Careers, Logic and the Above-Average Effect

About 18% of Americans are satisfied with Congress according to the latest Gallup poll. Yet over 90% of Congressional incumbents win reelection. That seems so contradictory. Why do we say we are dissatisfied with someone yet then turn around and vote them back in? There are a few common answers:

  • We think it is “everyone else’s” person who is bad. Our representative is okay
  • We believe the alternative to the person we have now is a worse option
  • We believe we are (relatively) logical beings. We don’t recognize we are not always logical about what we like/dislike. So we make inconsistent – or sometimes contradictory – decisions.

This is not a political blog, so I am not going to analyze that. But I am going to use it as an entry point for the same kind of thinking that goes on in our jobs and careers.

Careers and Logic don’t always mix

Why do people stay in a job they hate? Why do job seekers ignore the best practices for finding a new job?

The answers are often the same as the voting contradiction. We don’t always do what is logical.

Maybe it is because we dream up reasons why the alternative is worse.

The person in the job thinks: “If I quit this horrible job, how do I know I will quickly find a new one that is any better?” So they stay in a job, never really exploring opportunities.

The job seeker thinks: If I try more networking, I will be uncomfortable and lousy at it, thus making myself feel even worse. I will embarrass myself by asking for help. I don’t know what to say. I am not good at approaching strangers in a social or a business setting. So, I will keep looking at online job postings and applying.

Sometimes we convince ourselves that our way will eventually work for us, despite the odds against it.

The disengaged working person figures they can “last a few more years at this position before moving on. By then, my financial situation will be better and then I can do something different. Perhaps I will have a new boss. I know I can hang on”.

The job seeker thinks, “it is just a numbers game. I need to keep applying. One of these will hit. I can’t give up now.”(BTW, my opinion is this is the same thinking that people have when buying lottery tickets). Most studies indicate that 60% of jobs are found through networking. But most people spend a majority of their time on everything but networking.

Sometimes it is misplaced loyalty that drives inconsistent decisions

The person in a job thinks to themselves that they “owe their loyalty to a company or boss or their co-workers to stick around and make things work”. Is that loyalty reciprocated?

Perhaps the job seeker has received advice from a well-meaning person who has told them “this process will work for you”. The job seeker “logically” believes they need to give the other person’s advice “a chance” before moving on. But do you really need to be loyal to someone’s advice?

Think you are the exception to the rule?

Don’t count on it. After all, we are all human. Ever tried to lose weight? Do that home improvement project that won’t take much work? Been in a relationship that will “eventually get better”? Decide to take up exercising? We all think we are from Lake Wobegon, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average”. The Lake Wobegon effect, also known as the above-average effect, is a natural human tendency to overestimate one’s capabilities. We all do it.

So what can you do about putting a little more logic into your career?

Recognize that you are going to make some of the mistakes noted above.

Take some time for self reflection.  Once a month, go back and look at your activity. Does it look logical? Have you fallen into any of the traps our minds sometimes get us in?

Want some help? Ask a friend. Ask someone at a networking meeting what they think. Talk with a neutral observer (or two) like a coach or mentor. Like so many things in life, if we just hit the pause button for a short while, we just might find out the truth.

 

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