RockIt Careers

Be Confident About Your Competence

When I was a Recruiter interviewing candidates, I could tell in their voice and the way they carried themselves who was confident in what they were able to offer to the organization and who wasn’t. Most of the time it wasn’t because they lacked ability, but because they had been out of work and had gotten rejected several times. They had lost their mojo and it was showing.

As a career consultant, we ask our clients to write down everything they’ve ever done – both professionally and personally –  that they were proud of. One of our clients, who was having a difficult time with her job search and was losing faith in herself, wrote three pages of accomplishments down. The next time we met, she came in with her list smiling. She told us, “I didn’t realize how much I’ve done until I put it down on paper.” She was highly competent, but didn’t realize it, which resulted in having low confidence in herself. After this simple exercise, her confidence reversed.

Now she was confident in her competence.

Today we’re going to talk about the interplay between competence and confidence and how to leverage both of them to boost your career.

Confidence vs. Competence: Which is More Important?

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Confidence and competence are both equally important. Unfortunately, we often put greater emphasis on confidence as being the key to success. But who else out there has had to work with someone extremely cocky, but then when you see them perform, you’re thinking “Well, that was underwhelming.” In my years of recruiting, this is a common complaint hiring managers have post-hire. They feel like they were fooled. In truth, they weren’t. These people truly felt they were all that and a bag of chips. In reality, however, not so much. They weren’t lying. They just didn’t reflect reality of the outside world. It was all in their heads. It’s a quick way to develop a bad reputation.

Then there are the “hidden gems” who, when we interview them, seem to be excessively hard on themselves. They’re able to demonstrate that they can do the job, but really downplay their successes. When we hire these folks, we’re pleasantly surprised. We shouldn’t be though. Being overly-critical  pushes these folks to work hard and strive for the best. But this comes at a price. First of all, if they don’t hide their insecurities, they’ll be viewed as fragile – someone people won’t like working with. Also, when they are so harsh on themselves, they tend to burn themselves out trying to constantly do better – but it will never be enough. However, because they are perfectionists, and there are times when they take longer to complete their work, which can impact them negatively.

Generally speaking, we should all want to have an appropriate level of both confidence and competence – where we truly understand who we are and our ability levels. Unfortunately, about half  of us don’t demonstrate this balance. We’re either overly confident or overly critical. That’s why it’s so important to get feedback from others and take it seriously so we have a better understanding of how good we actually are. If we think more highly of ourselves than others do, it’s time to dial back our confidence and focus on our competence. If people think more highly of us and our work than we do ourselves, we should be a little more forgiving to ourselves and be more confident that we can do the job.

It’s easier said than done, I realize that. But in the long-term, build a system that will help you have a realistic picture of yourself through the feedback you’re receiving from family, friends, co-workers, and bosses. In time, you’ll reach the balance.

Build Your Confidence by Building Your Competence

Some of us are naturally confident, but for all the rest of us, we build our confidence in what is called a confidence loop. I’ll describe it using an the example of a person asked to give a presentation.


Step 1: Initial Confidence Level

Some people will step in this assignment with a high degree of confidence, some will have low confidence in their capabilities, and others will fall somewhere in between. This initial level of confidence will determine how much drive you have to prepare for their presentation.

Step 2: Preparation

A person with a high degree of confidence will probably believe they’ll be fine and will forgo a lot of practice ahead of time. Someone with low confidence, however, will probably work really hard to prevent themselves from blowing it.

Step 3: Performance

Now we see the person’s competence on full-display. Their actual ability and the level of preparation they’ve put into it will determine how well the presentation is going to go. If they didn’t practice, they better hope that their natural abilities to present carry them through. Usually, though, winging it is a bad strategy. However, the person who does a lot of practice to feel ready, will more times than not perform well and impress the audience.

Step 4: Reputation

This is the cold, harsh reality. The audience will see their performance as either good or bad and this becomes a data point on audience’s impression of the presenter. A good performance builds the presenter’s reputation. A bad performance, obviously, hurts their reputation. This will come through in the feedback given afterwards.

Step 5: New Confidence Level

When the presenter receives that feedback, their confidence level will likely change up or down depending on what they hear. This feedback also leads to future actions. Getting negative feedback, painful as it may be, will prompt a person to work harder and be better prepared next time. Good feedback will encourage a person to take on a new challenges and opportunities.

So long as the person stays true to themselves, their career will blossom. But the minute they get too big for their britches, they’ll stumble. Peter Drucker had a term that I love about this type of situation. He proposed that people get “promoted to the point of incompetence.” For example, we’ve all run into a manager or two who we can’t figure out how they got to the position they are in. Their confidence exceeded their abilities once they reached that level. In due time, through the loop we just discussed, this will be corrected. In the meantime, unfortunately, we have to work under them.

Use Your New Knowledge in Your Career Search

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When you are seeking a new job or new career, you need to remember, the recruiters and hiring managers you interact with are prone to select someone who presents themselves with a high level of confidence. They assume that confidence a sign of competence (which we now know, is not the case). To get around this, you want to make sure that you’re exuding your confidence based on your competence. Even though we’ve all been programmed to be humble, when you are the job search, this is the worse advice you can take. So long as you have the facts to back you up, even the most humble person can show their confidence outwardly.

To do this, take stock in all that you’ve done so you have a true picture of yourself and all your accomplishments. There’s a pretty good chance that you’ve done more than you realized. Having a list of accomplishments that shows your competence is guaranteed to increase your confidence.

That confidence will carry you positively into your networking and and interviewing. You’ll speak with more assurance in yourself and have tangible examples that back up what you’re saying. You’re definitely going to raise interest in you. Your stock will soar!

So be confident with your competence.

About RockIt Career Consultation Services

At RockIt Career Consultation Services, our mission is to help you discover your true strengths and use these strengths to set your course to something more rewarding and exciting in your career.

We will guide you on what job or career best suits you and then help you market yourself through your resume, your networking strategies, your interview skills, and your negotiation to ensure that you are doing something you love and are maximizing your earning potential. Throughout, we will be there to keep you motivated and determined.

We’d love to help you launch your career and encourage you to learn more about the services we can provide you on your path to a more prosperous future. With our help, you will become the applicant every company wants to hire!