By JD David
Several years ago, while contemplating a career change, I found myself doing what most people do – reaching out to my network and asking them for help. You know – I explained how, “open-minded” I was to new opportunities and then asked them to “please keep me in mind if anything interesting hits your desk.”
Apparently, nothing interesting seemed to hit my friend’s desks. Ever.
After bucketing acquaintances into categories with various four-letter labels, it occurred to me that it may not actually have been them at all. In hindsight, I am fairly certain that some truly would have liked to help me had they been able to. And…it probably wasn’t actually me either – at least with respect to roles that aligned with my work experience.
More likely – it was my inability to clearly articulate what I was actually asking of them.
What I mean is that while knowing someone’s past job history helps to understand what they do (or more accurately, “did”), it provides no information about who they are or what values define them as a person.
So…What’s Your Brand?
As David Allison, our Director of Brand Strategy and the pioneer of the behavioral science, Valuegraphics, succinctly puts it, “What we do doesn’t determine our values, but…our values certainly determine what we do.”
The first question that we ask our clients when doing strategic consulting relates to understanding their company’s “brand.” Although, it’s not discussed in this way, individuals have a brand, too! We refer to it as their “identity” or “character-traits” and say things like, “it’s in my DNA.”
While many people that make a job change just want to continue doing the same thing they had been doing – just somewhere else, not all have that opportunity. Many of the jobs that my contemporaries and I grew up on have simply disintegrated due to technology innovation, the Volcker rule and plain old cost-cutting.
And of course, the turmoil in the industry has only gotten more pronounced.
I now receive that call (similar to the one that I made back then) at least once or twice a month. Many are from high caliber people with transferable skill sets – but no obvious place to apply them. And…no clear way to demonstrate what they can offer a company based on their past work experience.
Harder Than It Looks
Before you start firing-out your resume or traipsing off to your next interview, it is worth some serious introspection. But not the typical kind focused on your skill sets and job successes. The following questions were ones that I picked-up from various places over time and found to be enormously helpful.
To make this worth your while, understand that this exercise is meant to be harder than it appears.
Think about it this way…you have undoubtedly been to the gym or had a coach at one time or another scream at you, “GIVE ME ONE MORE!!” just before you think you are going to collapse in exhaustion or vomit all over yourself. And every time, you manage to find it in yourself to get that one more. If someone wasn’t standing over you – there is a much lower likelihood that you find that place in yourself.
This is the same idea. If you rip through these questions and figure that you ‘got it’ – then you probably don’t.
But if you really think you are close to maxing-out, just keep asking yourself, “so, why does that matter?” – until you can’t come up with any more reasons.
1. Describe who you are.
Hint: the answer is not, “I’m a portfolio manager” or “I’m a mother” – or wife, sister, friend, coach, volunteer, etc. The question has nothing to do with what you do. It has everything to do with your identity, values and core beliefs. If you want someone to “make sense” of you – you need to be authentic. Being authentic starts by being honest with yourself.
2. Why should someone care about you?
This isn’t a romance thing. Ask yourself, “what do I offer that few others do and what can I contribute that will help the company to solve a real problem that it faces right now?”
Don’t sell yourself short. Even the greenest new has something to offer.
3. In two sentences or less, describe your ‘value proposition’.
This is about brevity…find a way to package everything you came up with in the previous questions into something concise that they can “walk away” with.
As David likes to ask, “what’s your story?”
4. For as many of your past jobs or roles – name one event or situation that had the biggest influence on you as a person.
I’m a firm believer that people will eventually gravitate to doing what they really want to do – irrespective of money or responsibility. People need purpose and personal satisfaction.
What will it take to feel personally motivated? What are you actually looking to get out of your next role? Finding a job because you need a job maybe the priority in the moment but how will you feel in six months after the initial enthusiasm has worn off?
5. For as many of your past jobs or roles – name the most interesting or important thing you did that wasn’t part of your “job description” (i.e. – it wasn’t “required” of you).
The second place I always look when reviewing a resume (after determining that the person is qualified) is their interests and the work experience that goes “beyond the job description.” This will tell you more about a person than anything else they have written on their resume.
In our business, we get to write a lot of fund manager “resumes” (otherwise known as ‘marketing decks’) and talk through a lot of this stuff. The good news about this exercise is that few people are willing to make the effort to do it themselves – so those that do make the effort will definitely distinguish themselves.