Resolving my credibility deficit

If there is one thing I have learned from returning to work after a year and a half off studying, it is that there is a very tangible credibility deficit that us early-mid-career professionals have to make up when they switch jobs. I define the early-mid-career phase as that stage of the working life between the five year mark and the ten year mark generally corresponding to the period within which the professional exceeds 10,000 working hours.

[The 10,000 hour rule is the idea first espoused by K. Anders Ericsson and brought into the popular domain by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice for an individual to attain expertise in a given field. For an average 40 hour working week, 10,000 hours translates to just over five years; hence my not so arbitrary definition.]

The early-mid career professional (an Independent Contributor in the Novations Model) is expected to have attained a sufficient level of competence, demonstrating the ability to utilise theory and practice in resolving day to day work issues with minimal recourse to other ‘advanced experts’ for direction. In my own case, in addition to the pressures to deliver, there were a couple of blokes on a ‘lower’ rung who seemed to think they were more deserving of the role I got. This made the unofficial part of my work – providing ongoing mentorship to the younger lads and generally being a technical resource – a wee bit more difficult, as I had to plug the credibility deficit I walked into.

Looking back, there were two main strikes against me. First, The bulk of my prior experience of learning the trade was earned in Nigeria. Secondly, I opted to go for a more general postgraduate degree (for the breadth of options it would provide) rather than focus on my rather narrow speciality (for which one UK University provides the bulk of graduates). Taken together, these meant that no one in the (particularly) specialised field I work in knew anything about my credentials -and I was effectively an outsider fighting to get my foot in the door. The minor mitigating factor in my favour was I’d worked with a relatively big name in the field in Nigeria, which meant my current employer was more willing to take a punt on me and I was able to pull in two very high level references from that organisation. On an ongoing basis though, task by task, I still had to demonstrate that I knew what I was talking about. There were also a few trick questions lobbed in my direction for good measure!

As newer people have come in, I have seen the same scenario repeat itself. The same questions – Where has he/she worked before, What University did they attend, Who in the industry knows them personally or professionally – have been asked. It leads me to think that the Independent Contributor in the organisation has a peculiar problem – just enough autonomy to do his work, but little influence to actually enact change.

It is only after a year of consistently coming up with the goods after being thrown in several potentially high pressure situations that I am finally getting a sense of grudging acceptance from the lads. I have to admit that the feeling is rewarding.

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