Job Seekers: Stop Apologizing
Job Seekers: Stop Apologizing

It is ingrained in us that the employer/employee relationship is inherently unequal, founded on uneven footing, in which the employer holds the cards. This is inaccurate. The employer may be writing the checks, but that doesn’t put them in the driver’s seat. Think about the last time you needed work done on your house or car. You were the one paying. Did you feel like you called all the shots? Of course not. People get paid to provide a service that other people need. It is not a feudal system, and you are not a serf. 

The proliferation of this fiefdom/serf myth is precisely why so many job seekers feel the need to apologize for their backgrounds. Here is a list of things that many job seekers regard as negatives, and for which they unnecessarily apologize:

  • Level of experience.
  • Lack of experience/knowledge/familiarity with a certain tool/skill.
  • Working as a consultant or contractor.
  • Being unemployed.
  • Having been laid off/downsized.
  • Gaps in employment.
  • Not having a “pedigree” education or an “appropriate” degree.
  • Holding a temporary job.
  • Volunteering.
  • Not meeting all stated job requirements.

Now usually, job seekers don’t come right out and overtly apologize. It’s generally more veneered than that, and it manifests itself in some of the following ways:

  • Noting positions as “contract” or “temporary” on your resume or LinkedIn profile. Characterizations such as these minimize the importance of what you do and the impact of your achievements.
  • A propensity to use reductive language when describing your accomplishments and work history. (I was only part of the team; I didn’t lead the effort. It was just my idea, but someone else put it into action.)
  • Making unnecessary excuses. “No, I don’t have an MBA, but I have deep industry experience…” 
  • Downplaying lessons you’ve learned and accomplishments you’ve achieved. “So I lobbied our municipal government and secured approval for the new traffic light at this dangerous intersection, but, you know, that was just, like, in my capacity as a member of my HOA.”
  • Minimizing what you’re currently doing. “Yeah, I’m working at Best Buy right now, but it’s not as if that’s what I want to do long-term.”
  • Bearing personal responsibility for a layoff. Many, MANY job seekers do this. I am here to tell you to STOP right now. A layoff reflects poorly on one entity—your former management. It says that they failed to run the business and/or were shortsighted and made a significant decision based on a cell on a spreadsheet. (As an aside, if you were laid off, please stop saying that you were “fired.” They are not the same thing.)

When you’re looking for a job, it is critical that you remember that although there are many other applicants for a given opening, there are very few qualified candidates. If you’re having a conversation with a hiring manager, you are a qualified applicant and are among the rare few. You have valuable skills that can help drive the employer’s business forward. You are not a job beggar standing there with your tin cup, begging for alms. Act as such. Be assertive. Remove reductive, apologetic language from your career materials and your vocabulary. Be firm, know, and promote your worth.