The Perception vs Reality Gap

This is one of the articles that I think is great. I read this article in CaseInterview.com which is written by Victor Cheng. Hope it will be as useful to you as it is to me. 🙂

“I have a 14 year old cousin who aspires to be a Hollywood screenwriter. Since I’ve had an interest in this field as well, I have been learning more about screen writing while
helping her do the same.

In screenplays (movie scripts), one of the concepts that comes up a lot is a theme. Common movie themes are good vs. evil, hope vs. despair, love vs hate, and countless other themes.

Themes are a useful construct in movies because it provides context for all the details that are conveyed in a scene.

The same is true in other aspects of life–even in consulting. One of the common themes in consulting is the theme perception vs reality.

For example, it is quite common that the client’s perception of the problem differs from the reality. Based on this incorrect perception, clients will often devote enormous
energy and resources to solving the perceived problem — thereby solving the WRONG problem.

When the solution to the perceived problem doesn’t work, they get frustrated and often that is the time when consulting firms are called in to help.

Incidentally, this is one reason why in case interviews I place so much emphasis on “isolating” the (often underlying) problem and why immediately jumping to potential solutions
at the opening of a case (or client engagement) is often the wrong move.

When I see a candidate do this (or a first year consultant do this in a team meeting), I basically reject them right there on the spot (or make a note to have a coaching conversation with the new consultant).

Incidentally, clients will often describe a great consultant as “insightful” or as someone with an interesting “perspective”. You’ll notice that these words that clients use are related to vision and seeing. This is not an accident.

That’s because of the great ways a consultant can add value is to help clients correct any misperceptions they may have about their business — usually by clearly separating perceptions from reality.

The perception vs reality theme also appears in the consulting recruiting process.

In particular, interviews are NOT granted to the candidate that is most qualified. Interviews are granted to candidates the are PERCEIVED to be the most qualified.

In an ideal world, you would expect the two to be the same. In the real world, perception and reality, while correlated, often are not the same thing.

Looking back, it took me many years of my career to really appreciate this perception vs reality thing. I’m an American born Chinese and the culture I grew up in was based around being somewhat modest in talking about your accomplishments.

The unspoken mental paradigm was the person with the best grades was the best. It was numerically objective. (I’ll save my commentary on this point of view for another day, but that was my default way of thinking at the time.)

However, once I got into the workplace, especially here in the United States, accomplishment is much more subjective. Being good or the best was not based on a numerical score, it was based on a holistic, broadly encompassing PERCEPTION — a perception made SUBJECTIVELY by other human beings.

Over time I realized that if you do not highlight your strengths to others, nobody else is going to do it for you.

(That last sentence is worth re-reading a few times)

In short, the delta (difference) between the perception of your qualifications and the reality of your qualifications is most definitely NOT something you should leave to chance.
To get the most out of your career, you must proactively take steps to eliminate the delta.

One of THE key places where the perception vs reality theme appears is on your resume.

You entire life’s work is perceived and interpreted through the lens of a single piece of paper.

In the CaseInterview.com community, my readers range from 20 year old undergrad up to the 45+ year old experienced hires/consultants. Despite this range, the age distribution definitely skews towards the younger side.

So lets say the average person reading this is 25 years old. That person has been alive for 13.1 million minutes (60 minutes x 24 hours x 365 days x 25 years). The factual record of this person’s lifetime achievement encompasses 13.1 million minutes of experience.

Yet the typical 1 page resume, has room for at most 400 words.

In other words:

Reality = 13,100,000 minutes Perception = 400 words

You do not get consulting interviews (or interviews for jobs in industry) from the 13,100,000 minutes of life achievement. The ability to secure interviews is based in very large part on you choosing those 400 words VERY CAREFULLY.

From an 80/20 standpoint, those 400 words are VERY 80/20!

Given the enormously high career leverage a resume has, I continue to be shocked at how little effort some CIBs put into writing their resume. Quite a number of CIBs will whip together a resume in an hour or two the night before job applications are due.

Yet these same CIBs won’t hesitate to work 40 hours on a term paper, 500+ hours on a thesis or dissertation, or work 2,000 – 4,000 hours a year in a demanding job. From a career advancement point of view, all of those thousands of hours of work only matter if conveyed properly in those 400 words on one’s resume.

As a general rule of thumb, when you find a 80/20 leverage point in your life or career, it is very much worth investing big in that area because the long-term benefit disproportionately outweighs the short-term cost.

Most people don’t do this — and that alone should be reassuring that it’s the smart thing to do.

If you want average results, you do what most people do.

If you want exceptional results, by logical definition, you should do things that most people don’t want to, won’t, or can’t do.

Writing and developing the ability to write an exceptional resume is one of those things.”

Article by Victor Cheng

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