How Honest is the Employment Landscape?
Article by 21407 Jen Causey
I recently retired from the Canadian Armed Forces after 22 years of service. In high school, I excelled. At the Royal Military College, I was appointed to the highest position an Officer Cadet could hold, and was captain of the women’s varsity soccer team. The career I had following my commissioning would be considered successful by most measures. Yet despite this, in applying for jobs upon retirement I was only successful in getting one interview. I did not get the job, though I believe the interview went well. But when I failed to get an interview for a position that the description could have been written for someone with my experience and background, I was completely flummoxed, disheartened, and dejected.
What was I doing wrong? Is it that I just cannot sell myself? Is it that I really do not have the skill set, no transferable or marketable skills? I do not believe that is the case. The more I have thought about it, the more I research, the more discouraged I am over the whole process of seeking employment. It feels fake.
It seems as if we have gotten to the point that we cannot distinguish one job applicant from another because everyone uses the same buzzwords, and we can all get people to endorse our skill sets. But I can guarantee that we are not all hard working. We are not all leaders. We are not all agents for change. We do not all excel at management, teaching, or strategic planning. However, if you want the job, you have to sell yourself. A resume may not be filled with outright lies, but there are certainly a significant amount of exaggerated truths.
When you are marketing yourself, are you being honest about what your skill sets really are, about who you really are? Or, are you focused on what you think the employer is looking for, and describing yourself in that light? If there is one thing I learned in my career, it is that the best workers, be it leader or follower, are those who do not try to be something that they are not. Faking it, trying to hide your weakness, trying to conform to something that is fundamentally not who you are will lead to failure. And that failure can come in many different forms and levels of severity. In the extreme it can be death of you or someone on your team because of a competence that you pretended to have, or it can simply be the mental fatigue of trying to “fit in” as opposed to being yourself. It can be the frustration of colleagues that recognize when someone is out of their element either by virtue of their skill set, knowledge, experience or personality. It can cause dysfunction in a team environment.
Honesty and self-awareness. This is my Achilles heel, which is ironic, because I also feel it is my greatest strength. I know who I am. I know what I am capable of, and what I am good at. More importantly, I know what I am not good at, and what my limitations are. I know that I am principled, logical and reasonable. I know that I have absolutely no poker face which makes it difficult for me hide my disagreement or confusion or frustration, perhaps why I would never go beyond middle management. I know that I thrive in an environment that is dynamic and people driven. I am honest and forthright and I know that I am primarily a talk-think-talker. If you recognize and accept that in me, you will get significant output from me. If you do not, well, perhaps I am not the right fit for your organization because we will make each other miserable. I know that degrees, certifications and professional designations are not the only indicator of intelligence. I know that I am smarter than the average bear, but probably never the smartest in any room, no matter who else is in that room. I know that I am a procrastinator, but that I am task driven and competitive. I will meet a deadline, I work better under pressure, and I can be very efficient. I know I can lead people, very effectively in fact. But I am also aware that that can be a problem when I am dissenting, when I do not subscribe to the vision. I had a Squadron Commander at Military College say to me, “Jen, people will follow you. But the problem is that they will follow you right off a cliff as well. You are great when you are on our team, but if you decide you are going in another direction, that’s trouble.” He was right. And I am probably not doing a great job of selling myself by sharing that, but I would suggest otherwise. I’m being honest. I can lead. I have a strong sense of right and wrong, fair and unfair. And if it is wrong or unfair, I struggle. I dissent, and it takes an even stronger leader to make it right. I respect honest and up front leaders who are not afraid to deliver a message I might not like. I can get over bad news, but I struggle to get past working for someone who lacks the gumption to be straightforward with me.
Writing this article has been a cathartic experience for me. I have taken a risk, and have exposed myself to the workforce. Maybe I am wrong, maybe I am not a good fit to employers in the civilian world and I lack self-awareness as much as the next person. Perhaps my observations are a function of my naivety and lack of experience in the civilian and corporate world. And should I seek employment elsewhere down the road, maybe this article will hurt me, but maybe not. Either way, I’ve been true to myself, and I can sleep well at night because of that. I know that if I have sold you on me, it comes with a guarantee because I haven’t hidden anything or misrepresented myself. Imagine how different the employment landscape would be if we all exercised a bit of honesty.
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