These Mistakes Can Derail Your Job Search or Career Change

Whether you’re looking for a job, asking for a promotion, or focused on reinventing your career, you need to be able to articulate and showcase your Professional Value Proposition (PVP). The same goes for situations where you are asking for more, including angling for a promotion or seeking a raise. It’s your PVP that convinces individuals and firms to invest in you, and it has to speak to them in terms they value.

Unfortunately, most of us tend to describe ourselves in some horrible language that blends resume-talk with marketing-speak to create cliché-riddled, meaningless phrases that sound annoyingly similar to everyone else’s descriptions of themselves. Instead of sharing the value we create and offer, we mostly talk about what we did in the past in tactical terms.

If you want to reach a particular audience, standout, and start a relationship or engage them in a transaction, you need to craft a PVP that is authentically you and meaningful and valuable looking forward to your target audiences.

Easy to say.

It turns out, the reason the majority wander through their professional lives without a clear PVP is that it is challenging to uncover and articulate it. Developing your PVP is clumsy, painful, uncomfortable, and frightening, and filled with potential for mistakes. In this article, I share ideas to help you jump-start this excellent and necessary work. I also encourage you to seek help in the form of a Swim Buddy.

Wrapping Your Brain Around the Idea of Your Professional Value Proposition

Your PVP a central message that describes how you, as an individual, uniquely create value for your organizations, customers, and colleagues. It’s that cliché-free statement of what you do so well that you might not even know you do it. It’s also why people should “buy” you as a job candidate or service provider.

Dealing with the Gravitational Pull of Your Past

Most individuals I encounter describe themselves in terms of who they were and what they did. While those items are forever part of you, your chronology of job functions doesn’t even remotely describe your PVP.

This preoccupation with past job functions and titles is one of the most challenging issues for job or career changers to wrestle to the ground.

Yes, your past is essential. It offers clues to your superpowers and situations where you found yourself functioning at your best. However, beware of the tendency to preoccupy with job functions and titles. Instead, you need to look deeper into how you impacted firms, customers, and colleagues in your work, and then find a way to make it relevant for those you want to hire or engage you.

Remember, everyone you want to attract is trying to figure out how you will make them better, solve their problems, and help them create success with their initiatives. If you force people to intuit how past achievements and jobs will solve their current and future issues, you’re asking them to work too hard. They won’t do it.

The real challenge is understanding your past via the right filters and then placing it in the context of solving current and future problems.

Seek Help from a Swim Buddy to Uncover Insights About You

In my career coaching work, I spend a good deal of time working with clients to solve their PVPs. I’ve yet to find someone who can do this entirely on their own. It turns out; we need others to look at us and our contributions and superpowers and agglomeration of experiences and help us recognize our unique secret sauce.

Find a Swim Buddy—an individual you trust to give you frank feedback on you, not the sugarcoated kind that most contacts will provide—and ask for their help. Let them know your goal is to uncover what you do that is valuable and meaningful to others. And then work together on seeking answers to the questions below.

Two Question to Help You Get to Superpowers and Impact

It’s time to start mining for clues to your PVP. Identify a cross-section of former colleagues and ask for their help with your career planning. Include bosses, direct reports, and peers. Ask them to share input with you on two questions:

  1. When we worked together, what was it you saw that I did particularly well?
  2. When we worked together, how did I affect you?

It is shocking how differently those you worked with see you versus how you see yourself. Your past colleagues observed your superpowers and weak areas, and they all have an impression of the impact you had on them during your work together.


  • Expand the list of individuals you survey to include individuals you deemed as adversaries. While this sounds counter-intuitive, they know your strengths a lot better than you might think.
  • You can poll those you work with currently, however, be prepared to offer a plausible reason for asking them to share their perspectives about you.

In doing these hundreds of times with individuals, the revelations range from, “I never thought about myself that way” to “Wow, I had no idea.” While the feedback won’t necessarily roll-up neatly into your professional value proposition, it offers valuable clues you can leverage for this work. Take detailed notes and create a summary document that includes direct quotes on the answers to those questions.

Three Questions to Ask Yourself:

I encourage you to shift lenses and view yourself from different angles. The above questions focused on seeing yourself as others did at varying stages of your career. These next questions challenge you to think deeply about yourself in your work. Ideally, your Swim Buddy is the one asking the questions and probing for detail.

  1. If you were to pick one moment in your career that defines you, what would it be? Why?
  2. Think about the situations where you’ve been at your absolute best. What were those? What role did you play? How did you affect the outcomes?
  3. What are the situations in your work when you achieve what you might describe as a state of flow where everything around you disappears, and you are singularly focused on your work?

Be as descriptive as possible. Write your answers to these questions in a narrative or essay format.

How to Assess the Input

The most important part of this work in soliciting input from others and self-describing your best self is deciding how to think about the data you’ve gathered. It’s time along with your Swim Buddy to do some work answering:

  • Based on the feedback from others and my answers to the “best self” questions, what themes do I hear about how, where, and when I contribute?
  • What are the themes I hear about how I affect others?
  • What are the common characteristics of the situations where I focus all of my efforts on my work?

After answering those questions, I encourage you to write a few summary sentences that payoff the header: Here’s How I Create Value….

Spend ample time on this and ask your Swim Buddy to be merciless in singling out and eliminating the clichés and weasel-phrases. After writing this out, put it away for a few days and return to it and read it fresh. Tune as needed and then bounce it off a variety of individuals to gauge their reaction.

While you’re not finished yet, you’ve come a long way to defining your professional value proposition. In the next issue, I will share some case studies of individuals who navigated the process outlined here and what they did to shift their view to the future and then begin describing their PVPs.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Your Professional Value Proposition is much more than a chronological listing of your firms, titles, and responsibilities. It goes beyond the numbers you generated and focuses on how you uniquely create value leveraging your skills and energy. If the process sounds like a lot of work, you’re right. The payoff is priceless, but you have to do the time and put in the reps first. The benefits show up in the marketing phase of your personal-professional project.

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