Self-confidence and humility are not mutually exclusive characteristics. It's good to be great at what you do, but you also must realize that you don't know everything there is to know.
TechRepublic Senior Editor Sonja Thompson recently interviewed one of our IT Leadership bloggers, John McKee. (Here's the podcast if you want to take a listen.)
One of the questions Sonja asked John was if he'd ever met anyone who was truly unemployable. His response was no, he hadn't. He said that everyone is employable, but that some people just need to accept constructive criticism and incorporate tips for increasing their employability.
That statement tied in with something I read on the Web the other day, that the most important characteristic for career success is humility.
[Humility: A modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance, rank, etc.]
I have to say I agree wholeheartedly with that statement. Now, before you all come charging after me with flaming torches and wooden spikes and yell about how all along I've been spouting the career benefits of self-confidence, let me explain.
First of all, confidence and humility are not mutually exclusive. You can be ultra confident about your skills, but you can also understand that you don't know everything there is to know.
As a hiring manager, I want the most qualified person. But I also want someone who is willing to learn about how things are done in my shop, someone who is willing to listen to reasons for doing things differently than they've been used to. That flexibility or lack thereof could mean the difference between you — a person at the top of your field — and someone with less experience but who is humble enough to be open to opinions and ways of doing things differently. I don't want to have to fight a staffer every inch of the way on every project that comes up because he refuses to admit that there is any other way than his way. And most interviewers can sense attitude in a candidate if they sense nothing else.
Years ago, there was a parody song making the rounds called "It's hard to be humble [when you're perfect in every way]." It lampooned the obnoxious people who stick to their self-delusions despite all cues to the contrary. But there are people who take self-confidence to a level that alienates those around them. Don't be one of them.
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Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.