Skip navigation
Careers Café

Confidence is overrated


As far as the job search goes, confidence is overrated. It’s not evil, mind you, but it’s also not necessary to have loads of it in order to land a job.

Like “passion“, “confidence” tends to be a loaded word when it comes to careers. It’s often seen as more than just an element of how we come across, but as a key to career success. Further, we assume that some lucky people were born with it and that those without it are stuck.

Having confidence does not guarantee success, nor does less-than-stellar confidence doom one to failure.

Here’s a short list of the uses and misuses of confidence:

Useful confidence:

  • You’re willing to entertain the idea that you have a range of skills
  • You start to explore what skills you have, perhaps through your university’s career office, online resources, LinkedIn’s skills search, or even the Conference Board of Canada’s employability skills list
  • You are willing to share evidence of your accomplishments when writing resumes and cover letters, and when talking with others
  • You will try, however nervously, job search strategies that are more effective than replying to online job postings, even though they require “putting yourself out there” through well-researched prospecting letters and networking

Misuses of confidence:

  • Feeling so certain of your skills that you don’t bother to provide adequate evidence of them to employers
  • Unwillingness to determine whether you have skill or knowledge gaps that could be fixed
  • Seeking networking opportunities only with people who are “high up,” because people “lower” in professional status couldn’t possibly be of use
  • Failing to research organizations of interest, hiring managers, and details of the job before networking or applying for work, out of the belief that you are the only important piece of the puzzle

My clients often tell me that they don’t have enough confidence, because they feel nervous when reaching out to new people as part of the job search, when writing honestly about their accomplishments in resumes and cover letters, and when interviewing for jobs. Actually, they probably have just the right balance of confidence and nervousness: they take steps that are uncomfortable or downright scary, but they prepare adequately for them.

So, what do you do if your confidence level seems off? If your university career office will give you feedback on a resume, cover letter, or on your interview style, start there. Hearing from or reading about people who have had success on the job search can give you ideas about strategies, as well as a boost of motivation to try them out. Talking with friends who have had experience on hiring committees helps too, so ask them what irritates them and what impresses them in a candidate — and listen for common themes. You don’t have to be the most confident person to get a job you want — you just have to be confident enough to take your next steps, research, evaluate and repeat.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
Post a comment
University Affairs moderates all comments according to the following guidelines. If approved, comments generally appear within one business day. We may republish particularly insightful remarks in our print edition or elsewhere.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Click to fill out a quick survey