Discounting candidates that have proven their passion for learning and applying themselves successfully in previous roles but don’t exactly fit your job description

We all get it that employers want to ask for the moon when they have a position to fill. After all, why settle?  The luxury of having the ability to add to the team doesn’t present itself as often as we would like.  On the other hand, jobs are going unfilled and costing employers greatly for long recruitment timelines and missing out on critical employees needed on the team. According to CareerBuilder.com, 68% of employers can’t fill their positions (https://resources.careerbuilder.com/news-research/employers-cant-fill-open-positions) due to the perception that they can’t find qualified candidates.

Perhaps we are looking at this situation with a flawed lens. What if a qualified candidate is one with:

  • Enough experience and training in the targeted role to be effective but maybe not an expert day one?
  • A proven track record for a passion to learn and experience?
  • Ambition to take on more responsibility?
  • A predisposition to not settle that they know enough?
  • The desire to make the company better through efficiency and effectiveness by questioning why things are done the way they are based on observation and data?
  • A cultural fit, and an effective collaborator that pulls out the strengths of team mates and business partners?

It takes more work to vet out these types of qualities in a candidate. These are not things that jump off the page of the resume. They are things that can be expressed by a confident candidate and drawn out by a curious interviewer. They are also things that a current employer can vouch for easily if they realize that promoting great talent wherever they may be going is good for everyone involved.

Some of the best talent in the marketplace may not fit the automatic screening filter on the resume application. That is a great shame, but it is encouragement for us to look beyond the exact words in the job description and to be insatiably curious about our prospects.  I will leave you with these two insightful quotes on curiosity and experience.  

“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” – Albert Einstein

“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” – Paulo Coelho

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