Tuesday, May 5, 2015

For Sale: Me!

As I begin my transition to civilian life, I'm faced with finding a job for the first time in 21 years. Among the many other things I've learned about job searching, I've learned the importance of selling yourself. Actually, I've learned this lesson several times in life. As important of a lesson as it is, you'd think I'd remember it more often. But, like many other things in life, I get complacent and have to learn the lesson all over again. Just keep that between us, though. I am trying to present my best side here.

I used to think that selling yourself meant being arrogant and bragging a lot. It does require a bit of arrogance and bragging, but somewhere on a level between humble and an asshole.

I'm not huge on self recognition. Sure, I like getting credit for doing something, but I'm not all about the awards and stuff. Unfortunately the Air Force is all about awards and stuff. I had no problem submitting others for awards, but I never threw my own name into the hat. I just didn't feel special enough. Plus my airmen and co workers could use the recognition more than I could. This worked fine while I was in the low to mid-level ranks. Work performance dominated my annual evaluations, so all those awards were just desk decorations. Once I started competing for the higher ranks, however, being humble became a career killer.

I thought my work performance would speak for itself. This worked well when I had supervisors that worked close with me on a daily basis. When I began a job that was a special duty, I was assigned a Captain as a supervisor. She spoke with me once a year; to discuss my evaluation. My first year I was given a 4 out of 5 for the first time in 10 years (5 was the norm). Officers (her) rating on Enlisted (me) tend to be a bit more critical of our work, primarily because we do vastly different jobs. She pointed out a few things that was holding me back. I argued a few points, but agreed that I could improve. 

The next year, I was supposed to be transferred to an Enlisted supervisor, but it never happened because the paperwork was never processed. So my yearly visit with my supervisor consisted of my annual evaluation again. And I received a 4 out of 5 again. (An aside: Getting a lower than 5 rating was especially insulting because I had to draft my own evaluations.) This time I was ready to fight for my 5. I argued about the markdowns on Leadership and Training because I helped others with jobs outside of my career field, and trained and mentored others. Her response was "If I had known that, I would have considered a higher score". I was livid because I was used to observant supervisors that noticed these subtleties. I felt it was the Captain's fault for not giving me a mid-term feedback and not properly observing or supervising me. After talking with my Senior Master Sergeant, I came to the realization that it was as much my fault as hers. I failed to sell myself and trumpet my achievements.

Not long after, I found myself single again and re-entering the dating game. Once again, I humbly filled out on-line profiles and quietly went on dates expecting my brilliance to speak for itself. I quickly remembered my earlier lesson and made it a point to advertise myself, and all I had to offer. I tried not to sit back and wait to be asked for my accomplishments. I sold myself, and subsequently moved past the first date on more occasions.

Selling yourself is about advertisement. When you see a commercial on TV, you get bombarded with all that's awesome about that product. If they've done their job right, you'll want to either buy, or know more about it. The same goes for you. Most people aren't going to ask what's so great about you. You need to bombard them with awesome. And not just the best stuff. You'd be surprised at how many "little" things make a huge impact. You volunteered to help a friend move last week? No big deal, right? To a date, that could be worth more than that time you met Wayne Brady in an elevator.

Obviously, there is a time and place for advertising your accomplishments. You only need to sell yourself when there's something to sell. The cashier at Walmart could care less about how you saved your company $100K. You do have to remember to keep selling yourself, though. Once you've landed your job, or the second date, it's not time to cut back on advertising. If anything, it's more important to keep selling yourself so they don't face "buyer's remorse". That means mentioning that you helped Carole in Accounting with her Excel issues. It means saying something about cleaning the toilet even though you weren't asked. You can't rely on others to notice your accomplishments while you humbly keep your mouth closed. Yes, in an ideal world, this would happen, but in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society, you're only as good as your last accomplishment.

Now that I'm re-entering the workforce, I'm not going to wait for people to come for me. I'm selling myself and all I have to offer. I have to remember that even though I won over and married my wife, I need to point out the things I do to remind her of why she married me. If you stop advertising, then people will eventually turn their attention to something, or someone, that is.