Stop Selling Yourself Short


I watched the Olympic Trials in a very different way the week before last because I’ve been working with five of the athletes who were in Eugene pursuing their dreams of making it to the Olympics. Events such as the Trials are compelling enough to begin with, but when you have a true rooting interest, well, they are off-the-charts exciting!

Watching the Trials reinforced something I’ve learned over the past few years about Olympic-caliber athletes. For the most part, they don’t fully understand how incredibly valuable they are as potential employees after their Olympic careers. That same underappreciation of personal value exists with many of the Veterans I’ve worked with, as well. While these two groups stand out in my mind, there are aspects of their lack of confidence that are universal. Following are some tools to help those of you who may see a bit of yourselves in what I’ve just described.

Skills Vs. Subject Matter Expertise

Many of my clients tell me that they are not qualified for a job because they lack the subject matter expertise. Some jobs certainly require specific training or expertise – think doctor, lawyer, or aerospace engineer. But many other professions require something broader than simply subject matter expertise – think sales, account management, business development, or operations.

I recently had a discussion with an athlete who was looking at a sales job for which the employer wanted five years of relevant experience. We talked about whether his ten-year running career has any value toward the five-year requirement. My strong sense is that it does. Ten years of training for a goal, working with teammates, being coachable, staying focused and disciplined, overcoming obstacles, and marketing himself to sponsors and fans all combine, in my view, to provide him with a unique and valuable viewpoint and a strong background for the position.

My client’s initial pushback was that he is less qualified than someone with five years of direct sales experience. Maybe, but for an employer who is at all open-minded, there’s a decent shot that the athlete will get a look. Same goes for the Veteran who has served our country and has so many of the same attributes as the athlete. If you’re thinking that you are neither a Veteran nor an Olympic caliber athlete, that doesn’t matter. Reframing what you have to offer by focusing on your skills versus your (lack of) subject matter expertise is still a worthwhile endeavor.

Realistic Stretching

In my role as a recruiter for several clients, I see all sorts of applications. Sometimes the applicants are obviously completely unsuited for the position. But some of my favorite applicants have been those who demonstrated their respective values as candidates, despite not being a perfect fit for the position on paper. That doesn’t mean you should just apply willy-nilly to every job posting you see and stretch your credentials to match the opening. But, be somewhat creative in your jobhunting. Be ready to explain why your five years of XYZ is not only equal to, but maybe even more valuable than, the three years of ABC they are seeking. So, what’s a reasonable stretch? Fair question. How can you demonstrate value in what you’ve accomplished that can translate into value in the new position? A few years ago I had a client who was director of communications for a non-profit. After some really hard soul-searching, he decided he wanted to be a tutor/teacher. He was able to demonstrate to a potential employer that his work as director of communications –writing, editing, regularly interacting with colleagues one on one –qualified him to become an English tutor and then a teacher. He had no teaching experience, so it was a stretch, but a reasonable one.

Interim Steps

When I decided I no longer wanted to practice law, I asked a trusted advisor, who was a very successful businessman, if he thought I could be a CEO of a large organization. He said, “Yes, but not yet.” He advised me to take some interim steps to obtain some of the experience I would need. Although I was impatient, I took his advice. And it paid off! Six years and two interim positions later, I was hired as CEO for UnitedHealthcare of the Mid-Atlantic. The moral of the story, of course, is that your next job may not be your ideal long-term job, but it may be an important steppingstone. Taking an interim job does not mean you’re not “good enough” for your dream job, just that you might not be ready quite yet. My experience also illustrates the importance of realistic stretching. My advisor helped me to understand that, at the time, stretching to become a large-organization CEO was unrealistic. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t possible – taking interim steps was the key.

So, you may be wondering how things turned out for my client athletes in Eugene last week. Of the five, two of them are headed to Tokyo. I couldn’t be more excited for them, but I’m also excited for the other three, who will have amazing post-training careers ahead of them. If you’re not sure what’s ahead and what you have to offer, we’re here to help! Just email to and we’ll get started.