The Bell Curve is a tricky, tricky measurement. It is based less on factuality and more on relativity, and it is particularly dangerous when used to assess one’s self.

A recent blog post by Tom Bolt caught my eye, “You Did Not Grow Up in Lake Wobegon.”[1] Lake Wobegon refers to the fictional utopia that storyteller Garrison Keillor created. In this post Bolt describes the phenomenon of people’s inflated sense of self. He writes:

It is fairly typical for people to overestimate their favorable characteristics and underestimate those seeming to be undesirable. Psychologists have formulated several theories to explain this phenomenon. Some attribute this behavior to the fact that it is easier to place importance on the known qualities of self rather than the behaviors of others.

When people are asked to place themselves on a normal distribution curve for a myriad of skill measurements, they tend to place themselves above average. This is both mathematically impossible and concerning. As a recruiter, I have yet to come across a single hiring manager who requests an “average” employee. Each manager always asks for the top caliber candidate.

I have also yet to meet a candidate who did not consider him or herself to be above-average. This presents a dilemma. I have a hiring manager who needs the best of the best and a slew of candidates who are self-proclaiming themselves to be the “best.”

I am all for confidence, but not for misrepresenting yourself for a job. There’s a risk to the interview oversell. Before you “yes” the hiring manager to death, and tell them how fantastic you are, think about it: If you get this job, are you going to be performing at the level that you are purporting? If the answer is you are not sure, then I would remain mum and let your resume, experience, and references speak for you. Again, I am not suggesting you clam up during the interview process — you still need to speak up for your accomplishments — just don’t oversell yourself to the point where you sound too good to be true.

It is a difficult pill to swallow, so to speak, but the truth is most of us are average. The majority of people who are successful have gotten to where they are by hard work and positioning themselves well. A false sense of self does not help anything. Next time you are asked to rate your skills do so honestly, because you might be asked to perform them soon enough.

[1] Bolt, Tom, “You Did Not Grow Up in Lake Wobegon,” Make HR Happen. July 2, 2012.

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