All three of my daughters have volunteered abroad (two of them are in Africa as I write). Spending time seeing the world in vastly different contexts and cultures, political and socio-economic circumstances, can be a humbling experience. We can sometimes lose perspective when we’re looking for a job or searching for a career. Other contexts can help ground us, tapping into our humility and providing a moderating force.
Being humble and deliberately taking a moderate approach to the job and career search might seem counter-intuitive. Surely all the advice is to blow our own trumpet, loud and proud, wherever we can? Every careers adviser, recruiter and interviewer will ask you ‘what are your weaknesses?’ or ‘what has been your biggest mistake?’
This post isn’t about answering those questions. It’s about looking at how you can view humility, being moderate and avoiding excess as features of your employability to stand out from the competition and add value to an employer.
Moderation is about eliminating or lessening extremes, fine-tuning and checking nothing excessive has impacted the process or your performance. In practice, this means ensuring your social media presence is professional, your resume is free of spelling and grammatical errors, you haven’t lied about your experience, you’ve complied with the application process and answered the specific job requirements.
Humility is defined as the state or quality of being humble; freedom from pride and arrogance; a modest estimate of one’s own worth; a sense of one’s own unworthiness through imperfection.
We love sports men and women who are humble, but not when they are doing their sport. That’s when we want them to obliterate the competition. But you have to back it up with competence or it can backfire, as the Brazilian World Cup soccer team has discovered!
Politicians rarely express humility. A few years ago, the then Education Minister in the UK, proved to be an exception. She quit her job saying she didn’t feel up to it and wanted to change career course for her own good. One might have expected her to be lambasted, but public opinion recognized that what she had done was immensely brave and she received an outpouring of praise. A shame some bank CEOs and US State Mayors didn’t follow suit.
In my experience, when humility is a strength it seems to be drawn from a deep-seated value, a particular mindset that places principles before expediency. The impact can be harmony, tolerance, empathy, dialogue rather than monologue and putting others first. Patrick Lencioni calls it vulnerability-based trust – being honest about mistakes and faults in oneself or within a team – which he rightly says is a choice rather than a virtue.
The more negative connotation is best expressed in the phrase ‘eating humble pie’ which smacks of shame, humiliation and embarrassment. Umble is Old English for innards or offal. Admitting mistakes and weaknesses publically have destroyed many a career in a harsh culture. Avoidance can lead to inhibition, fear and an inability to progress. Lack of self-awareness can lead to stubbornness and being inflexible.
How can you show an employer that you know the value of humility and can demonstrate it or have the capacity to develop humility so it will be an asset to you and them?
Here are 15 questions to test out what you understand, observe, believe and feel about humility:
- What is humility?
- What is the flipside of humility?
- What mindset reflects humility?
- What behaviours demonstrate humility?
- When have you seen these behaviours demonstrated?
- How did these behaviours make you feel?
- In your experience, when is being humble appropriate?
- In your experience, when is being humble inappropriate?
- What does too little humility look like? What has been the impact on you or others?
- What does too much humility look like? What has been the impact on you or others?
- What positive examples have you seen of people showing humility in either public life or within your own arena?
- What negative examples have you seen of people lacking humility in either public life or within your own arena?
- How have you or could you develop humility?
- How would you articulate succinctly to an employer the value of humility in the workplace?
- What example can you give of the difference has it made to you, a peer or colleague, an employer, a business partner, a supplier or a customer?
How do your answers help you to frame your unique offer as a person to an existing or prospective employer so that you are distinctive and relevant?
Start dieting on humble pie and notice the response.