Definition of Competence

There is a fascinating difference between what women and men are likely to expect of themselves on the job. Women tend to be far more demanding in their expectations of themselves. Perhaps you share this definition of competence in your own work.

Moore describes the nagging feeling women have that "I should have done better," and believes it stems from the sense that women do not feel entitled to fail or err. Beyond that, we often have a completely unrealistic definition of competence. Competence requires perfectionism, expertise, and unassisted achievement. Anything less is simply unacceptable.

Women often think of competence as flawless performance. If we are competent, we must have our jobs down pat with no room for fluctuation or different levels of competence. Typically, the men around us do not hold themselves to this impossible standard. No wonder they feel so much more confident in their abilities.

In business, competence means getting the job done on time, as well as is appropriate for the occasion. It means excellence, but it does not always mean perfection. Competence also means working as part of a team, not single-handedly accomplishing the impossible. Competence means taking risks, sometimes making mistakes but then owning up to them, and moving forward.

If perfection is required, how can we succeed? We hang around the same position long after our male counterparts. We think, "As soon as I get this department the way I want it, I'll think about moving on. I haven't done as much as I want to do here." Those around us who do not suffer from this ailment will move onward and upward, earning several times our income. We watch and wonder why management continues to reward shoddy, incomplete performance.

Women are likely to view our current position as a proving ground, rather than a training ground. Not only should we perfect our current job, we should somehow demonstrate the ability to do any job for which we aspire before we even apply for it.

Harragan writes that women believe a prerequisite for promotion is prior demonstration that they know all the work beforehand. She cites research indicating that men are likely to feel qualified if they possess 40% of the skills and knowledge required for the new position. Consider the difference between 40% and 100%!

Women who succeed in "men's jobs" have often learned to expect less from themselves, instead of more. They have learned to try new things when they were unsure of themselves, instead of waiting until they felt completely assured of success. They have learned to rely on others, rather than trying to accomplish goals alone. This might not have been a conscious learning process for other women, but it can be for you.

Let's say I am interviewing for a job. I believe that the job requires a flawless performance, which I must achieve all by myself. To feel qualified for the job, I must believe that I am capable of such a performance before I am hired. Is it any wonder that I feel insecure? Combine this with my tendency to behave exactly the way I feel, and I act insecure.

Now, suppose that a man applies for the same job. If he fits the description from the study Harragan mentioned, he believes that he is qualified if he can do 40% of the job. He also assumes that he will have a team of people around him to take up the slack and that he will learn the rest with experience. Sure, he has some doubts about his ability to do the job, but he knows better than to expose them.

Now picture yourself as the interviewer. Would you decide to hire the person who demonstrates confidence in doing the job or the person who seems uncertain about herself? You know that, no matter what my background or experience, I will have a hard time doing a job if I do not believe I can do it. This is business, and you do not have time to hold my hand and coax me along until I gain confidence. You will probably hire the person who believes he can do the job. You don't know that he sees the job as much easier than I see it. You don't know that he is masking all his insecurities while I am laying mine out for the world to see. As an interviewer, you don't know the reasoning behind our behavior, you only know your reaction to it. You hire the person who believes in himself. You know he has a much greater chance of success.

How do you view people you consider to be competent? Do you assign them superhuman characteristics? Are you disappointed when they make mistakes? What about your identification with your own achievements? Are you likely to think you have accomplished nothing if you have not single-handedly accomplished world peace?

What we consider to be good performance on the job may be impossible for any human. Until we can adjust our view of competency, we will never see ourselves as qualified for the jobs we so deserve. Until we can see ourselves as qualified, we will not be. Change your view of competency from perfection at all times to excellence in the context of the job. Make your demands on yourself more realistic, and you will be able to do more.


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