Are You a Basic or an Upgraded Model

It can be tough to find a new position in the workplace. Many factors come into play when you put yourself, or circumstances put you, into the job market. When you have submitted application after application with no response, or you have had interview after interview without an offer it is very frustrating. When coaching people in this situation one of the things we look at is what they are bringing to the table for the jobs they are trying to get. One thing that has been helpful to them and may be helpful to you is to think of buying a car.

The Car: The Analogy

As you are walking the car lot in search of your next car. The salesperson walking with you chatters away as they tend to do. You know what your budget is and no amount of sales talk can change that. As you stroll up and down the aisles of cars, and there are hundreds of them on the lot, one model catches your eye. You give it the once over, kick the tires, look under the hood, look in the passenger cabin and the trunk. You look as the price sticker and it seems affordable. You need transportation and this would do nicely. Just as you turn to talk price, you catch a glimpse of another model. You walk over to it and give it the once over but the salesmen starts to point out all the extras that come included with this particular model. Good, reliable transportation but with all the extras you might look for in a car…and at the same price.

You have a budget of $ 30,000 to spend and you intend to spend all of it. Now, you could buy a nice serviceable nondescript vehicle. Four tires, four doors, good motor, nice, basic, serviceable transportation that will get you from point A to point B. Nothing special, nothing flashy but serviceable. By all outward indications it will perform as expected with very little trouble.

However, for the same $30,000 you can purchase the same good, basic transportation that will fill all your basic transportation needs…but it also has all the “extras” you wanted. There are the heated leather seats with memory adjustment, power everything, state of the art sound system, Bluetooth enabled, wifi hotspot, dvd player with front and rear screens, climate control, moon roof and all the other goodies that make things fun to drive. So now you have good solid, reliable transportation with all the “goodies” that will make your drive more enjoyable.

Which will you buy? Well, if you are like most of us there is no question which one you will take. You’ll take the upgrade for the same money.

This is the choice hiring managers make every day. When faced with a choice of two candidates, both reliable, both can do the job, but one has a little more to offer in the way of skill, knowledge, or abilities they will take the “upgraded model.” Your skills and qualifications can make you either nice “basic transportation” or the “up graded model”.

Understanding which “model” you are will help you to realistically understand your prospects at getting the job you are going after.  If you only meet the minimum qualifications of the job because you have not updated your skills you may be overlooked. If you do not have a good understanding of what skills you do posses so that you can speak convincingly (sell them) as to how they relate to the qualifications being looked for in the job, you are like the “basic model”. You are good, dependable, reliable transportation, but you have none of the qualities that would make someone take notice and choose you over that individual with the “extras” the degree, the upgraded skills, the certifications, the great positive attitude. You may make a fine employee, better perhaps than any other candidate but how will you or anyone else know if you do not have the right attributes to catch the eye of the hiring manager.

Rather than discourage you, I would hope that this would inform you and encourage you. The hiring manager wants to get the most and best for their money. Your job it to assess your skills, knowledge, and abilities and make sure they align with what the job wants and your competition may have.

Perception vs. Reality

Once when in the employee of a non-profit social service type agency (touchy-feely type of place) I was called into the office of a vice president. He asked me to be seated and struck up a conversation concerning a recent meeting in which I had stated some strong opinions about the subject up for discussion. He assured me that my comments, while strong were nothing inappropriate for the type of meeting it was. However, feedback he received made it clear that some folks in the meeting were “uncomfortable” with my remarks and the conviction with which they were made. I reminded him that I had remained silent until directly asked and then asked him if what I said was wrong or off the mark in some way. His reply was “no, but” I had still made them feel uncomfortable.

Then he turned the topic of conversation to a complaint that had been made about me to the COO by another Director who was a long time friend of the COO. I had not given into a request by this Director to make use of one of my staff members whenever this Director felt the need to use her. In essence I had not given subjugated one of my human capital resources to the whims of her felt needs. Now I will be the first to tell you that I can be blunt at times. When asked my opinion I will give it in a forthright manner that will not always make you feel good. Also, I will readily admit to wanting to have a good deal to say about the resources given to me, especially when someone tries to appropriate them for their use without really consulting me.

The vice president then said these words “I don’t disagree with what you said in the meeting and I know that the other Director is a bit of a whiner and she is friends with the COO but Emmett, you’re being perceived as uncooperative. You’re getting a reputation for …” Of course I was struck by these words. Me? Uncooperative? Me?  I assured him that it was not my intent to be uncooperative and then he said “but you’re being perceived that way and you know that perception is reality, it’s the perception that counts”.

I was a bit non-plused. As I started to offer a reply he cut me off and said “You should be thankful that I’m telling you this so that you are aware of how you are being perceived.” At that point I said nothing else. I knew that it would have been futile. Thanking him for taking the time to share this with me I turned and left.

You may have heard that old maxim before or you may have been told at one point in your career that “It’s perception that counts” or you may have heard it said or even been told “Perception is reality”. You may have had it used on you in a feedback meeting similar to mine. You may have heard it in a more positive vein.  I don’t know if you agree with the sentiments of those words or not. You may very well buy into the philosophy behind those words. A philosophy that really screams “We value how we think things are, not how things really are.” and “We prefer style over substance!”

“Perception is reality”. Agree with the statement or disagree with the statement, like what it implies or don’t like what it implies, it doesn’t matter.  What does matter for your career and for your sanity is that you recognize it as an operational truth. It operates as a fact to one degree or another in every work place, at all times. It is a fact in the workplace even if it is not a fact that you except. After all your experience or what you have accomplished does not define reality … evidently the perception of other does.

So read this next part carefully, even slowly, then write it down and commit it to memory.

 “Perception is not reality. Perception is just perception. Reality is reality. However, other people’s perceptions can define (or control) your reality. What you must do is control the perceptions of others so that you control your reality.”

That’s right, agree or disagree with the statement and philosophy but learn to use it to improve your lot in the workplace and in life. How do you do that? The simple answer is by any means necessary. The reality is you have to:

  • be aware and observe
  • be wise and think
  • act and adjust accordingly

“It’s the price you pay, for the life you choose.”

First, be aware and take stock and observe how your department or organization operates in general or a particular situations. In the workplace you need to be on the lookout for and ask yourself, “What is the culture here?”, “Who has the power, the real power, to affect your career both positively and negatively?”

Secondly, raise your level of awarness. You need to get a real feel for the company and department politics, get the lay of the land. Whose turf is it? Who likes who? Who dislikes who and why? Who is allied with who and why? Stay non-partial in this discovery phase. Keep your ears open and your mouth shut. Take it all in. The things you will observe all mean something. Very little that you see or hear will be happening by accident or coincidentally and not everything will be as it appears. People in the workforce, the wise ones any way, are all working their game plan to advance their careers, protect their careers, or squash an enemy or opposition to them or their plans. Knowing these things will help you in dealing with them.

Third, be wise. After taking in all the information, reflect on it, crank up the critical thinking skills and, as you reflect on all that you have observed, constantly ask yourself this question “What does this tell me?” After you have spent some time doing that it’s time to drill down a little further and ask yourself “What are the expectations?” These expectations can be both spoken and unspoken, explicit or tacit. They can extend to things such as expectations regarding behavior between peers, towards the boss, in the hallways, in meetings, at company functions, the expectations that will make you be perceived as a “good employee” and a “valuable member” of the team.

Finally, act and adjust accordingly. Once you have gathered the information through your observations and carefully orchestrated conversations with others, have spent time reflecting on what you have learned, and developed and understanding how you can use or apply what you have learned it is then time to put it all into practice. At this point you must make a decision. You have to decide how you want to be perceived. This is one of the few choices many of you will get to make in the work place.  Make it a wise choice because you will live with the consequences for good or for ill for a very long time. This choice will directly impact your career, your future advancement, and your job satisfaction. To quote Michael Corleone in Godfather III “It’s the price you pay, for the life you choose.”

If the expectations are, in your estimation worth adhering to, implement whatever changes you need to make quickly. Act decisively whatever it is. Change your dress. Upgrade you speech. Project a positive, can do attitude. Be seen doing the “right” things, whatever those may be. Make it a point to talk to the “right” people, whoever they may be. Make sure you are always on your best corporate behavior so that no one can say anything against you. The details I leave to you, the implementation is yours to figure out. But be sure to be perceived as you want to be perceived.

One last word of advice.  As you decide whether or not to enjoin this game, you should never go against your values. While you get to make the choice on how you want to be perceived, if you will play the game, and to what extent you will play the game, in the end you have to be able to look yourself in the face every morning and to live with your decisions. You also have to be able to pay your bills. There is a balance to be struck. And remember whatever your decision … “It’s the price you pay for the life you choose.”

Me? What did I do? I took stock, made changes to what I was doing, changed their perception of me, and then started looking for a job that was a better fit for my values.