projecting and negotiating credibility (and interviews)

…………………. negotiating your credibility ………………..



“People can be stunningly unobservant. “


Stephen King


“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

Henry David Thoreau


“Hell of a thing to have to experience, hell of a thing to have to see, to be reminded you’re a human being and all it meant to be one.”

Dean Koontz


Unfortunately, credibility & projecting are inextricably intertwined.

I say that because every time we walk in somewhere, someone else is projecting what they think about you – even your credibility.

Yup. We see, & think about what we see, through our own eyes and project a belief. We hear, & filter the words through our own experiences and how we felt about those experiences, and project a belief. To be fair, projecting, in general, just makes life easier for us and certainly creates some efficiency.

Now. It doesn’t guarantee accuracy, but it offers us all those gosh darn time benefits so, what the hell, who cares if we are right or accurate – we saved time.

Obviously this affects anyone who is seeking some credibility because the biggest issue with regard to projecting is most likely the fact most of us confuse ‘informing’ <the information a person actually provides us> and ‘judging’ which is more about responding by how we are affected by that information.

In other words. We ignore most of the information we actually receive <or it gets blocked by our existing perceptions and beliefs – biases> and just end up judging based on the few things we let thru to inform us which we then ‘bolt on’ to all the shit we already “know.” This means if someone is actually credible, but doesn’t look credible <or sound credible fast>, you run the risk of being slotted somewhere below your actual credibility status.

Now. 99% of us, shit, 99% of the people reading this will say “oh, not me … but I see people do it all the time.” Uhm. We all do it. It’s pretty easy to do it in a world where we seemingly know so much from all the information avilable to us which inevitably builds a sense of ‘personal wisdom’ all of which encourages us to actually believe it is never us who is projecting <just ‘other people’>.

Which brings me back to credibility.

This means all of us, people & a business, are always in the business of negotiating their credibility. I say that knowing, in business, credibility may be one of the most valuable things you can have. It opens doors to opportunities, sharing ideas and even closing a deal. That said. While the greater world may be faced with a skepticism <in believing anything> crisis, the business world is chockfull of skeptics with regard to credibility.

Well. Let me take that back. On occasion your credibility can actually reside on a razor thin proof point.

A degree from a great school <as if no one finishes at the bottom of a class>.

A job at a world renowned company <as if you couldn’t have actually sucked at that job>.

A nifty title at some recognizable company <as if you had actually earned it>.

This is where I share negotiating credibility from a personal perspective. I don’t interview often, but when I do they always seem slightly odd in that I spend more time negotiating my credibility than I do what I have to offer.

Let me use 2 agency interviews for a director of strategy position as examples. Full disclosure. I don’t think either discussion went particularly well. Okay, but not great.

Strategy just seems like breathing to me and the weird thing is I am pretty good at uncovering meaningful <see “relevant” in a definition somewhere> insights and isolating a strategy that not only generates results, but is open enough to allow some creative output & thinking to deliver that insight.

(note: other people have told me I am good at this so it isn’t like I stare in the mirror and go “what a handsome man you are” .. although I am tempted to try that upon occasion without laughing as an exercise)

I don’t have a traditional account planning background therefore my strategies tend to be less esoteric and more practical. I hate gobbledygook (that’s another word for bullshit) and kind of think developing a strategy is a complex challenge, but, in the end, all about some version of simplicity <note: not ‘simple’. note: simplicity just ain’t easy to explain>.

Anyway. I believe developing a strategy is very straightforward (or how you go about doing it). What makes it complex to explain is that almost every strategy development challenge is different.

I think that hurts me in some discussions because some traditional account planner (I use the words traditional loosely) has some high falutin’ process and a ton of strategy documents highlighting a ton of sometimes concise strategy statements (sometimes meaningless) to showcase.

They look quite credible.

Here is the thing. It is kind of a numbers game. If you pony up enough of these account planner type strategy statement things, sooner or later you show one the other person kind of understands and you get to talk about it.

I do not have that “consistent one strategy statement” philosophy. Several reasons.

The process I have stored in my pea like brain is very very consistent (but no one really wants to talk about the process), but the output (which everyone wants to talk about) is very very inconsistent (and that is something philosophically I believe is correct).

The process I use to get to the varied output is very simple and straightforward (because it is simply a logical way to tear apart things to assess what it is you really need to do).

The output from that consistent process construct is varied.

That doesn’t look quite as credible.

Look. I started my career on P&G brand work so I am steeped in that P&G formulaic positioning statement belief. Oh. And because I worked at Publicis I have an inherent love for seeking ‘disruptive’ (seeking unconventional) ideas. Oh. And because I worked at JWT I am steeped in a strong methodical strategic thinking process (although I was there long enough that our “output statement” changed a number of times as we shifted to whatever the strategic process idea du jour was). Oh. And because I worked with a brand consulting group I have seen how to surgically operate on a business. Oh. And because I am a student of the industry I am steeped in Bates’ infamous “USP” (a hard-headed insistence on judging a product by what it does, not by how good it looks, a Unique Selling Proposition).

Oh. Maybe that’s the problem. I don’t have one tried & true output I stick with (probably because what I realized was consistency of process dictated that the output may vary depending on the business challenge or situation).

Having worked at a variety of agencies, consulted, as well as evaluated a variety of consulting & research companies strategy output, not only does everyone have a different process (and while some of the differences are slight they are different), but everyone also has a different “output” form. I am flexible enough to not worry about those things and focus on what needs to get done.

That’s a problem for my credibility.

Credibility often resides in a consistent output form <because inconsistent look like you make it up each time>. I guess the difficulty I have with that is sometimes it is like putting a square peg in a round hole depending on what the challenge was and what the solution was.

I share that to showcase that negotiating credibility, even if you have gobs of experience, is difficult.

Lastly <because I am using an interview discussion>. Talking about strategy and strategy thinking and credibility can get weird at times. I think regardless of your particular skill you get to a point in your experience when it becomes tough to explain what is so simple to you. Yup. It has become just “what you do” and not “something you have to think about doing.” To be clear. This isn’t about having earned some respect because of past experience.

Anyway, what I mean is, for example, assessing research. At a point in my type of career experience you kind of have to know how to interpret research. Not implement a methodology (although we all certainly understand the basics and can probably write and develop basic methodologies), but certainly to review what someone else has completed and interpret the information. We all know how to do it in varying degrees. Therefore,  I admit, I don’t know what to say when someone asks me “can you interpret research” other than “yes” – which is an obvious “F grade” answer. Maybe worse would be if I said “gosh, I don’t think I could have gotten to where I got to in my career without knowing how to do it.”

By this time I have looked at so many frickin’ tracking studies, omnibus studies, segmentation studies, sales tracking information, MRI computer runs, focus group write-ups, A&U studies, whatever … I think I can pick out how many rum drinkers in multi person households own tricycles for god’s sake (which I actually did by mistake when I worked on Mount Gay rum).

In fact, that may be the issue. Going back to the basics in a professional credibility discussion when you have done so many things you feel like you don’t have to explain it. No. That’s not it. It’s just I don’t know how to talk about it without actually doing it. It’s like talking about breathing. How do you breathe? Shit. I don’t know. I don’t think about it but I sure am good at it.

As for the background credibility discussion (once again this isn’t about respect it is more “belief in what someone can do without having to explain some things”) I guess in my sports interest warped mind I see it as:


“Hey, I have batted .320 in the national league for 8 straight years. Sure one year I led the league in home runs and another I led the league in doubles and one season I had a boatload of singles and had a huge on base percentage but basically year in and year out I bat .320. So. Even though I am talking to you about playing a season in the American league and I have never batted against American league pitchers what makes you think I won’t bat around .320 again? I don’t know if I will lead the league in home runs or doubles but I can pretty much guarantee I will bate .320. In fact let’s assume if you need home runs I have the ability to do so and maybe we don’t need to talk about how I hit home runs instead of doubles. So why do keep asking me about how I hit? What is my philosophy at the plate? Shouldn’t we be talking about if I fit into the team chemistry and am I the right guy who can hit .320 for your lineup?”


Anyway. Whether we like it or not we all have to negotiate our credibility on occasion. And it pays to remember that no matter what attitude or perception YOU think you are projecting, the other people are judging YOU thru projecting. Unless you are in their head you cannot know where they landed. Therefore, the negotiation begins.

I used the interview to show that you need to provide some heuristic like cues to establish the foundations for credibility because without that consistent “ok, this will be in the game” there is no underpinning for anything else.

That said. To be clear. Negotiating credibility sucks. So does projecting but you can’t change that so you just have to suck it up and negotiate your own credibility.

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Written by Bruce