The Modest, Yet Exceptional, Employee By Chris Palermo

I was thinking about the irony of job-seeking versus being a great employee. The very traits that make someone an exceptional employee are not necessarily the ones that convince an organization to hire them in the first place.

What do I mean? Simply stated, most companies seek out employees that will always put the company’s needs first. They look for humility and modesty. They look for quality individuals.

And, I like to think I fit into that category. I’ve been fortunate to have the ear of several executives during my professional life, and none of them would ever say I ever recommended anything that didn’t benefit the company, as a first concern.

Yet, when it comes to interviewing and job-seeking, humility and modesty is not a welcomed trait. If you cannot speak effusively about yourself, your skills and your accomplishments – almost bragging – you’re perceived as not being a strong candidate.

And, for someone like me, that can be a challenge.

Part of the difficulty stems from the fact that most of my “accomplishments,” I simply considered to be “my job.” To me, even if I do my job exceptionally well, it’s still my job (and, obviously, should be done to the best of my capabilities). So, to go into an interview and spew out all these great things I did, just feels foreign to me.

I don’t lack confidence … but, to me, I exhibit confidence by doing an outstanding job. I don’t need to talk myself up. I leave most interviews convinced I can help the company achieve its goals and that I can handle the responsibilities of the position (and deliver exceptional results). Anecdotally, I can point to my previous positions: “Look at where the company was before I got there; look where it got while I was there; and look at where it is now that I’m no longer there. I can assure you, the differences are stark.”

The other difficulty comes from the fact that — rightfully so – today, interviewers want to learn what specifically led to your accomplishments. To me, there’s no secret sauce. I go into a company; learn the product/service or the culture (depending on my role and focus); and then I ensure messages reach the target audience in the way intended. I’ve been successful in my career – I’ve won awards for internal communications and employee engagement strategy plans that use social media – all of which are on many company’s minds these days.

But, ask me to describe the specifics of how I do that, and my answer may not be as comprehensive as you’d like. Again, it’s just my work ethic, ensuring the task at hand is completed successfully. In some ways (and I’m not comparing myself to him, necessarily), it’s similar to the plight of Ted Williams.

Ted Williams is arguably the greatest baseball hitter of all time. After his playing career, teams wanted to hire Williams to teach their players how to hit; which was a great idea on paper. Problem is — Ted couldn’t explain how he hit, and he certainly couldn’t teach anyone. To him, it was as simple as: “see the ball; hit the ball.” Ask for more details, and you’d be disappointed.

Last year, I began building up my network (and actually getting out to meet people I didn’t know well) because there are few things in the job search as powerful as having an advocate on your side. Yes, I can apply to a job; but if I know someone connected to that company, and they’re able and willing to tout my abilities to that company, that’s a far more effective approach. Everyone wins. The company gets someone who will help transform their company; my connection looks like a hero.

And I can focus on simply being a modest, yet exceptional, employee.

CP-2Chris Palermo is an accomplished communications executive with significant experience in social media and internal and employee communications. He blogs on an assortment of eclectic subjects, including customer service and internet culture at You can also reach out to him on Linkedin.

One Comment

  1. Alan Starost

    No doubt in my mind that you would make a great employee. You have a great sense of humor and you write well. Unfortunately, you and I were brought up in an age where we were taught to conform. We went to school and received those advanced degrees to show that we had the discipline to do our jobs well. We believe that we would work for one company until we received the gold watch. And, as long as that company did well, we did well. If you were a Job hopper – you were seen as someone who couldn’t hold a position.

    Times have changed. And we must change along with them to find that new position. Although I don’t agree with the current hiring tactics employed by many firms, the unfortunate reality is that many companies are hiring braggarts and job hoppers. In the current environment, companies are chasing the “shiny” penny. So you must become that “shiny” penny.

    Develop a bunch of stories about your accomplishments and memorize them as if you are almost talking about yourself in the third person. However, never sell out your values of working hard and doing what is best for your new employer. Because eventually, companies are going to realize that intellectual capital and experience are going to be their path to success and that is when you will become the “golden” penny.

Comments are closed.