Can you articulate, in 20 words or less, what makes you uniquely valuable to potential employers? If you’re shaking your head, you’re not alone. Most people struggle to express what makes them special. But, if you can’t quickly and clearly explain your value to potential employers, how can you expect them to see it?
As a business person and a consumer, you understand the importance of product positioning. You’ve seen the sales impact of great positioning and you’ve seen what happens when a brand or product loses its way. Yet few job seekers realize the need to position themselves for the marketplace in that same way.
Who Are You?
If you have ever gone through the process of developing a brand for a product or service, you will have a sense of the work involved in defining and articulating a brand message. You will also know that a brand message is not something you “create”, but rather something you discover. The product (in this case you) already exists. It already has strengths and weaknesses. Your goal when developing a brand is to find and articulate a clear and compelling message that resonates with the consumer (or in this case, with the employer.)
That’s why we put Blue Sky Resume clients through a rigorous process of self-reflection. We ask them to answer probing questions about their successes. We challenge them to develop compelling stories - challenges faced, actions taken, results achieved, lessons learned. We ask them to recollect what others have said about them. During this process of reflection, patterns emerge and these patterns form the basis of the client’s positioning.
One recent client (a sales rep) had consistently exceeded his sales targets in every position and had done so even in challenging economic times and market downturns. It quickly became clear that this ability to increase sales was the core of his personal brand. Another sales rep was less fortunate in his choice of employers - he had worked in some very tough situations and had not always been able to beat his quotas but, in almost all his positions, he had forged unusual partnerships and alliances in order to get into new markets. This talent was a key feature of his positioning.
To decide on your own positioning, take yourself through this same process or reflection and discovery. Look for the recurring themes in your career. Think about the most frequent compliments you have received, Identify those times when you were the happiest and most fulfilled in your job.
Then, work to hone all this information down to 15-20 words that summarize your unique value proposition.
Remember that – just as with a product – your positioning must be:
Successful brands resonate with the consumer. Trying to be something you’re not just because it matters to your audience won’t work in the long-term. I often wonder how many of the people who buy TV-advertised diet pills actually become long-term customers. I’m guessing it’s a tiny percentage. Why? Because the message is not truthful.
If you say that “visionary leadership” is the core of your brand, you need to support the claim with specific examples of visionary leadership. For example: “Visionary Leader who transformed a struggling $5 million business into a $250 million industry leader in only five years.”
You have many strengths and talents. Don’t be tempted to focus on more than one or two, or you will dilute your message. When Apple launched the iPhone, there were many great features to highlight, but they kept their message simply and clean.
Relevant to your target market
Select those abilities and qualities that are relevant to the needs of your audience of potential employers. The manager at the ad agency you’re targeting will be very interested in the fact that you have worked as an account manager on Fortune 500 accounts, but may not care much about your prior experience as a sales rep for a small company.
Compelling and unique
This is essential in order to make a connection with others and it’s as true in career marketing as it is in product marketing. Avoid clichés and don’t copy a resume format or wording from someone else. Your presentation must be your own.
So you know your perfect positioning – now what?
Defining your positioning is the first stage of the process – now you must communicate your message effectively and clearly to your target audience, and you must do it in every aspect of your search.
Resume and cover letter
Now that you know your positioning, you can create your messaging. Start your resume and cover letters with powerful positioning statements. Back up your claims with hard evidence and reiterate your message all the way through the documents. If your unique value proposition is the fact that you always drive exceptional sales growth by building partnerships and alliances, include specific examples for each position and provide dollar amounts.
Your Marketing Campaign
Your positioning may impact the approach you take to your search. For example, core branding for one of my recent executive clients was his ability to turn around struggling small to mid-size companies and bring them to profitability. This realization guided his subsequent job search – he was able to research local companies that fit his criteria and then manage a direct mail and networking campaign designed to get his resume in front of key executives.
Since most interviewers are extremely busy, many will not have time to prepare in advance. As a result, they often use the resume as a guide, asking you questions based on the accomplishments you listed on your resume. If your resume is truly in line with your unique value proposition, this is great! Develop your stories in advance and practice, practice, practice until you are very comfortable articulating these examples of your ability to add value.
Have you googled yourself lately? Many recruiters and executives regularly use the Internet to research candidates. That means you need a positive Web presence. You must build professional profiles on sites such as LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, Twitter, Facebook, or Plaxo.
Another great way to build your online presence is to write articles on your area of expertise for Web sites and newsletters. Also, be wary of what you do online - if you have a personal web site that has been indexed by the search engines, turn it into a career portfolio. You don’t want the CEO of your dream company to come across that shot of you drinking tequila shots on vacation!
Ongoing Positioning for Career Advancement
It’s tempting to lose focus on personal positioning once you’re settled into a new position, but this is a mistake. Instead, you must develop and nurture your brand by remembering that everything you do – and everything you choose not to do - communicates who you are and what you stand for.