I think that, at least in Singapore, there is a disconnect between what Asian bosses want in new employees, and how Asians position themselves during job interviews.
Simple example. Let’s say you’re a baker. You’re pretty damn good at it too, and one day you apply to work at a classy French dessert shop, which is perfect because you specialize in French desserts!
So you’re interviewed by your future boss, and he’s firing all kinds of questions your way. So far, you’re doing great. But then he asks you if you’ve ever made macarons before.
Crap. Your one weakness, your one Achilles heel, is macarons. So what will you say?
What we have been trained to say is something along the lines of, “I’ve never made macarons before, sorry. But I’m willing to learn how.”
And that’s a problem. Why? Because:
1) You’re now less desirable of a hire than people who can make macarons
2) You’re tied with people who gave the exact same textbook answer
Pretty much the only people you can beat with an answer like that are the people who don’t show any interest in learning to make macarons, but they’re probably idiots who’ll fail the interview regardless, so let’s just move on.
I don’t even really like macarons.
There is actually another answer that, while not as good as being “I make macarons for a goddamn living”, will let you beat out the category 2 people. It’s something like:
“While I’ve never made macarons before, I am familiar with the baking process, and I have vast experience working with a wide variety of other similar French desserts, such as (NAME THEM). I’d love the opportunity to work more with the dessert in this company.”
Some of you may be cringing, thinking, that sounds cocky and prideful. But don’t you think that, since you’re trying to sell yourself in an interview, it’s your job to sound as impressive as possible?
Now I’m not saying you overdo it and just go all, I’M THE GOD OF MACARON MAKING. And I definitely don’t condone lying on your resume, even though I have lost out in jobs in the past because I didn’t lie on my resume, while my competitor, who has the exact same qualifications, did(don’t ask me how I know, I just do).
I’m just saying, in this scenario, your boss isn’t looking for someone humble, he’s looking for a macaron maker. Or at least, someone who looks like he’d be able to make macarons.
I know that, as Asians, we are raised to be humble and to never appear proud. The problem is, the rest of the world has been, and in the context of a job interview, we don’t stand a chance against people who dare to make themselves sound impressive.
I got corrected by my Australian boss this morning for an email I sent to a large number of overseas IT security experts, particularly for this line: “We are honoured to be added to this mailing list. ” He said, by saying we are honored we are lowering our own value. We want to be seen as being on the same playing field. He then drew me this simple diagram:
What my boss learned working at a call center. When talking to a customer, you ideally want to be talking to them from one adult to another, and not like a parent talking to a child, or vice versa.
It was then that I realized, this is the cultural gap. While we have been taught all along to bow our heads, others have been raising them high. That’s a problem.
Taking a step back, I know people who undersell themselves even in their resumes. I used to do so myself. I thought, I don’t want to land a job that is beyond my capabilities, and then get fired later on.
3 years later, I realize that’s stupid thinking. Jobs are all very different, and companies are all different. You could have been a macaron maker for 10 years in one bakery, and switch to another and find out that their baking process and even ingredients are different, and you’ll have to learn how to make the dessert from the ground up.
I entered my current job with zero understanding of data security, and now I write 1,200 word articles daily about the subject. Even I am surprised that I now have a working knowledge of credit card payment systems, and data security standards.
So all I’m saying is, at least in the context of job applications, let’s be proud of the skills we have. Let’s not be afraid to flaunt our knowledge, or to appear confident in ourselves. Because the guy in first place gets a new job, and the guy in second gets to keep looking.