Monday, August 16, 2010

Your Personal Value Proposition: Choose Your Own Adventure!

Several times, over the course of this year, I have been invited to coffee or lunch by folks who want to talk about their job search with me. Sometimes they are interested in a job at the university where I work. Sometimes they want a job in instructional design. I enjoy these conversations because they have really helped me to deconstruct my strategy for getting a job.

Most folks, even folks that use social networks like LinkedIn, go about the job search process in a rather "rat shot" fashion -- throw enough resumes at it and eventually one of them will stick. It's the "even a blind chick gets a piece of corn once in a while" approach. The problem is that there are a whole lot of blind chicks out there pecking away. Somehow you need to separate yourself from the flock.

A job search is like any sales transaction. If what you are selling isn't what the person in front of you is buying, then you are not going to make a sale. Period. To improve your odds, I suggest you start thinking about your personal value proposition A value proposition, according to Wikipedia, is " an analysis and quantified review of the benefitscosts and value that an organization can deliver to customers and other constituent groups within and outside of the organization."  A personal value proposition looks at your personal skills, experiences, and values, instead of those of the organization. 

Constructing your personal value prop can be done in four major steps:
1. Determine your market. 
  • Focus, focus focus! It may feel counterintuitive to narrow down your search, but doing so will ensure that your offering is actually what the potential employers are looking for. You need to state in one to two short sentences what industry and job you are seeking. It needs to be crystal clear to you. 
  • Know what that market values. This isn't the time for guess work and assumptions. Even if you have worked in this sector in the past, you need to take the time to go through the analysis. Do not assume that what was valued in the past is what is valued now. You can get this information in two ways, and I suggest you do both. First, find people who are currently working in that area, and interview them. What are the most important attributes their employers are looking for? What skills and experience do they think are the most valuable. Second, look for as many job postings for these positions as possible. make a spreadsheet of the skills and requirements these people are looking for, and tabulate the most desired skills and requirements.
  • Go beyond skills and experience to gestalt. Gestalt is "a configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole that it cannot be described merely as a sum of its parts." In other words, it is the essence or flavor of your potential future company. Study their website, their thought leaders blogs, their employees' responses to questions on LinkedIn. Who are these people? What values rule their life?
2. Determine your gaps and take steps to bridge them.
  • Using the list of key skills and experience you created in step one, take a very hard look at your own skills and experience. What are you missing? Again, I can't stress enough that you need to not get stuck in the past. It makes no difference how qualified you were in the past. All that matters now is today. Make a list of the things that you seem to be lacking, based on your research. 
  • Are any of these items things you simply can't fix? For example, if you need 5 years of experience in a particular area, and you have none, you can't get into your "way back machine" and fix that. You need to consider that this is NOT an field that you are going to be able to find work in. 
  • Make a list of skills and experiences that you need in order to bring your own skills and experience up to date. Make a plan for how you are going to do this. This is where you need to put your energy right now, not in sending out a zillion resumes to anything that looks remotely like a possibility. 
3. Determine how you can differentiate yourself from the flock.
  • What requirement does your potential future employer have that you meet in a wonderful and unique way? How does your work ethic, your values, your experience, your skills, meet that need in a way that no other candidate can match?
  • You need to tell a coherent story that connects every data point in your history into a big ol' arrow pointing at your potential future employer.  
  • Using your research about the gestalt of your potential future employer, determine how your experience, skills, and values make you a match.

4. Develop your resume and other "customer facing" materials.
  • Everything in your resume, portfolio, and other materials needs to support your value proposition. Take a hard look at every line, especially of your resume. This isn't a place to put everything you have done in your life. This is the place to prove that you have the skills and experience to be successful in your new job. Start by cutting everything that doesn't do that.
  • Use all the free space to offer proof of your experience and skills. Think result, not job duties. What have you accomplished? Don't assume your future employer is going to be able to read between the lines and connect the dots. They don't need to -- there is a big stack of resumes on her desk, so why should she work hard to read yours?
  • Your materials need to be focused. That means you might have a resume that is suitable for this job only. I can hear your moans of pain from here! Too much work? Not really -- since you are being quite focused in your search, you are doing the same amount of work as you would have if you were sending out a zillion resumes, just differently. 
  • Remember to prove to them how you are a member of their tribe. Tell them the story that links you to them. Back in the day, we did this by connecting to a person who was already an insider. You still need to do this, but even more, you need to help your potential future employer understand that you are indeed one of their flock. 
Is this a lot of work? Well, yes. But you will have a much more successful outcome -- for one thing, if you follow these steps, you will really understand who you are going to work for, and you are likely to be happier. And they are likely to be happier with you, as well. Good luck!


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