Excerpted from Confidence by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, PhD. Reprinted by arrangement with Hudson Street Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, a Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, 2013.
Although there are hundreds of skills and millions of jobs, your employability depends on a fairly small set of criteria. In fact, the main criterion is always the same, namely whether you seem employable to your boss, client, or contractor. Employability, then, is an attribution someone makes about your likelihood to contribute positively to her business, or to help her attain her own commercial interests. To be employable means to be perceived as an attractive business partner or employee by a client or boss. So, why are some people perceived as more employable than others? The answer comes in the form of three things top performers do better.
#1: Display Competence
Top performers always come across as more competent or able. Of course, you may seem competent in certain domains but incompetent in others. However, what matters is how competent a potential employer or client thinks you are in relation to work-relevant tasks. The question here concerns your occupational expertise, your know-how, your reputation for solving problems related to the job in question. This is what people assess when they inspect your résumé, qualifications, or credentials. If you went to a good university or outline a number of useful skills and accomplishments in your résumé (e.g., languages, computer skills, driver’s license), employers will assume that you are competent in those domains. Of course, this may not be the case, because there are no perfect measures of an individual’s performance until, well … they actually perform. Instead, the best employers can do is make informed, data-based predictions– taking into account your résumé, interview performance, test results, etc. Develop a strong résumé: Spend time on it and get feedback and opinions from other people on what they believe it says about you. Ultimately it is about being proactive in displaying your competence. Practice interviews, become informed, train in different software, and become an expert!
Whether you have worked hard enough to demonstrate competence or not, you still need to ensure that you seem competent to others. Demonstrating competence is 10 per cent of the achievement equation, namely your performance; the remaining 90 per cent is your preparation. Assuming that you prepare as much as you possibly can, all you need is to ensure that you don’t underperform too much. However, with proper preparation you can even get away with under-performance. For instance, people with high IQs will score high on IQ tests even if they are distracted when they take the test.
Additionally, if a person has spent weeks studying the minutiae of a potential employer and learned all there is to know about how the company operates, even if on the day of his interview he is suddenly overcome with panic and fear, it will be evident he knows what he is talking about when asked questions relating to the company. His underperformance in the interview is likely to be forgotten because of his obvious level of preparation. The fact of the matter is, when you are very knowledgeable on a subject, it’s not generally difficult to demonstrate your knowledge to others, even when nerves make you forget the odd fact. Your achievement depends on your performance, but your performance depends on your preparation, which, you’ll remember, is negatively affected by confidence. Once you are competent at something, others will often notice it. However, if you lack competence, there are still occasions when you will be able to fool others (especially those not very good at judging people’s competence) into believing that you are competent.
When you perform, it is useful to fake confidence because it will make you seem more competent to others. Failing to do so is like not exaggerating on your résumé–because most people will assume that you are exaggerating. Only people with undisputed expert credentials can afford not to brag. Moreover, true experts are able to demonstrate competence by faking low confidence or modesty. For instance, the Twitter bio of Malcolm Gladwell, one of the most successful nonfiction authors of our time, originally read, “Staff writer for New Yorker magazine. I’ve also written some books,” and now reads – even more modestly–“Curious journalist.” If you want more examples, just tune in to the Academy Awards ceremony and listen to the various acceptance speeches: The most common denominator is the alleged humility of the winners, but that’s only because they have won. In order to be “humble in victory,” one first needs to be victorious–however, faking modesty is now so common among experts that it is often a good strategy for faking competence, a sort of double bluffing. So, here’s my advice:
When you are competent, fake modesty.
When you are not, fake competence.
And if you cannot fake competence, then try to fake confidence.