Reasons To Avoid Overselling Your Skills
There’s a big temptation to pitch your skills hard to prospective employers and to try to convince them that your expertise matches what they’re seeking. That’s fine and well — job candidates should make the best case possible for why they’d be a good fit for a position. Yet sometimes that pitch extends into the territory of overselling your skills and promising more than you’re likely to deliver.
Like so many things in job hunting and career planning in general, it’s all about degrees. There’s a fine line between appropriately describing your skills and crossing over into a too-good-to-be-true sales pitch. That’s why it is important to carefully research an opening — especially the job duties — before you throw your hat into the ring for it, so that you are confident that your skills are a fairly good match. Very rarely will the job description appear to be a “ideal” fit for your skills, experience and talents, but that’s okay — employers don’t necessarily expect that.
Here are some reasons to avoid overselling your skills on your resume or cover letter, and especially in job interviews:
*If you get the job, you’re unlikely to succeed at it. Often job candidates are so focused on landing a position that they don’t think ahead to how they’re likely to perform at it. If you’ve oversold your skills, in a few weeks you’re likely to find that there are duties your boss expects you to handle that are out of your reach. If some of these are fairly minor — say, learning a new editing or layout system you claimed you had mastered in the past – it may be no big deal and you can come up to speed with some training and help from colleagues. Yet if, for instance, you claim to have “social networking marketing expertise,” which frankly consists of spending a lot of time on Facebook and Twitter but with no real experience creating a social networking business plan for a company, you may end up wishing you’d never taken this job. No amount of help from your new colleagues may be able to help you then, and they’re likely to become frustrated with your lack of skills in this area and also that you claimed to be something that you’re not.
*Little white lies can hurt your future career. If you don’t succeed at the job (as in the example above) and word gets around, this could follow you for a long time. Especially in a place like D.C. — where employers talk amongst themselves all the time — you could easily become known as someone who can’t deliver the goods. Best to be honest in job interviews about what skills you really have, and how you have used them in the past.
*Your references may not be able to back up your claims. When checking references, sharp recruiters ask not only about a job candidate’s background and experience in a general way, but (especially with former bosses) how they specifically performed certain duties and in certain situations. And they’re likely to inquire about certain skill sets that will be important in this new position. If you’ve overpromised, say you overemphasize your Hill experience (you had a very junior job in a Hill office but made it sound more important) and your reference mentions that to a hiring manager, they may wonder if they’ve caught you in a lie. And they may also wonder what else you have been less than truthful about with them. Again, it’s all degrees, but if you’re straightforward about your experience, it will be much easier for references to back that up and amplify your strengths when they are called by a prospective employer.