A reader who’s been shortchanging their potential has an epiphany in the June 23, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.


shortchangingYou get a lot of questions. I thought you might enjoy an answer I discovered.

I finally ironed out the details of my new job and my relocation (very generous and I really expected nothing). During my morning shower, I had this fleeting thought, “Wow. They are really paying too much for me to take this job. With benefits like moving expenses, closing costs, salary and bonus, I am really being paid way too much for this job. I would have taken it for a lot less.”

Then I stopped and chided myself for these negative thoughts.

Obviously, I realized, I must be filling some need that they are willing to pay me this much for. And, I thought to myself, I am very good at what I do, I know the company, know the people and I know I will do a great job in this position.

Of course, I am sure there are cases where people are paid far more than they are worth for a job. But I realized this morning, really for the first time, how much I have shortchanged myself over the years by thinking things like:

  1. “Oh, I don’t think I could do that job,” or
  2. “They wouldn’t want someone with my background for that,” or
  3. “I know they wouldn’t be able to meet my salary for that position.”

I realized this morning that I have really been selling myself short in a lot of ways in my career, rather than “reaching for the brass ring,” and extending myself a bit farther to achieve more.

Now I know that the first step in looking for a better position is valuing yourself and what you can really do for an employer, regardless of your job history and industry background. Today I stopped shortchanging myself. The answer to my own doubts is that undervaluing myself is a mistake. I hope I never make it again.

Nick’s Reply

The Question in this column doesn’t always have to be a question! Your story is one of the most eloquent, wonderful expressions of newfound career wisdom I’ve ever read. And we could end this column right there. It’s enough to prompt discussion all by itself.

Becoming suddenly aware of how you’ve been shortchanging yourself and your potential is the kind of “Aha!” experience that will make others start thinking, too. That makes this epiphany as important as the questions I answer in this column. Thanks for sharing it.

Shortchanging yourself

I’ve experienced the kind of misgivings you have, and I’m sure many others have, too. We all doubt our worth sometimes. The three examples of shortchanging yourself that you shared are the kinds of doubts that stop us dead in our tracks. Rather than ask ourselves, “Why YES?”, we say “NO, but I don’t know why!” — perhaps because it’s easier!

For some people, self-doubt can be a serious problem called impostor syndrome. Most of the time it’s a passing worry that we overcome by recognizing and enjoying our achievements. Sometimes it’s debilitating and leads to needless failure.

While criticism and disparaging remarks from others can spark a crisis of self-confidence, we tend to doubt compliments and praise. Sometimes praise is casual and perfunctory; sometimes it’s genuine and well-deserved, like the exceptional job offer you received.

The best praise is our own honest judgment of ourselves that’s based on solid facts and success. I think your job-offer success is quite solid!

Shortchanging your potential

Every time someone asks me, How much money should I ask for? or, What am I worth?, I want to say to them, You’re shortchanging your potential! Don’t get stuck on what you’ve done. Plan what you can do by realizing your potential. That’s your worth.

People who acknowledge their potential know what they are worth. They have a power that surpasses the greatest negotiation skills. Their self-confidence is anchored in self-knowledge — knowledge of their skills and ability to create, fix or improve something, and to recognize opportunities they can capitalize on. That’s what the employer discovered about you. Now you see your potential, and that the money follows.

Potential value = more money

Once you accept your potential value, it’s easier to express it in terms of what another person (or business) needs – and that gets you more money. (For another approach to how to judge your own value please see The Cardinal Rules of Worth.)

Someone values you enough to pay you more, and now you know you deserve it. You’ll never be the same again for this realization. It will spur you to deliver even more value because now you know your value doesn’t depend on your credentials or on your history. It depends on what you can do. And that’s wonderful. Thanks for sharing your epiphany!

Do you shortchange yourself? How do you calculate your worth — and then express it to get a better job offer? What metrics can we apply, other than a resume, credentials and experience? (Or is that all of it?)

: :

  1. “Never let the fear of striking out get in your way”
    Babe Ruth

    • A more important question: Is this a place where you would like to work? Would you enjoy what they have to offer? Do you like your new boss?

      If you answer YES to all these AND they give you a great compensation package, this can give you a real boost.

      Make no mistake: You have obviously proven to them that you can make a difference.

      Go for it!

      PS: If you feel undeserving, please seek out a therapist – it will help you to grow and even be more successful. Also, in your new location, join some group or groups such as a club, religious organization (not religious? Seek out a humanist/ethical society or Unitarian Universalist congregation), or civic group. Look for a newcomer’s club. Get involved at your new home.

  2. The moral of the story here can be summed up in this quote: “Value for dollar spent.” This phrase is foundational in marketing. Every company, regardless of size, asks this question to determine how they market their product/service. The phrase is also used to determine the effectiveness of a marketing campaign. Because this phrase is common to all sizes of business, job applicants should focus on the phrase when applying or seeking a raise. What value do you provide, have provided, and will continue to provide to the company that enhances the company’s bottom line?
    Your honest and unemotional assessment answer to the question will provide the necessary motivation for either applying for a position or asking for a raise. You have data, evidence to clearly support your case. Should a company not agree with your evidence, you have two options. Determine who is lacking in understanding the analytics/evidence and discuss this difference. #2 Should the company resist your evidence, then begin the process of securing another position.
    At some point in the employer/employee association, value for dollar spent should enter into the picture of either continuing or dissolving the relationship. Keeping the relationship in terms of value for dollar spent avoids unnecessary emotional angst and allows sound decision making to take place. You may like a supervisor, fellow employees, and job duties but if the value (return,) doesn’t equate or match the dollar spent (your performance) portion, you are short-changing yourself. Should you choose to continue short-changing yourself, live with it because you’re now the problem and no one else.

    • @Tomas: Very well put. In some circles they refer to “the total cost of ownership.” Cars, for example. But things like cars don’t (usually) generate revenue. The point is to keep costs down. With people, there are costs and there are revenues. People can create both. I like your “value for dollar spent.” That amounts to profit, positive or negative.

      Few job seekers or employees think about value for dollar earned/spent. I’m afraid managers are no better. And HR is usually completely clueless about this. Everybody just wants to check off the box for “completed the assigned work as defined in job description.”

      It’s not enough.

  3. When I became a recruiter I had the luck to work with a very good recruiter. I imagined candidates left an interview with Mary likely feeling they visited their proctologist. Thorough was an understatement. She asked one good question that I recall & found insightful and ultimately advantageous for the candidate. “Tell me about what’s NOT on your resume.” This brought up history the person thought uninteresting, or of no value or they chose to omit for some reason.

    Why advantageous? You always hear stories of people stretching the truth, BSing or plain lying . I must have lived in a sheltered world, as I’ve not really run across it that much. What I have often found is this topic. People underselling themselves. Leaving off, omitting accomplishments, key contributions to projects, and on & on. To the degree sometimes, that the first thought that comes to mind is “You don’t know good you are do you?” Also that “you should really be shooting for another role we need that’s a much better fit” I’ve coached many people that humility has no place in selling yourself.

    Hidden value is the primary reason I’m a big believer in reference checks. Many managers blow them off because they believe the people will only say good things about the applicant. Of course, so what. The question is what good things. I pick up info from references that applicants forgot, edited out, and simply didn’t see the value of it. But I did. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met people who talk themselves out of going for a role.

    This discussion also deals with potential. I think spotting potential is one big key in good recruiting for both sides of the table. When making a change, I expect & want an applicant to be assessing potential professional growth. So I have no problem with someone applying for a role comprised of capabilities they’ve done little of, or in some cases doing a complete change in profession.

    Because it’s a changing world..always, and I want to work with people that can reach, want to reach, move out of comfort zones, can ramp up quickly in new situations. If you’re a manager, you are only as good as the people in your team. If my team is comprised of people that can stretch and grow, I have a team that can stretch and grow.

    Think about it. There’s plenty examples of robust job requirements..lists of them. Which say I’m looking for people that fit this exact profile, who want to move from one place to another to do exactly what they’ve been doing somewhere else. Supposedly so they can “hit the ground running? and then what? stop running? When as a manager I hit some major change in direction, business health, to a new technology etc. I want a team that can make the move into an unknown…who can take a risk. Because there is a risk, risk and hiring are bolted together, and “potential” says maybe and probably and not Guaranteed. You want people who can hill climbing, not the ground running. I’ve seldom been burnt taking a risk on people.

    The writer did something really smart. A self assessment. I once worked for a guy who advised that every 3 years one should do this. Where am I? am I where I want to be.. can be? (Of course I didn’t take his advice, just kept slogging ahead through time. If you do this early enough, it can be a very positive tool. As he found out. It can motivate one to trigger a behavioral change. Challenging yourself when you hear yourself saying “I don’t think they, I can’t I, they ..It comes down to if you think you can’t, you can’t. If you think you can, you can.

    Something else the writer didn’t mention…If I as a manager make an offer, and you accept, it’s not to my advantage that you fail. So I’ll do what I can to ensure you succeed, as long as you don’t BS me. Another good piece of boss advice I got was “Don’t BS me, don’t wing it, if you don’t know something tell me you don’t know. “Don’t know is useful information” If you tell me you know, I’ll believe you, tell my boss & we’ll both suffer for it.”

    As to pay & worth, he/she test the market, and that company in particular. The company didn’t decide on your comp package whimsically. There’s a system in corporations, usually rigorous about pay. The person met their test. You’re worth it because per their offer they said you are. What more do you need to know?

    • @Don: Another deep tip! “Hidden value is the primary reason I’m a big believer in reference checks.”

      You’re right, managers today blow off reference checks. Worse, they let somebody else do them. That’s like washing your hands with gloves on. Managers must check references themselves. There’s so much to learn about a candidate that the candidate will never tell you — good and bad!

  4. oops forget to check the notify block

  5. This is a good thing! Maybe we are re-entering a paradigm where companies value the potential to build their business instead of just filling a chair at a desk. You may be their strategic investment for their future because, frankly, YOU ARE NOT A DIME A DOZEN EMPLOYEE (I guess that term dates me). The last 10 years have thrown great employees out of the door, and it hasn’t encouraged the development of the next crop (from my perspective).
    Now what?
    Employ someone who has to use a calculator when they make change for a quarter?

    Or, maybe someone with a vision, and the ability based on past experience?

    Be happy you are valued and go for it!

    • As an engineer, many companies have made me feel like the lowest form of life. While my last employer was a good one, the emphasis was that I am “just an engineer” and only as valuable as available work. So what happens when work is thin? Be prepared to get the heave-ho. I was not allowed to go to conferences. My manager (post reorganization) could only see the high dollar signs – he said I was being underutilized. The message was: Please leave. You cost too much – after all, you are just an engineer and not somebody important in the company.

  6. Kevin – I started as an engineer in my 4 decade career I have worked for some of the biggest AH’s you can imagine, demeaning, screaming at me in front of others including my employees then being eviscerated in their offices for THEIR failure to lead.
    I moved many times (early career advice “if you can’t change your job, CHANGE JOB’S”)
    I developed a network of supporters before networking was A Thing. It isn’t right what your employer is doing, but remember, they have exceeded their position based on the Peter Principal (Google it :-).

    My greatest personal achievements have been 2 people who worked for me moving up in their careers to be successful VP’s.

    Never listen to morons and idiots! Look for new snow and lead.

  7. Fortunately my new job I took in early April comes with a very short commute (15 minute walk), a raise, and a boss who appreciates me. My previous manager does not have a good reputation. Yet, he is still at my old company. I had even applied for a management position myself – but they turned me down because they couldn’t do promotions (that one is true – company in crisis). Still, how is the incompetent manager getting away with it? Fortunately I live near a lot of high tech companies and I’m working on starting my own business. We may be a few hundred miles away from Silicon Valley, but we have a nice assortment of local opportunities even for well experienced people like myself!