During the search for employment, a top priority for job seekers is communicating their unique value to those overseeing the hiring process. Doing this successfully requires a display of confidence and clarity. As I explain this to clients in our initial coaching calls, I’m often met with varying levels of dread and push back. ‘That’s not me,’ said Ryan, a senior software engineer. ‘I don’t like talking about myself.’ And Joan, who worked as a financial services manager, told me, ‘I’m not a salesperson and the idea of it makes me uncomfortable.’ I nod, having heard versions of this many times before, and then I add, ‘We’re going to have to work on this.’ The good news is that the ability to communicate your unique value can be an acquired skill and I’m going to break it down to help you learn to boast during your job search.
context is everything
Most of us have had the experience of sitting near someone who hogs the spotlight, bragging about their achievements. And it’s understandable to not want to copy such behavior. But recounting your accomplishments during a job search is different. In this context, standing out is a must.
Communicating what you’re good at and what sets you apart from other job candidates needs to be embedded in each step of the job search, on your resume and LinkedIn profile, during networking meetings and job interviews, in follow up thank-you notes, and even during salary negotiations.
what is a boast?
While the word ‘boast’ might make made people balk, there’s a neutral definition of the word on which I want to focus – and that is, ‘to possess and call attention to something that is a source of pride.’ This is at the core of your mission during a job search. And to accomplish this, it starts by having a clear grasp of three things:
- what specifically you’ve accomplished professionally
- what personal attributes came into play that demonstrate your strengths
- what the impact has been of your achievement on the places where you’ve worked
The first two bullets are straightforward, though still might require some personal reflection to flesh them out. But a common stumbling block I hear from clients in confidently stating their accomplishments is the third, identifying the impact they’ve achieved, particularly when they’ve been a part of a team of many in a large organization. So let me say this, loud and clear, whether you’re an executive assistant to a tech CEO, an account rep in an ad agency, an SVP in a health care company or anywhere in between, your individual work matters and contributes to the firm’s overall success. It’s a question of taking the time to recognize and embrace your contribution. Below, I’ve included an exercise, with building blocks for you to work on this.
inventory your achievements
Come up with an example of an experience when you accomplished something that was meaningful to you on the job. Reflect on a professional triumph. Do what I call an ‘achievement debrief.’
Take your time answering the following questions. Do a deep dive into the step-by-step process of how you achieved success. Don’t take any part of the process, or the skills and tenacity that it required, for granted.
- what problem or issue did you tackle?
- what results did you achieve?
- what traits did it take to get it done?
- where did you have to dig deep?
- what made you particularly suited for the task?
- hat impact did this achievement have in your workplace?
The answers to these questions will speak to your value, passions and unique strengths. It will help frame your employment story.
don’t be afraid of the ‘I’ word
Amazon is known for having one of the most rigorous interviewing procedures, and because they’re such a dominant employer, the techniques they use trickle down to other companies. No matter what the outcome, once you’ve survived an Amazon interview, you’re likely much better prepared for talking with other potential employers. Prior to meeting with job candidates, Amazon outlines detailed instructions as to what interviewees can expect and how to prepare. Just Google it, and there are numerous tip sheets, even YouTube videos. And here’s one interesting aspect that they make clear:
‘Use ‘I’ when describing actions in your interview answers. Interviewing is not the time to minimize what you have done. Of course, we understand that you've worked with a team in a collaborative environment, but interviewing is an opportunity for you to sell yourself. Be ready to describe the specific steps you took and how you contributed. Let us know what you actually did.’
Many employers want to understand precisely how well you work collaboratively, so you should also be ready to talk about your teamwork. But Amazon’s instructions are a good reminder to lead with your own accomplishments, and how you, in particular, added value on the job.
framing your story
A professional pitch is about storytelling, and like any good story, it needs a clear beginning, middle and end. Along the way, it might even include a challenge that was overcome, which led to triumph. Whether it’s in an interview or a more casual networking conversation, your pitch is the chance to frame the details of your story, emphasizing what puts you in the most advantageous spotlight. And this takes advanced preparation.
To craft your pitch, use the earlier achievement debrief as a guide, and make a list of your professional highlights. For interviews, make sure the highlights relate to the job description. Think about the thread that connects your accomplishments. What strengths have you called upon to achieve positive outcomes? A client of mine who is a business analyst starts her pitch describing a lifelong fascination with numbers, and her expertise with translating data into understandable information that helps companies succeed. Another client who has been a director of marketing describes how she ‘loves to connect fans and brands.’ Pitches need to be succinct (not more than a minute), but energetic, demonstrating what you do and what makes you good at what you do, with at least one concrete example that proves the point. And whenever possible, emphasize past successes with quantitative proof, to tangibly illustrate your results.
view yourself as a brand
I’ve worked with many clients at the upper echelons of sales and marketing. They are gifted at helping companies communicate the uniqueness of their brands and how to distinguish these brands from the competition. But when it comes to describing their own unique professional value proposition, they often falter. And that initially surprised me. But what I’ve come to understand is that self-promotion is different. Without a separation, they can’t pitch themselves. There have been studies that show that women are less inclined to self-promote than men when it comes to work, despite having equal qualifications. Yet at the same time, these women were able to positively evaluate others. (In my own anecdotal experience coaching clients during their job search, men and women are equally uncomfortable making professional pitches.) But for the purpose of building your pitch, there’s value in trying to think about yourself from a distance, to allow for less personal judgment to color your achievements.
benefits of owning your accomplishments beyond the job search
A job search is a juggling act, requiring a demonstration of supreme confidence while being vetted by strangers and facing unknown outcomes. It’s a heavy lift. The one way to stabilize amidst the job search rollercoaster is to acknowledge, embrace and integrate your value. And this is something that no one can take away. When I ask my coaching clients to do their achievement inventories and take stock of their professional strengths, they often initially bristle at the assignment. But I know it will be a lasting gift.