In “Know of What You Speak”, we saw how you can improve your career success by understanding your business environment and properly using the terminology.

The more you know, the better your chance of success.

But the converse is also true.

For many – especially younger workers – this is a bigger problem. Here is why. 

You Must Impress to Get Ahead

People want to impress others. Interviewers, bosses, colleagues, customers, dates, friends.

And it is completely natural. You need to impress if you want to succeed in life.

But there is a fine line between impressing and losing all credibility.

Talking the Talk

I do not know a lot. When I talk with my brother-in-law about building a home or repairing my boat, I have no real clue. My dentist can say pretty much anything about teeth and I take it as the truth. And if my car dealer tells me I need to replace something, I lack the knowledge to challenge him.

So if you are speaking with someone that does not know a technical area, talking the talk may be good enough to impress.

But I do know finance, accounting, and general business management. Which is fortunate, because that is how I make my money.

And if you try to talk the talk, but cannot walk the walk, you look look like a buffoon when dealing with me in these fields.

This drives me crazy (or angry or bored depending on the situation). While my feelings may not matter to you, it also very much annoys hiring managers and bosses.

Why is This a Problem for Hiring Managers and Bosses?

It boils down to trust.

If I speak with you – interview, business meeting, general discussion, etc. – and I realize that you do not really know of what you speak, then you lose all credibility. That means I cannot trust what you are telling me. And that translates into concern.

Having to Guess What You Know Is Annoying

If we work together, I need to spend more time monitoring your work.

If you are a business associate – lawyer, accountant, banker, etc. – I cannot trust your input. Not a major problem as I would quickly change advisors or partners.

In an interview, I now need to test you on your assertions to see how little you do actually know. That annoys me and you lose points in the interview.

A few years ago I interviewed a finalist for a trustee position. The position required someone experienced in Canadian Immigration Trusts. Not overly complex stuff, but there are a few nuances. Anyway, this individual knew the terminology and sounded good, but something seemed off. So I told this person how glad that he was well-versed in Immigration Trusts as I had a tricky case that week. Could he advise me on resolving my issues?

He immediately got that deer in the headlights look. No practical advice was forthcoming. The interview ended shortly thereafter.

What Else Do You Not Know?

What I know you do not know also impacts things that I do not know. Follow me?

The trust candidate above claimed to have significant experience with Canadian Immigration Trusts. But the candidate clearly knew not of what he spoke. That was because I was very knowledgeable in this area.

What about French cooking, crochet, or Asian art? I have no expertise in these fields. But even if this trust candidate claimed experience in these areas, why would I believe him? If he lied to me in one area, why would he not lie in another?

Losing credibility in one subject causes a loss of credibility in other areas. Even if you are being honest. That is just the way it goes.

Why is This a Problem for You?

Obviously, if you are interviewing for a job you will not get it.

But there are more issues.

To be successful in your career, co-workers need to trust your abilities. If you become known for talking, rather than execution, others will not want you on their projects, in their units, etc.

It is very difficult to have a good career if co-workers and supervisors do not trust you.

I am happy chatting with people about business, investing, and so on. Most people who are strong in certain subjects like to pass on their knowledge to those who want to learn. But we get mentally tired and annoyed listening to people who are full of crap. Or try to sound as if they know more than they do.

If it is someone that I like, I usually tell them they are full of crap and not to waste my time talking nonsense. My snake-oil selling nephew falls into this category. But for most people I just smile and do not bother to correct them. Just get the conversation over as quickly as possible and get back to productive issues.

Most executives I know feel the same way.

So if you are a one of the above sorts, you may walk out of the interview, business meeting, chance encounter at a social event, etc., very positive about your interaction.

“Send me your resume. If we have any openings you’d be a great fit.” No, no openings forthcoming. There seldom are for talkers.

“You sure know what you are talking about. You have a great future in the business.” Not with us, but hopefully with our competition.

That kind of thing. You end up with false hope.

What I Prefer

I would much rather speak with someone who is a human sponge. Who downplays his own knowledge on a subject.

Someone who speaks in plain language and does not try to use every technical term he can think of just to impress me.

A person who asks questions on items that he does not understand. Not someone who just nods his head and says, “That’s exactly my thoughts.”

Do not worry about coming across as dumb. People that listen, absorb information, and ask insightful questions are highly valued in the business world.

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