Now this is a woman who is doing what she was born to do.
Last week I wrote about my concerns with the idea of "personal branding" - my feeling that it focuses people on the wrong things - having them look inward rather than outward. So this week I wanted to talk a little bit more about my preferred approach - what I call the value-based approach to job search.
The idea is to determine what unique value you have to offer that the market needs. The important concept here is the second part of that statement. You have lots of things to offer - you might make a mean vegan curry and be able to raise one eyebrow but not the other - but if the market doesn't need those particular skills, you won't get a great response when highlighting them on your resume ;-)
This means you have to decide exactly what you want to do before writing an effective resume. You simply can't write a resume that grabs attention if you don't understand the concerns of the person reading your resume. And you can't understand their concerns if you don't know who they are. So targeting a position clearly is step one.
I love it when my clients can tell me exactly which position they want because I know I can push all the right buttons to get them there. But usually, you won't know the exact job - you just have to know what it would look like (for example "I want to be a marketing manager in a company that sells youth-oriented products. It has to be fast-paced and small to medium sized as I don't work well in big corporations.")
This type of targeting helps you address every word of your resume to appeal to the type of hiring managers who work in companies like this.
But it's not enough to throw a bunch of generic buzz words at the wall and hope that will open doors. You have to show how your unique combination of skills, experiences and personality traits mean that you will add value to that type of company.
This means you need to think back over all the times you have added value in the past. (Ask yourself 'what would be different at XYZ if they had never hired me?') Then determine the common theme that runs through those experiences.
In my past life as an HR executive, the theme that ran through my career was aligning HR with business goals. I was always the person who came in and turned HR from a "no" function to a "yes" function - one that supported the business goals and helped move the business forward. This usually meant replacing some people, changing a lot of policies and developing an entire new strategy for the HR function, and it was this that was my value-added.
Knowing your value-add abilities allows you to decide on a resume structure and on what to include (and what to leave out). You've done a lot of different stuff in your career but you don't have to include it all. Just focus on the stuff that communicates your value-added.
An interesting post at The Buzz Bin touched on some issues I've been thinking about for a while. In "I Don't Care About Your Personal Brand,' Geoff Livingston outlines why he opposes the idea of developing a personal brand. His post is aimed at people working in the online space, but his points apply to anyone. You should read the whole thing, but this is the part that caught my eye:
3) While personal brands are concerned with themselves, the market is also concerned about itself.
4) The market doesn’t care about the persona, only what value the persona contributes to the larger community.
This gets to the core of why I have never jumped on the personal branding bandwagon, despite having flirted with the idea for a while. In the end, I'm much less interested in having my clients focus on their 'brand' than on the value they can add to potential employers. Value-added is simple, direct and focused on the employer. Personal branding is something broader (to be sure value-added is a part of it, but not the only part) and seems to me much more focused on the individual.
In order to pinpoint a client's value proposition (exactly how he or she will help the company succeed) I use many of the same approaches as a personal branding consultant, but the focus is different - not the self-indulgence of me (the candidate) but the outward focus of they (the employer).
For a long time, I attributed my reluctance to jump on the personal branding train as something related to my background. As a Brit, I'm always a little uncomfortable with anything that smacks of taking oneself too seriously. But after reading Geoff's post, I see that it's not just that.
24) A personality oriented brand does not necessarily equate to successful results.
It's the fact that results (and actions) matter. Results and actions tell me what you will do for me. Results and actions tell me whether or not you will add value to my organization. Results and actions show me who you are much more effectively than any carefully crafted public image.
I know that many of my colleagues disagree, but for me, a focus on results will always be more effective than a focus on brand. After all, all products and services have brands, but how many of them deliver what they promise?
My personal favorite is my bank Chase, who tell me that 'the right relationship is everything' and then constantly leave me on hold for hours while they try to figure out why my online banking has gone awry one more time, leaving me yelling "THIS ISN'T THE RIGHT RELATIONSHIP!!!" as my blood pressure soars once again. (But they do send me the occasional Starbucks gift certificate, with a very nice message about how much they value my custom, so I guess that makes it all OK).
I can't help wondering how much better they would be if they stopped spending money on branding experts and fancy loyalty programs and instead invested that money in actually adding value to my life.
And in the end, that's my point. Instead of worrying about personal brands, I think people need to think about results and value-added. In some cases, with the right candidate and the right personal branding coach, maybe the two things converge anyway - but if you have delivered great results and made a big impact on prior employers, you really don't need to worry about packaging it in a nice brand message. It will be obvious to everyone.
And if you haven't, well a nice brand message isn't going to help you for very long.
When I finish a resume for a client, I always google their name to see what comes up.
This isn't prurient curiosity - I do this because I know that what comes up in a Google search is almost as important as what's on the resume - maybe more in some cases.
Think about it - when you buy an expensive product, do you make your decision based on the manufacturers' descriptions of how wonderful their products are? I'm guessing that you don't - that instead you base your decision on reviews from friends, family, books, magazines and online websites.
In the past, employers had very few chances to get beyond what you told them in your resume. They could ask for references, but chances are you wouldn't give them names of people who would say bad things. They could ask probing questions at interviews, but this really depended on how good they were at probing and how good you were at answering. They could try calling former employers without your knowledge, but none of them would speak based on fear of lawsuits. So hiring a new employee was a leap into the unknown.
The Internet has changed that at least to some extent. Now employers can google your name and see what comes up. If they find lots of good stuff, obviously that works in your favor. If they find less flattering personal information, obviously that will work against you. But what about if they don't find anything?
This is increasingly the problem I find with my professional and executive-level clients. It's not that Google makes them look bad - it's that Google makes them look invisible.
And so this is my advice for Job Action Day: Take steps now to make sure that you have a strong e-presence.
1) Create profiles on sites like LinkedIn, Plaxo, Visual CV, Facebook and ZoomInfo. Make these profiles as impressive as your resume. Fill out every section and include links to your websites or blogs within the profiles.
2) Build your own site or hire someone to do it for you. Whether you start a blog or create a static website, you must have a place that offers all the important information about you in one place.
Once you have built these profiles, they may take a few weeks to show up in search engine results, but when they do, you will be able to add this powerful sentence to your cover letters, emails and interview answers: "Feel free to google me for more information."
See how confident that makes you sound?
There are many more ways to build a strong e-presence and I'll cover more of them in future posts, but for Job Action Day, here is one thing you can do to immediately improve your job search success rate.
After years of success on the Today Show, Katie Couric's move to anchor the CBS Nightly News was heralded as an exciting new chapter in her career - but low ratings soon started rumors that she'd be ousted. Now, fresh from her infamous interviews with Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Couric's stock is rising again.
Last night I came across an article on Couric, and found this section especially interesting:
Her interviews with Palin ultimately served as a reminder not only to her viewers but also to her bosses of what helped make her such a star when she was on NBC's 'Today'
"For a while I was told really not to do any interviews on the show, which is of course what I love to do," she said, suggesting that the network feared taking precious time from the news of the day. "That wasn't, in my mind, using me to my full advantage."
It's just such a reminder that getting the great job with the great salary isn't the be all and end all. Not if the people who hire you don't understand your value, or have plans that are not in your best interests.
Which really does mean that you have to (a) know who you are and (b) vet potential employers to make sure they plan to use your strengths.
Who knows, maybe Katie Couric would have signed up anyway - the money must have been pretty tempting! But if you're not being offered a multi-million dollar contract, you might want to learn from Katie's mistake.
It really is true that crisis and opportunity are often closely intertwined. The current financial crisis is no different. Some of us are being (or will be) shaken out of our comfort zone by circumstances beyond our control. Here's one example from Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish:
In order to be able to afford a place to live, pay my student loans and maybe even save for my future, I took a job in finance. I fought myself the entire time. It never felt quite right.
Long story short, my company is in a bad way.
I am going to have to look for a new job now.
The writer goes on to say he's considering pursuing work he enjoys rather than work that will make him rich.
These are decisions we don't consider when times are good because it's easier to just keep going along. I should know - I spent many years in a corporate executive job that I hated because it paid well and because I didn't know what else to do.
It wasn't until a lay-off forced me out that I re-evaluated and decided to start this business - a decision that was one of the best of my life but one that I would never have made if not forced into it.
This is not to say that people won't suffer or that this financial crisis is something to cheer. Just to say that crisis and opportunity really are often one and the same. If your job is in danger, think twice before pursuing another one in the same field. Do you love what you do? Do you wake up eager to get to work?
If not, this might be your chance to rethink.
I am political junkie and election time is my Superbowl. (Only it goes on for MUCH longer than the Superbowl, which I'm sure drives sane people nuts but actually just gives me months and months of weird pleasure).
So anyway, we're getting close to a general election and so my TV is pretty much constantly tuned in to cable news (this despite the fact that most of it makes me want to pull my hair out in clumps as a distraction). But it's the Olympics now apparently, and that means my usual channel of choice, MSNBC, has dropped its daytime news programming in favor of people swimming and running and jumping over things.
No biggie - this morning I flicked over to CNN and caught them during one of the ad breaks, where a deep-voiced announcer told me that "CNN is the place for politics." Well great! Because that's totally why I'm standing in my kitchen eating cereal and staring at this tiny little portable TV. Guess I'll hang on and see what's going on!
So I hung and I hung and I hung. I hung on for 11 minutes while they talked about: (1) a child who fell down a chimney somewhere I've never heard of; (2) Some bad weather somewhere far away from where I live; (3) Which movies did well at the box office this weekend, and (4) The Olympics.
And that's when I remembered why I stopped watching CNN. Because this is what they do pretty much all day. Now maybe all these things are more popular than politics. Maybe they bring in viewers. Fine - I get that. But don't call yourself 'the place for politics' if you're not. Don't think that if you call yourself that, I won't actually notice that you didn't show any politics the whole time I was watching!
I used to see job seekers make the same mistake when I worked in HR. I'd read a resume filled with words like 'dynamic' and 'high-energy' and then at the interview I'd meet a quiet little person, who could not, by even the wildest stretch of the imagination, be called either dynamic or high energy. And I'd know they just wrote that because either they hoped it would magically just become true, or they copied it from someone else's resume.
If you're not dynamic, don't say you are! Say that you're dependable, professional, dedicated to the company's success or a team player. Then when you walk in for the interview, there won't be a disconnect.
The worst thing about pretending to be what you're not isn't losing out on a job - it's getting the job. If you fool people into hiring you based on qualities, skills or experiences that you don't really have, how will you do the job effectively?
For me this is the biggest argument for being honest. You may lose out on the odd job but ultimately you will win a position that's right for you, thereby laying the foundation for the rest of your career.
As for CNN, if they're going to act like "The Place for Little Girls Who Fell Down Chimneys" then they should own it and make that their slogan (or perhaps they could come up with something a little more catchy).
(I was supposed to have 2 days like that, but yesterday got eaten up with emails and phone calls and questions and last-minute client projects and before I knew it, our cats were looking for their evening meal and dusk was falling!)
It's amazing how many things I think of on these rare days. They never fail to help me come up with at least one good idea - often more than that.
So why do they happen so infrequently?
I wonder if I'm alone or of there are others like me. Is everyone else setting aside quality time every week to work on planning and thinking? I have a sneaking suspicion that the answer is no. That many people are like me, too busy with the day-to-day to stop and reflect.
But I also have a sneaking suspicion that I could do something about it if I put my mind to it. Hmm ... I'll have to give that some thought the next time I have a moment free.
Howard Nestler over on Blue Steps thinks so.
Nestler makes the point that when executives default to using a resume as a means of promoting, they have given up all the advantages that their skill, intellect and experience have provided them. “They become part of the crowd,” Nestler asserts. “Imagine a political candidate running for office by merely circulating a resume.”
“An executive must begin to see himself or herself as a product with discernable qualities and characteristics that set them apart from the many options a company has in today’s job market.” Nestler goes on to say that, “Executives must then headline their campaign with these qualities, which is something a resume does not do.”
I could not disagree more! Most resumes don't do that, it is true. But the good ones do. To suggest that senior executives can somehow do away with a resume is a complete myth and could only be suggested by someone who fundamentally doesn't understand the hiring process at most organizations.
Try telling the headhunter who calls you about a great CEO opportunity that you don't have a resume because you are above all that. The headhunter's response would likely be "well write one and send it over to me ASAP." And when a company expresses interest in you after your networking efforts paid off, how do you think they'll respond to being told "sorry, I don't use a resume."
Perhaps what Nestler means to say is that the average resume isn't effective.There I would agree with him and I've written extensively on the subject. No matter what level (entry or executive) your resume must communicate your unique story. It must show why you are the perfect person to help your target company to meet its goals. It must help you to stand out, showing why you are uniquely qualified for the role. All this takes time and effort, but its well worth the work.
For more on how to write a game-changing resume, feel free to download my free report: The 3 Inside Secrets that Will Transform your Resume. Or buy a book. Or study samples online. Just don't follow Howard's advice and try to dispense with a resume altogether
We’ve all heard that phrase a thousand times and we know all that it’s good life advice, and yet, when it comes to marketing ourselves, it’s often a lesson that we forget.
I can’t tell you how many senior executive resumes sound exactly alike. Filled with words like ‘results-focused leader’ and “high-energy executive” - everyone is “dynamic” and ‘proven’ and ‘experienced.’ After reading the same thing 30 times, everyone starts to blur together.
Which is really crazy! Because you are totally unique. You have something that no other candidate has. You will add value in a different way. And yet I am willing to bet that your resume doesn’t express that unique value.
I speak from experience, because for years, I didn’t know how to express my value either. When I first started my resume writing business, I wasn’t sure who my target audience was and why they should choose my company. As the business grew, I started to figure out my unique value (I have prior HR and recruiting experience, which means I know how to get the attention of HR and recruiters). As I figured this out, my marketing messages became clearer. But I still knew I wasn’t getting to the bottom of what made my business different. And very recently, I was hit over the head with the realization that we have a very obvious selling point – we’ve had it all along but I just took it for granted.
It happened this way. One day, I received a request for proposal from a person in the UK. We don’t write resumes for the UK because frankly I have no idea what works there, so I wrote back to the person and politely declined the project. The same day, I also declined a project from a teacher because no one on my staff has expertise in writing resumes for teachers. The next morning, I had emails from both potential clients thanking me for my honesty and for not just taking their money regardless of whether I could provide excellent results.
And it hit me that we do that all the time – we only take on clients I know we can help. On the rare occasions that we misjudge and don’t get results, we refund money. Our whole business is built around trust – trust that our resumes get results, and trust that we will treat people fairly. And our resume writing process is also base on honesty – we don’t ‘sell’ what people are not – we help them communicate their authentic unique value. And yet our branding has never reflected that – at least not as a conscious effort. It should!
If you’re like me, you see other people much more clearly than you see yourself. So when it comes to marketing yourself, you probably fall back on platitudes, or standard ideas of what a good executive does. And the resulting resume is probably flat and boring and not at all reflective of what makes you YOU.
Here are a couple of ways you can fix that right now.
1. Think back to compliments you’ve received from bosses, co-workers or clients. What do they say abut you? What words do they choose? Don’t get stuck on what YOU think ... in fact, forget that for now. Just focus on what other people say.
2. Looking back over your career, what themes keep re-emerging? Are you always the person brought in to tackle the most challenging problems? Or have you always found new ways to cut costs?
3. What is your management philosophy? Write it down – don’t worry about spelling or grammar or finding the perfect words – just write whatever comes into your head.
Reviewing all this information will help you determine the answer to the most important question of all: “what make you unique?”
Once you have that answer, you can rewrite your resume, you can prepare for interviews and you can create your ‘elevator pitch.’ All based not on what executives are ‘supposed to be like’ but on who you really are.