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The 'How I Did It' Trap

The 'How I Did It' Trap

From Career Tips, 2013 Volume 11, December 2013

Made A Mistake
Photo by Francisco De Legarreta C. on Unsplash

Some time back, I wrote about how important it is not to over-explain what you did in each résumé bullet. If you missed that article, you can catch up here.


I'm struck by how ubiquitous this 'How I Did It' trap is. Perhaps this is because we are so proud of what we've done, or because we don't know what else to say, or because we assume that when someone asks about something, they really want to know about all of the steps we took to make it happen. Whatever the reason, it's important to recognize that this is a trap.


This is not just something to think about in relation to your résumé. This concept applies to everything you do to 'market' yourself:

  • Your answer to "What do you do?" in networking situations
  • Your reply to "Tell me about yourself" in interviews
  • Your elevator pitch
  • Your cover letters
  • Your website
  • Your LinkedIn profile
  • Your accomplishment stories
  • Your status report to your boss
  • Your self-appraisal
  • Your PowerPoints
  • Your presentations to senior management
  • Your talks at conferences


There is a place to get into the details: when the listener or reader is so engaged by your achievement that they really WANT to know more. And even then, it pays not to dive too deeply, especially in an interview.


Think about this: What's the most interesting part of any story?


Hint: It's NOT how you did it.


Depending on which has the most impressive (and believable) metrics or interesting aspects, it's either the results you achieved or the challenges you overcame.


The more you emphasize how you did something, the less interesting your story becomes. You take away the mystery and tend to reduce the other's engagement. Plus, many of the things you did are likely to sound obvious once you express them. Once you pull back the curtain and reveal the answer, there is a tendency for the listener to think, "Well, duh, of course you would approach it that way. So would I."


As soon as that happens, you've lost much of the power of your accomplishment. Even though in many cases the other person wouldn't have thought of what you did, or would have had to struggle to come up with your solution, or wouldn't have approached it as effectively as you did, once they hear your answer they often assume that they would have.


Just remember, the key to marketing and networking (ie, relationship-building) is building engagement. Be like the Wizard of Oz, and don't draw attention to the man (or woman) behind the curtain. Avoid the 'How I Did It' trap, and you will dramatically increase your success!


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