Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Secret Excuse - A Personal Example

We've talked at length about the stories we tell other people. Now, it's time to change focus and talk briefly about the stories we tell ourselves.

Today's lesson comes not from the world of professional development, but from the world of dating. If you are wondering what this has to do with marketing yourself, keep reading because I am about to share one of the most valuable insights I have ever learned. I will also share a very personal example to illustrate my point.

When it comes to achieving our goals-—personal or professional--there will always be obstacles that stand in the way and threaten our sense of who we are and what we are capable of achieving. Some of the obstacles are real and quantifiable. Others are based on the limiting beliefs we have developed over the years. Because there may be a small element of truth to limiting beliefs, they often dictate our expectations and, therefore, our reality.

David DeAngelo, creator of a program called Double Your Dating, calls these limiting beliefs The Secret Excuse. The Secret Excuse typically relates to factors beyond our control that we use to explain, usually to ourselves, our lack of success. For example, Secret Excuses might include:

• I’m too short.
• I’m too fat.
• I’m not successful enough.
• I’m too ugly.
• My hair is too stringy.
• I'm not geographically desirable.

If we give our attention, energy, and focus to these secret excuses, the universe will deliver, right to our doorstep, examples that confirm their truth. This is the Law of Attraction at work. In other words, if we think we aren’t successful enough, we are likely to encounter an endless array of potential partners who are looking for someone who can provide a higher level of financial security.

But the Secret Excuse is just that, an excuse. It can only threaten our sense of self and confidence if we let it. If we dedicate our attention, energy, and focus to finding examples that contradict our Secret Excuse, we can find evidence to support that as well. This often clarifies the difference between objective reality and a harmful, self-limiting belief.

At 5’9”, I am not what one might consider tall. Hence, for years my Secret Excuse was “I won’t be successful in dating because I am too short.” I truly believed that the women I wanted to date wouldn’t find me attractive because I was less than 6’ tall. In my darkest moments, I catastrophized and convinced myself I would therefore never be truly happy or successful.

Rather than accept that being too short might an issue SOME of the time, I turned it into a Secret Excuse with the expectation that it would be an issue ALL of the time. As the author of Learned Optimism, Martin Seligmann, might say, my interpretation was “personal, permanent, and pervasive.” In other words, “It’s me, it’s going to last forever, and it’s going to impact everything I do.” Talk about pessimistic.

Once I came to terms with the fact that this Secret Excuse was standing in the way of my freedom to be myself, I made the decision to actively search for evidence that contradicted it. Not long afterwards, I hit it off and briefly dated two women who were over 6'2". One was 6’5”!. In light of the fact that most women are not even close to being that tall, the experience served as powerful evidence to discount my Secret Excuse.

You might be wondering what this has to do with marketing yourself. As it happens, I see secret--and in some cases not-so-secret--excuses at play all the time:

• I'm too old. No one will hire me.
• I don't have enough experience.
• I've been out to the game too long.

And on it goes.

The last example, "I've been out of the game too long" is the favorite Secret Excuse of women returning to the workforce after being stay-at-home moms.

What do all these examples have in common. They are EXCUSES. They are the stories people tell themselves to justify their inability to reach their goals. That's not what marketing yourself is all about. Marketing yourself successfully is about finding EVIDENCE to support your interest in a particular area and telling a compelling story that underscores why your goal is the Next Logical Step in your personal and/or professional development.

Here's my challenge to you:

Do some intensive soul searching and make a list of your Secret Excuses. Once you have the list, start looking for evidence that CONTRADICTS these limiting beliefs. Once you look for it, you'll find it everywhere. And when you do, send me an email and tell me about it. My email is Write "Secret Excuse Success Story" in the subject line.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Ineffective Interviewer

I firmly believe the responsibility for accurately and effectively communicating your story rests with you. Having said that, there are certain hindrances you will almost certainly face along the way. As strange as it might seem, one of these hindrances is the person who most needs you to communicate powerfully--the interviewer.

How could this be? Why would the interviewer stand in the way of you and your story?

The behavior I am referring to is a lot more insidious than the typical, confrontational interviewer who does everything conceivable to make you feel uncomfortable. In his or her own way, that interviewer is also making it more challenging to communicate your story. But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about interviewers who unconsciously sabotage the interview by asking off-topic questions. In my book and in my seminars, I talk at length about interviewers who ask stupid questions like, "What are your weaknesses?" and "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" So, I won't repeat myself here. What I am talking about is much more subtle.

I was recently hired by a company to coach employees to be more effective interviewers. In the sessions, I did an exercise in which we did a mock interview and tracked the questions that were asked. What happened was not an isolated event, but a scenario that plays itself out in countless interviews everyday.

The first observation I made was that the number of questions asked in a 30 minute period averaged close to 20. If that seems like a lot, it is. As often happens, many of the questions were closed-ended. In other words, they required only a yes/no or short-answer response. While this approach to questioning is undoubtedly ineffective, that wasn't the most serious issue.

After 30 minutes, I stopped the mock interview and asked one simple question:

"What are the most important qualities you look for in a candidate for this particular position?"

Each time, the interviewers responded with a list of 4 or 5 qualities deemed critical for a successful candidate. With these qualities in mind, we reviewed the list of questions they had just asked. In each case, there were only one or two questions that were even tangentially related to the most important qualities sought by the company. In other words, the interviewers weren't asking the right questions.

I have witnessed the same scenario play itself out many times. The results are almost always the same. Interviewers do themselves and the candidates a disservice by taking the conversation in unhelpful directions.

What can you do about it?

As a candidate, it is absolutely essential to approach the interview with a simple 3-part strategy.

1) Know what qualities are important to the company. (Do your homework!)
2) Know what you have done to demonstrate those qualities.
3) Find ways to answer even off-topic questions with examples that communicate what the interviewer really needs to know.

Easier said than done, I know. It's going to take more effort on your part, but if you want the job or promotion, it's worth it.