Recently, a friend reminded me of a saying I’d heard probably a thousand times since childhood, but never really dwelled on long enough for its meaning to sink in. “The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” It sure does make enough sense, but I guess I’m not that wise. I seem to like hitting my head against pavement, stand having learned a tidbit, just to do it again. What I learn I like to pass on to others. I do it for the kids.
A couple of years back, in the months between my last job and my current one, I attacked looking for work like it was a job. That’s the conventional wisdom, right? I woke up early 6 days a week, logged onto my computer and sent my resume everywhere. I filled out applications, called offices and searched for the names of hiring managers on the internet. I worked my friends that had jobs that I had my eye on to see if they knew of any openings. I attended corporate open houses. I studied the companies I interviewed with before going on interviews. I sent thank you notes and follow-up emails.
I did all of this relentlessly. I believed in myself (as did Sallie Mae, apparently), so giving in wasn’t an option. I knew I’d get somewhere with some persistency. After about two months and a series of strong interviews, I had 3 solid prospects at different companies. One Tuesday morning, I woke to 3 separate, yet equally crushing rejection emails. I slept (read: mourned) for two days.
That Friday, I’d regrouped enough to acknowledge that something about my process wasn’t working. Eventually, it hit me. I was doing the same thing everyone else in the job market was doing and expecting to stand out. When you move with the crowd and you become the crowd, not an individual. I can believe I’m special and talented all day long, but if my actions are not set up to reflect that belief, few people will see what I know to be true.
I started this blog because I wanted my name to show up topically in on-line search results. I knew I wouldn’t post often, but I wanted to show some level of initiative geared toward the jobs I truly wanted. I made a few posts, learned enough about key words and SEO to get this blog to show up anytime someone Googled me. I went back to the job hunt with an updated resume. After some aggressive maneuvering and networking, I had two job offers inside of a month.
I won’t credit my success finally gaining a good job to starting a blog alone. I will say that knowing that knowing many of the candidates fighting for the positions I sought after, weren’t doing what I was doing lent me a level of confidence I’d previously lacked. Speaking to my credentials became easier because I had concrete examples I could literally click on if the need happen to arise.
Before you look to land the opportunity you’ll have your eye on in the future, build something. I’m not advocating you start blog or anything that specific. Just to think differently about what you do best and how that could benefit future your clients/employers/partners.
Most opportunities open up because of a very narrow need. Gatekeepers need to know you can do what they need done before they’ll consider you further. After which, they’re looking for a reason to learn more about you. Personal initiative puts a solid mile between you and the competition.
Below are 3 ways, as I see it, building something can improve the perception of your value.
Communicate Initiative: One interesting way to build value into yourself could be to complete online courses from free higher education sites like Coursera and Edx. These sites offer free undergraduate courses from major Universities like Harvard, MIT and Johns Hopkins. While I was in between jobs, I studied several video series from Khan Academy, which helped my ability to talk shop at interviews.
Only 4 percent of online course participants complete their chosen course curriculum and obtain a certificate of completion or other designations. Those 4% marked themselves as people with stick-to-itiveness. I’m inclined to believe in their follow through and commitment, which is the sort of aptitude clients and employers seek. It’s great that you’re smart, but will you be able to close out the project? If yes, establish ways to telegraph that from the start.
Better Understand Your Value Proposition: The only thing better than telling people about your skills and credentials is being able to show off how you used them. Bear in mind that most people list skills and knowledge on their resume which are tools. No one hires a carpenter because of the brand of hammer they happen to use. Did you build a house? Great! They’ll want to talk more. Then you can speak to your tools. You’ve given them a reason to care.
Your skills and experience have to matter. It’s great that you know R syntax, but why does that matter to anyone? What did you do with it? Did you make your previous client/employer more money? Did you secure more grants for your foundation? Did you cut more costs or create better process efficiencies? Speak to what people will want to hear; value. Winning over prospective clients and employers means convincing them of how your implied value will help them succeed right away. People are self-interested. Don’t resent it, use it.
Problem Solving Goes to the Doers: Recently, serial entrepreneur Elon Musk had an interview with the Business Insider. When asked how he makes hiring decisions, his response was he walks through the interviewee’s core experience and expertise. He’ll then he asks them to describe a problem they encountered and how they solved it. If the applicant doesn’t have a sufficient story to speak to, he concludes that they likely weren’t the brains of the operation.
Musk is probably right. Highly in demand skills are hard fought and acquired over time. There are stories of “tried and tried again” affixed to them. True value is tied to an investment of focused energy and time. Employers know this. That’s usually why we see a “years of experience” requirement at the bottom of most job listings.
Even if you’re not prompted during an interview or an initial client meeting, find ways to bring up your problem solving bona fides. Talk them through, in a confidence inducing manner, that time you employed your expertise to successfully walk a client through a challenging set of problems. Envision yourself as the mountain guide. You know your way through the terrain because you’ve made the trek a thousand times. You’ve made the mistakes they won’t have to. They have you. You can deliver them to the summit. You have the scars and stories to prove it. All they need do is follow you.
Your perceived value is what matters when you’re trying to land a new job or secure a new client. You have to convince someone you’re worth your asking price. The best way to do this is to make your price look like a value investment. Basic trade economics. When I pay for a pair of socks, I’m suggesting that I would rather have that pair of socks than the $10 I came to the store with. If I’m to make that brand a wardrobe stable, I have to feel that those socks were a bargain considering what I got in return. In closing, be a good pair of socks and you’ll travel far.