Before You Update Your Résumé…

Thinking about looking for a new job? I’ll wager the first thing you feel compelled to do is update your résumé. It’s a nearly universal reflex. And, it’s wrong.

My advice is to push away from the keyboard and spend time gathering data and thinking through the value you bring to your teams and firms. Once you’ve developed a cogent, defensible professional value proposition, then, return to the resume, LinkedIn profile, and other tools you are using to represent you.

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.

Replace the Weasel Words and Clichés with Your PVP

After consuming what seems like four or five million résumés in my career, I can safely generalize that you have the phrase, “results-driven leader” and its close cousins somewhere in your copy.

Unfortunately, most of us tend to describe ourselves in some horrible language that blends résumé-talk with marketing-speak. The resulting cliché-riddled, meaningless phrases sound annoyingly similar to everyone else’s and do little to help you differentiate yourself.

If you want to reach a particular audience and convince them to invest in you, it’s critical to have a PVP that is both authentically you and meaningfully different from everyone else. You need to show why investing in you is a wise move.

Wrapping Your Brain Around Your Professional Value Proposition

Your PVP is a central message that describes how you 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. And while it draws on your history, the challenge is to project how you create value into future terms.

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—as most resumes do—you’re asking them to work too hard.

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

Two Question to Help You Uncover Your 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.

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.

Next, Answer Three Questions:

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 the following:

  • 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 statement 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.

Now it’s time to update your résumé.

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.

Art's Signature