During an interview for a senior HR position, I was asked to rate my Excel skills. Where I often used spreadsheets and functions in my previous roles, I considered my skills to be excellent. It turned out that I was wrong. Since I had not used Excel to its full potential, I was unaware of what “excellence” truly looked like and overestimated my skills and knowledge of the software.
Psychologists often refer to this cognitive bias as the “Dunning-Kruger effect.” Interestingly, most people rate their skill levels and intelligence as “above average,” which is, of course, statistically impossible. This can have a profound impact on what people believe, the decisions they make, and the actions they take. And, in my case, it impacted the recruitment process.
When you’re interviewing, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll be asked to identify and describe your key skills for the job. Of course, we all aim to highlight the skills the hiring company is looking for. However, it is important to be realistic, honest, and transparent to ensure you can perform on the job.
So how can you avoid overestimating your abilities? You can start by following these three steps:
- Ask for feedback.
Speak to the five people who know you best – whether colleagues, your boss, family members, or friends. Ask them about your strongest skills and to provide you with examples. Then, ask which skills you can improve upon and encourage them to provide you with examples once more.
- Reflect on your achievements.
What are your career highlights to date? What skills did you draw on that enabled you to perform at your best? What did your colleagues and boss say about the achievements? Make a list of the skills that enabled you to succeed and then compare them to the feedback you received from your inner circle. Are there similarities, important differences, and “hidden skills” that you can explore and develop?
- Continue learning.
The problem with overestimating your skill level is that there will always be areas where you will lack knowledge of what the high end of the scale looks like. Generally speaking, people who are highly skilled are aware of the areas they need to improve upon and take the initiative to do so. Fortunately, there are many online resources you can leverage to increase your knowledge, including massive open online courses and YouTube tutorials.
If you think that you’re already self-aware and that this doesn’t concern you, I’ll issue a word of caution. There are no exceptions. The Dunning-Kruger effect influences everyone’s behavior, decisions, and even employability. The next time a recruiter asks you about your skills, learn from my mistake by ensuring you know what excellence looks like before lumping yourself into that category.