Psychology Today: Here To Help


                      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
                      LINCOLNSHIRE. (

                      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
                      leadership skills.

                      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
                      conference call.

                      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 explains.

                      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