If you’re looking for a job, strive to be the 90/10 loser instead of the 60/40 winner. It’s better to come in first 10% of the time than second 60% of the time.
Candidates for jobs need to convince hiring managers that they can do the job (strengths,) will love the job (motivation,) and will be tolerable (fit) better and more than any other candidate.
This is where the 90/10 versus 60/40 positioning comes into play. To become a 60/40 winner, you have to tend toward the mean so you appeal widely. Those tending toward the mean, round their edges so they offend less people. These people tend to be more acceptable to others (60%) but have less people passionate about them. As a result, they make the cut to be final candidates for jobs more frequently than others, but often come in second place.
90/10 losers don’t have that problem. They get rejected out of hand 90% of the time. But the 10% that want them, really want them.
The difference is focus and the courage to talk about what’s most important and walk away from opportunities where the fit is less clear.
For example, imagine a hiring manager that says they need someone with strategic, organizational, and operating strengths.
60% of presented candidates come in with solid examples of their strengths in each area. They move on to the next round.
Not you. You come in and explain that you’re particularly strong in any one of the three areas and relatively weaker in the other two. Note you’re not saying you’re weak. You’re not saying you’re weaker than others. You’re just saying you’re unbalanced and stronger in some areas than others.
What this does is make the hiring manager think about what they really care about. If they really do want all three areas, you’re out. Fine. If they really care about one of the two areas in which you’re relatively weaker, you’re out. Fine. But if what they really care about is the area in which you are particularly strong, you’re now the candidate to beat.
The prescription is to figure out what they should really care about. If it’s not your core strength, walk away. If it is your core strength, focus your conversations on that. Talk about that. Of course, there are other things you can do. You’ll do them and over-deliver on expectations when the time is right. Then there are things you won’t do. You most definitely do not want a job that requires you doing them.
be the 90/10 loser instead of the 60/40 winnerThis works after you’ve got the job as well.
Talk about the things you’re most interested in. Learn about them. Practice them. Volunteer for assignments that give you experience in those areas. Build a deep expertise in these things. Guide your own career into these areas directly and indirectly.
Along the way, there are a whole range of other things your employers or clients will ask you to do. Do them. Do them really well. Over-deliver. You’ll learn by doing and get better and better. You’ll develop strengths in some of these areas. You can deploy those strengths over time. Just don’t talk about them.
And there are things you won’t do. The key here is to be upfront about those so no one ever asks you to do them. Some of these violate some of your underlying values. Most of them are distractions from what you think are most important. Any moment you spend on somethings less important is a moment you’re not spending on what is important. That is the opposite of focus.
Oh, by the way, if you’ve got someone working for you doing things outside of their core areas of interest, you should do what you need to do to get their focus back on what they care about most. Doing that is a sign of respect. If you don’t do that, eventually you’ll lose them. They’ll burn out or quit. Just because they are doing what you need them to do – and doing it well, does not necessarily mean they’re doing what they want to do.
Sometimes you don’t want to stand out. Sometimes you do want to tend to the mean. But not when it comes to positioning yourself and your career. Be known for something. Invest in it. Get better at it. Build your expertise. Claim your expertise. Talk about it. And don’t talk about the rest.
Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #648) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.