When you ask most professionals what their best quality is, typically, they will respond with some variation of “hard working.” Sometimes they will call it “dedicated” or “committed” or even “loyal,” but it pretty much all boils down to the fact that they think they work harder than other people do and that this should distinguish them in the minds of their employer.
And to some extent, they are right.
Employers do appreciate hard-working professionals, all across the corporate spectrum.
But it rarely plays a significant role in the hiring process (and not as much as you might think in the promotion process either).
For one thing, it is tough to assess based on just speaking with someone. For another, it is assumed. Furthermore, it is the type of thing that is really earned by reputation, not by you saying it.
Frankly, most people probably are not all that extraordinary in their “hard-working” ability, at least not as much as they think they are. They can just think of a handful of people who are worse than them, so that justifies their self-labeling as “committed.”
I have yet to work with one candidate who didn’t think he or she was “hard working”; yet they could all tell me about at least 5-10 others they knew who were not as hard working as them. Go figure.
So given that hard working is not a label you can give yourself with any type of credibility behind it and that employers pay very little attention to these self-declarations in the hiring process, the “hard-working” professional is often confused and can be somewhat unsuccessful in the job search (and especially promotion) process.
Once again, it comes down to audience. Sometimes the things we think are most impressive about us are not as valued during the hiring process as we think they should be. (As I mentioned recently, very little about hiring is rational on our part as much as on the employer’s part.)
Therefore, most job seekers are unwittingly “sabotaging” their own job search by approaching it with the wrong focus.
A misaligned focus is really what makes the difference between a “good” resume and a “bad” one (despite whatever else you may hear).
So although it is good to think about formatting and typos and proper white spacing on the page, if you’re trying to sell your target audience the “wrong” product, it won’t matter. And that is what often happens.
We just want them to know how hard working we are and, if we have them, how many credentials (degrees/certs) we have. And then we are confused when they don’t seem as impressed as we thought they should be (or as our education system told us they would be).
Overall, today’s employers, especially those in the tech arena, say they are most looking for proof of the following skills (notice advanced degrees/certs are actually missing from the list, so even though every job description seems to ask for them, this is what employers really want):
- Analytical skills (coding is in demand)
- Global outlook
- Cross-functional ability
- Soft skills (how well do you communicate both verbally and in writing?)
The other quality they desire, and this is a big one, is an understanding of business value. They want someone who knows the value he or she brings to the overall business focus.
If you think about it, this puts hard working in a tailspin.
Because it is not enough to say, “I am dedicated.” (I know a lot of poor performing, yet dedicated, entrepreneurs.) And it is not enough to say, “I work more hours and with more passion than everyone else.” (I know those same entrepreneurs do too.) In business, results matter (and contrary to popular belief, effort does not always produce the right results). Corporations are no different, and they are looking for people from the bottom up who understand the role they play in producing those results.
So set aside your overwhelming urge to declare your hard-working superiority and your overreliance on credentials and start looking at the qualities that are most significant for business growth and success. If you can communicate how your skills align with that, then your hard work will really start to pay off.