WALL STREET JOURNAL ON WHAT TO DO IF YOU 'OVERSOLD' YOURSELF AS A LEADER.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: July 2, 2002
How to Sell Your Skills and Stick to Reality
By JOANN S. LUBLIN
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Position Wanted: High-level manager. Will achieve results fast and solve
impossible problems with ease.
In a sour employment market, anxious job seekers often promise more than
they can deliver.
Bad idea. There's a difference between showing you have the confidence
to use your skills to work on a
higher level, and overselling your capabilities. The latter can shorten
your tenure. "You end up having the
least respect for these people because you had such high hopes for them,"
says Jullian D. Kaufman, an
executive-development consultant in New York.
Certain corrective steps might help you survive this career quagmire. The
most important: Recognize
you're not fulfilling pledges made during your job interview.
"Figure out what is really going on -- and then fix it fast," advises Peter
Warshaw, a New York senior
consultant for RHR International, an executive-coaching firm.
Confess your shortcomings to your boss. She could become a crucial resource
-- by arranging the extra
training, funding or staff needed to stretch into your over-ambitious assignment.
Andrew Sutherland persuaded Dinte Resources, a small search firm in McLean,
Va., to hire him in 1998.
He cited his executive-recruitment experience in his native Australia.
Actually, the unemployed young
man had experience limited to middle managers.
"I guess I was using the term [executive] loosely," Mr. Sutherland concedes.
"I was keen and hungry to
do the job."
But he couldn't do it. Mr. Sutherland soon informed firm president Paul
Dinte about his background, his
lack of confidence, and his commitment to succeed there. Mr. Dinte agreed
to mentor him. He let Mr.
Sutherland watch him conduct candidate interviews, created stringent goals
(such as making 30 calls a
day) and frequently monitored his progress.
Mr. Dinte says he shared responsibility for the misunderstanding. "The
kind of recruiting he had done
before was very different than the kind we did in the U.S.," he says.
Today, the 27-year-old recruiter really knows how to do an executive search,
Mr. Dinte reports. "He's
probably the best hire I've ever made."
Another remedy for getting in over your head is to revise your marching
orders. "Create a more realistic
mandate," suggests Dr. Laurence J. Stybel and Maryanne Peabody, co-founders
of STYBEL PEABODY
You might also solicit support from a trusted colleague. Robert Mercer,
chief information officer of
Software Spectrum, a software reseller in Garland, Texas, was hired partly
because he claimed strong
But Mr. Mercer was causing friction at the company. "My bulldog approach
was at odds with the
company," he says. He pounded the table so hard during one meeting that
the blow disconnected his
Software Spectrum CEO Judy Odom chastised him about such behavior, but
didn't feel misled by his
job-interview assurances because "his leadership style had worked where
he was before."
In the late 1990s, the concern paid for Mr. Mercer to have leadership training
for the first time. He also
sought help from fellow executive Lisa Stewart, one of several peers who
had complained about him. At
his request, she sat near him during meetings and signaled -- often clearing
her throat -- when he got
"The instantaneous feedback was critical," says Mr. Mercer, 50. He still
depends on Ms. Stewart's
vigilance. But now, "he's a well-respected officer," says Keith Coogan,
president of Software Spectrum.
It's best to learn how to promote yourself from the start. Curt Mason lasted
only nine months as
sales-and-marketing vice president of a suburban Maryland software developer
because he couldn't meet
his promise to double sales in a year.
"Those of us in sales tend to be very optimistic," the 56-year-old executive
The setback tamed his hubris. Subsequently, Mr. Mason told potential employers
that he had to do
additional research to see if he could meet certain goals.
Thanks to such homework, he exceeded expectations at an Arlington, Va.,
media-services concern --
and won a promotion within 60 days.
Updated July 2, 2002