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Why Looking Good is a Big, Fat Road to Nowhere

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model with camera man

You probably think looking good will help you in life. You’ve read how looking good will help you become rich and find a gorgeous mate or that there are proven reasons life is better if you’re beautiful. Since Internet articles never lie, you try hard to look good.

Looking good for success, though, isn’t about being aesthetically attractive. Looking good means you embody society’s valued traits of more, faster, better.

Are you better at interviews than the other candidates? You get the job. Are you more charismatic? You get a girlfriend. Are you faster than your colleagues? You get a bonus. Given the nature of the game, though, for every one who wins, hundreds lose.

Since you work hard at looking good, consider the following: in a world where everybody is playing the more, faster, better game, what real chances do you have to stand out?

More, faster, better isn’t more, faster or better

Take a job interview. Candidates battle for an hour — probably less — to convince the hiring manager they’re more productive, more intelligent, faster workers, faster thinkers, faster money-makers, better problem-solvers, better leaders, better listeners, better at doing anything the company wants them to do.

As someone who interviews and hires people regularly, the looking good attitude is annoying. The reason is simple: I see a bunch of people who are more concerned about showing how good they are than about showing who they are. They’re all sending out the same message (“I do more stuff than any other candidate, and I do it faster and better”), which makes them look all the same.

Here’s what I do at interviews: I force the candidates to explore who they are. If they do, I hire them.

Assumption: you hide who you are

A few weeks ago, I interviewed Kate. She’d worked for Google for six years on two different markets, and her credentials were great. Her CV was good, but so were other candidates’.

I kicked off the interview asking her about herself. She listed all her work accomplishments, emphasizing her great expertise and knowledge. She was trying to beat her competition at the more, faster, better game.

I said, “Kate, I have your CV. It looks good, so stop talking about it. Instead, why do you think you’re doing so well at work?”

Her first reply was about how good she was: “I’m a perfectionist, I never fail a project, I work hard…”

I stopped her. “Hold on, Kate. Take a minute and think about my question again. Not how, but why are you doing so well?”

She threw a quick side glance at me that implied what she thought of my question, then stared at the wall for a long time. Eventually, she whispered, as if she was thinking out loud, “Why am I doing well? Because I want to be the best. I can’t fail.”

I continued, “Think of the first time you remember failing in life. I want you to describe it to me. Where were you? What happened?”

After several minutes of silence, she told me how, at age 15, she flunked an important test at school while all her friends passed. She said, “I felt like a failure.”

“So you failed and all your friends passed. What does it say about you?” I asked.

She kept looking away. Then she spoke softly, “I’m not good enough. I’m not as good as others are. That’s why I need to be the best.”

And there it was. Her why.

I just want to be liked. I’m not good enough. I’m not worthy.

Deep down, all of us have a similar story that doesn’t make us look good. We’re so ashamed that we build a wall to hide it from the world. Talking about her long list of accomplishments was Kate’s way to hide from others what she really thought of herself.

Kate showed incredible courage in exploring who she really was. Her courage is the one trait that separated her from the rest of the crowd, more than any achievement on a CV could have ever done.

Screw looking good

Here’s the morale of the story: In a world where everybody plays the more, faster, better game, one more player won’t make any difference. (Click to Tweet!) Chances are, nobody will even notice you’re there. If that’s your strategy to get rewarded, good luck.

But there’s another way. It’s scary because it takes you to a place you worked so hard to keep from others. In this place, you don’t do more, faster, better — and you surely don’t look good — but you’ll find the answer to the question, “Why do you do what you do?”

Once you know the answer to that question, tell everybody.

If it’s scary to you, it’s probably scary to others, too. But here’s the difference between you and the rest of the crowd: you do things others can’t.

Alex Dogliotti, PhD, is the European Director of Learning and Development at ReachLocal, Inc. He blogs about standing out of the crowd on Stuckaholic. Connect with him via LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, or just send an email to alex@stuckaholic.com.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://www.parafriv.net/ Para Friv

    Health has always been one of the factors that helped us get life more cheerful and happy. What share posts really make sense to me.

  • jrandom421

    An incident long ago illustrates my views succinctly. I was working on an old piece of equipment,, and my manage wondered why I didn’t “pretty it up.” I said, “It may be old, and it looks beat up, but it’s operating within manufacturer’s specifications without any adjustments. I can’t “pretty it up” because parts went out of production 20 years ago.”
    I then pointed to a new looking piece of equipment that was being repackaged to be sent to the manufacturer. ” This piece of equipment was sent to the manufacturer, for a specific problem. They “prettied it up”, replacing the case, controls and displays. It still doesn’t work and is going back to the manufacturer again, because they never fixed the original problem.”

    My point? I don’t give a damn how it looks., I care how it works.

  • http://www.softship.com/ Ava Cristi

    Very inspiring article. Just like Kate,I’m afraid to fail.That’s why I’m giving all my best in order to win in any situation. I always want to stand out from the crowd because I believe that I can easily win the respect of other people by doing this.

    • Alex Dogliotti

      Hey Ava, there are two things that people want more than anything (in fact many die for them), looking good and being right. Those two things drive the life of most (all?) in subtle ways. I ask people to raise their awareness level and see how they’re doing the same right there in front of me. If they do, they’re usually willing to drop their act and start doing incredible work instead.

  • Robyn

    Wait, really? You did that to a girl in the middle of a job interview? An already stressful event? I’m sorry, but at a job interview, I will show you me, I will tell you what I can do, but I definitely will not let you turn it into a therapy session. I feel like you really crossed the line.

    The insight itself is valid; the anecdote just really bothered me.

    • Alex Dogliotti

      As I said. A few will do what most can’t.

    • http://twitter.com/chrisdumler Chris Dumler

      I’m not sure asking what incentivizes and motivates someone is analogous to therapy. I think most of us could benefit from being more self-reflective. I wish more managers would ask these types of questions because, quite frankly, the rest is mostly bullshit. That said, it takes a capable manager to be able to analyze and use that information effectively.

  • Deepa

    What is wrong with her talking about her achievements? She probably worked hard to achieve something and an interview is a perfect place to showcase that. Were you really assessing her for a position or just looking to make an example of someone for your post? I like the message of your post but not how it was put across.

    Plus, there is nothing wrong with wanting to look good, or do more, faster, better – so long as the idea is to compete with yourself and be the best version of you that can be, and not get stuck trying to better than everyone else.

  • Alex Dogliotti

    morale or moral

  • ThinkAbout It

    I can see your points in getting to motivation…the why– of why we do what we do…interesting that you are “hiding” how you look by wearing a helmet in your photo..not sure if you are confirming what you are postulating OR to your point, afraid of how others will precieve you based on your looks…two sides to every coin as you point out in your article. Objectively, I might add, I do think you have an unfair advantage in an interview situation where the person is trying to stand out with SKILLS and not by taking a personality assessment; while they CAN be related, most employers want you to accomplish the tasks and a side benefit is if you have a fantastic personality.

  • dwsa

    Wow, what a manipulative and creepy interviewer. If an interviewer asked me questions like that, I’d decide quickly that he/she is NOT be someone I’d want to work for.

  • Adam

    This anecdote is bullshit, we’re talking about a job. This guy is some narsasistic asshole creep, looking to manipulate people into a breakdown, essentially for fun.

    He’s temporarily in a position of power, an interview, and seeks to leverage that to empower him self by manipulating others. In this case by seeking knowledge about people that he should not have, and has no business knowing. What does the information he’s gained about this woman allow him to do? Select a better candidate? No. He’s essentially tried to identify her weaknesses, so he can exploit it later. His whole point is that essentially, to be desirable you must give your bosses the insight to easily manipulate you.

    Be interesting to see if this guys been on any sexual harassment charges, or the subject of any criminal proceedings recently.

  • Rebecca

    Your behavior was patronizing and sexist. Would you have spoken to a male interviewee this way – asking him why he’s “afraid to fail”?
    But first, the title of the article was misleading. You didn’t write about why looking good is a “big fat road to nowhere”. This article has nothing to do with people competing in a world in which attractiveness certainly does mean something. Being good looking shouldn’t be a reason to win a position over someone less attractive, but unfortunately it is, which is why we show up to interviews looking our best, why we diet, go to the gym, etc. But this article was about getting to the core of who we are and being able to speak about our true selves in… an interview? Knowing who one really is is an important topic. But it is not appropriate to question someone, to put someone is such a vulnerable and unfair position, during an interview. This young woman was doing what she’s been told and has read over and over and over again to do during an interview. It sounds like she did an excellent job trying to stay on topic while you were trying to expose her as some sort of fraud. You, in the position of power as the interviewer, and as a man, took advantage of an already unfair power situation and went to a very unethical place for seemingly no reason other that to make someone feel like a fool.