Monday, July 11, 2011

Applying for jobs: ambition

I've decided to do two posts today, because they're about vastly different things. This post is about applying for jobs, and application forms! Really, it will be interesting. Or at least I'll try to make it so.

I have been filling out a lot of these, and taking tests and thinking about the qualities companies want in their employees. Specifically this last weekend: ambition.

It's quite a common thing to want, and I always stare at it and think, okay, I suppose so *sigh and look to the ceiling*. Then more recently I had to do a values test where you (quickly, truthfully) rate how important things are to you. I realised I was consistently rating ambition low, and that this probably wasn't in line with the job description. But then I was already halfway through, and changing things now would not only look strange, but not be telling the truth.

I have since been thinking about ambition, and my perception of it. To me, it has negative connotations - power-hungry, money-grabbing people who are only out for themselves. Various comic-book villains come to mind. If I'm asked if I'm ambitious, my immediate thought is, No, I'm nice.

So I looked up ambition on Wikipedia: "Ambitious people seek to be the best at what they choose to do for attainment, power, or superiority."

I've been ignoring the 'attainment' bit, and focusing only on the power and superiority.

I don't know whether this is just me, or my culture, or a combination of both. Kiwis tend to value modesty and egalitarianism, and suffer from tall poppy syndrome (if you climb too high, we'll cut your heads off). Conversely, we like to do really well, quietly (huge generalisations here). If I use the 'seek to be the best ... for attainment' definition, I am ambitious. I like to succeed, I like to be good at things. The problem is, it's hard to change a concept definition in your own head. I'm trying.

But in the meantime: if you're answering a values questionnaire where you're supposed to be truthful and take whichever option feels most immediately correct, what happens if your definitions and ideas about values are different from those of the person who made the test? And what if you know they are different, and you are reasonably sure you know how they differ? If you shift your perceptions and answer the questions according to the test's value framework and not your own, are you being truthful?

What do you think?


  1. Re. ambition - I think gender has to be factored in as well: it's more acceptable for a man to be ambitious than a woman...

    Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook Chief Operating Officer) has some pertinent things to say on women's experience in the workforce:

  2. How many people are entirely honest when they go for a job interview? Being in competition with hundreds of others, sometimes, of course they're going to say what they think the employer is going to want them to say. Sometimes it's like role playing. You want the job? You role get the job...then you be your honest self. That's life! I agree with all your thoughts about perceptions and definitions and values. Going for a job is ambitious enough. Baby steps. Taking one step at a time is ambitious. The baby takes a step and falls...gets up and repeats the exercise until he/she succeeds. There you have it...ambition!

  3. Yes, and all those people who apparently lie on their CVs! I suppose you have to put the best self forward that you can, and know what it is they want and how that matches up to your values and skills and things, even if they're slightly different because of a different view on life.

    The Sheryl Sandberg talk definitely makes some good points- you get back to the whole debate of nature vs. nurture, and if gender divisions are natural or (heh) man-made. What would the world be like with 50% women in leading jobs... it might be hugely different! Or it might be exactly the same lol...


what do you think?