Career and job choice Career and job choice

Don’t Let Your Ego Ruin Your Job Search—or Your Job

Career and job choiceMan and woman waiting on a sofa represent a public extension of the self into the world. Naturally, status is an important part of work for most of us. It’s also normal to want a job that is interesting, uses your talents, pays well, and has good prospects. I have wanted the same things.

Wanting something, though, is not the same as feeling entitled to it. Wherever you are in your career arc, but especially when you’re starting out, it’s important to strike a balance between confidence in yourself and covetousness. Here are some thoughts on how focusing on yourself and keeping your ego in check can help you achieve your dreams:

  • Conduct an honest appraisal of your skills and experience. Lay everything out on the table and figure out how many months or years of experience you have in everything you feel justified in putting on your résumé. It might even be worthwhile to consider getting a salary report from or You can also find salary information for common job titles in your region at CareerOneStop. This may be an awkward reality check or a great self-esteem booster, depending on your situation. If you find yourself feeling deflated, fear not; where you are today is not where you will be in six months. Now that you have a baseline, you know what is worth investing in to get where you want to be. If you are pleasantly surprised by what you see, give yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it!
  • Stop rolling your eyes every time you see someone who seems totally incompetent and has a job you want. I’ve done it. Almost everyone else I know has done it. Seriously, this attitude doesn’t help anybody. If this other person were so inept, how could he or she have landed this job instead of you? Most of us need to rely on hard work to get ahead. The good news is we can control how hard we work and the strategy we use for career building. If you work hard and are extremely talented and are in a field where you use your greatest talent, you are golden! That’s basically the career equivalent of Maslow’s self-actualization, though, so it can take a while (as in a lifetime) to make it there. Make an effort to be happy for the achievements others have made, and develop your own game plan for achieving your goals.
  • Always be a beginner. Being a quick learner is a blessing and a curse. It’s awesome having the ability to learn just about anything on the job within a week or two while it takes others months. Smarts are great, but they aren’t a substitute for experience in an organizational setting. You will work with people in various positions at various levels of ability, and may even find yourself reporting to someone less skilled, less intelligent, or less stable than you. The thing is, that person is in that position for a reason. You may not agree with the reason, but someone decided to hire or promote the person based on something. So if that’s a job you want someday, find out what’s in the secret sauce. Don’t waste time being bitter about it.
  • All work has value and is important. For this, I can thank Dick Bolles in his most recent edition of What Color Is Your Parachute? The best way to keep this in mind, especially when you have to do something that you feel is “beneath” you, is to stop judging people based on what they do. A job is a way to pay the bills. It can also be a way to get to the job you want. This brings me to the final—and perhaps most important—point.
  • Don’t expect to graduate from college (or law school, or graduate school, or med school) and just start doing your dream job. Every once in a while, yes, someone “makes it” right away and gets featured in The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. You know why it’s news? You got it: it’s that unusual, that’s why. Take a lesson from Aesop’s fable of The Tortoise and the Hare. Career planning is all about the long term; slow and steady wins the race.

Bragging rights are overrated. Be the best person and employee you can be every day. It will serve you well in your job hunts and on performance appraisals, and save you the grief of worrying about bad karma.

© Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Amy Armstrong, MS, NCC, MCC, LPC, Career Counseling Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Graham

    November 13th, 2014 at 11:47 AM

    hmmm I have a son going through this very thing right now. He just graduated and thinks that he should be making 6 figure salaries already and when I tried to tell him that most of us have to work toward that goal for a very long time, he just rolled his eyes and pretty much told me that that was why he went to college and that he wouldn’t settle for anything less. Oh boy.

  • Christine

    November 13th, 2014 at 3:51 PM

    It’s hard when you know that you are doing the very best job out there and yet it is always someone else in the office who gets all the fame and the acclaim! I want to stand up for myself and promote myself but at the same time I want for my boss to see it so that I don’t have to be shameless about self promoting. I want to get ahead but not really sure where that perfect balance falls so that I will not look too egotistical but at the same time I don’t want to let someone else get all the credit for my hard work.

  • Amy Armstrong

    November 13th, 2014 at 5:50 PM

    @Graham, I think it may be a developmental stage ;-) If he figures it out, he should write a book. I’d like to know how to graduate and make six figures at something I love right off the bat.

  • brett

    November 14th, 2014 at 3:44 AM

    I will admit that I have turned down jobs before that I have been offered because I felt like they were beneath me. Even though I probably knew in my heart that my qualifications were just right for the job, I would either dislike the title or what some of the job duties would entail and so I would refuse to take it.

    I wish that I had that luxury now because I would love to have a new job, any job, but the work is just not out there in my field right now and I am really having to struggle with the fact that I could have really gone places probably had I at one time done a little something that I felt was beneath me.

  • Amy A.

    November 14th, 2014 at 9:23 AM

    @Christine, definitely keep a record of your accomplishments and bring them up at appropriate times (performance appraisals, job interviews, etc.) If someone else is getting credit for your contributions, that’s a different problem, and it’s not you.

    @Brett, it’s a good idea to turn down jobs that you aren’t excited about when you really are qualified to do something else that would be a better match for your talents and allow you to grow. I’m sorry the job market is rotten right now, but that’s not you’re fault. As a job seeker, it’s important to keep it real both from the perspective of being appropriately humble (e.g. they want a PhD, but will take a Masters & I have a Masters, so I’ll probably get a lower salary offer), but knowing when something really isn’t going to work for you.

  • Graham

    November 14th, 2014 at 1:48 PM

    @ Amy, you betcha!

  • Juliette

    November 16th, 2014 at 8:42 AM

    What I have sadly found is that most people who are so concerned about telling others how to more effectively do their job have no real idea about how to do their own too well

  • delia

    November 18th, 2014 at 10:56 AM

    You want to be that perfect balance between knowing when to sing your own praises and then being able to give credit when credit is due. Don’t be the person who always takes the credit for everything even when you had nothing to do with the accomplishment; but then again don’t be that person who so easily defers to others that no one has the chance to see all that you contribute as well.

  • natalie

    November 20th, 2014 at 11:04 AM

    I have too often let my actual lack of ego get the best of me! I have very little self confidence and self esteem and I know that this has kept me from advancing in my job even when I know that I am better qualified. I may know that I can do something but I am really not all that great at selling myself to others, so when they have the chance to promote I am probably the last person to come to mind I guess because rarely do I ever promote myself or the things that I can do. So mine is actually the opposite of what others have experienced, but just as detrimental I guess.

  • Amy Armstrong

    November 20th, 2014 at 11:22 AM

    Natalie, yes, there’s definitely a fine line between tooting your own horn and being a narcissist. My focus here is less on “bragging” being a problem and more on job seekers (or employees) getting in trouble because they truly believe they’re “too good” for most things. To put it bluntly, I don’t think anybody is above any kind of work, but I agree that the world would be a better place if all of us were in positions that used our interests and talents in the best possible way. That’s part of the reason I do career counseling. Being appropriately humble at times doesn’t mean you need to be self deprecating.

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