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Don’t be an expert; be a student.

Opinion piece, by Charlotta Hughes


It is commonly advised to present ourselves as the strongest candidate in interviews by proving that we have the greatest knowledge and expertise. It might perhaps even be agreed that this is largely accepted as the most effective strategy, which on the face of it sounds sensible: if you’re an expert at something you should be able to do that something very well.


So why do I say that being an expert isn’t always the most helpful approach in interviews? Perhaps controversially, I feel that having the mindset of a student rather than that of an expert, will not only increase your chances of success in the interview room but can also boost your chances of enjoying and maximising your longer-term career.


You might wonder if that will actually do the opposite, by highlighting that you’re not the best fit for the post. In other words, could it halt rather than empower your career longer term? A perfectly reasonable question, but bear with me as I explain why my answer is (surprise, surprise!) no…


I think you could empower your career, both in the present and longer term, way more by adopting the student mindset and here are the reasons why I challenge the “expert premise”:


  1. Anyone can label themselves an expert or authority. If you search the word “expert” on LinkedIn you’ll receive over 4.5 million names: not so special or perhaps reliable to regard oneself an expert you might agree – a fact of which employers are also very well aware.


  1. The expert mindset can also be quite dangerous. Because referring to yourself as an ‘expert’ in any field assumes that you know all there is to know and have reached your fullest potential – which by extension means that your thirst for learning and gaining further knowledge is quenched. And of course, when it comes to topics that are important to you (and to your prospective employer) your thirst for knowledge should never be quenched!


  1. So by extension, having the mindset of a student allows you to demonstrate your great abilities and experiences whilst you’re still hungry to learn more. In the words of the Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, to his employees “don’t be ‘know-it-alls’, but rather be ‘learn-it-alls’.”


  1. Focusing on learning, as opposed to being perceived to know it all (i.e. as an expert) changes your primary focus to one of continuous growth. If you’re a true student, you won’t consider mistakes as “failures.” They’re simply learning opportunities. This mindset will profoundly and positively affect your ability to speak confidently about your experiences, knowledge and thirst for more of both in interviews, and this in turn will improve your chances of a job offer, leaving you in a calm and collected frame of mind during the interview.


  1. It’ll also positively affect your entire approach to work and life at large, as it’ll be one of exploration and curiosity when it’s ok to say: “I don’t know”. This allows you the chance to find out without the fear of being found out. A confident “I don’t know, let me find out” shows honesty, integrity and modesty – something not possible when we have an “expert exterior” to maintain.


Adopt the student mindset and enjoy a successful career along the learning path ahead. And I think this is true at whatever level of your career you’re at. As the much-respected Simon Sinek* says, “True leadership isn’t a rank one achieves. It’s a skill to be perfected, like parenting. You’ll never be an expert parent. But you’ll keep practising and practising and practising and hopefully you’ll get it right someday.”


So whether you’re a CEO or employee, parent or child, young or old, remember: Don’t be an expert; be a student.


*Check out Simon Sinek’s inspirational TED talk about inspirational leadership.


Charlotta Hughes, is an Award Winning Coach, Published Author and Speaker. View Charlotta’s website for more details:  www.bemelifecoaching.com

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