Your goal should be to become really clear on who you are professionally, and what you offer your current and potential employers.
Step 1. Where have you been and where are you now?
Take the time to record your educational and professional history to date. What full-time, part-time and summer jobs have you had? Add community service, leadership roles and entrepreneurial initiatives and other notable experiences. If you are early in your career, you will likely have a shorter list and will include positions held in school organizations. Record what you were hired to do, and what tasks and responsibilities were assigned to you for each position.
Step 2. Dig deeper to find stories
Review your history again. Focus on the contributions you made. For each job or position held, reflect on the following:
- What difference did you make?
- What specific accomplishments can you point to?
- Why or under what circumstance were you hired?
- What specific projects did you lead or work on?
- What opportunities did you take advantage of?
- What problems did you resolve?
- Did you take initiative to change or start something?
- Describe the specific challenge or issue and then figure out how you achieved the objective, or fixed the problem, or improved something.
These examples are mini stories that reveal a lot about what you can do. Be as specific as possible.
Step 3: Track record
Honestly evaluate where you were successful, where you weren't and what you think the factors were. Be clear about what you mean by success. It should include:
- Where you achieved what you were supposed to achieve or better.
- Where you were recognized, applauded or rewarded.
- Where you had fun or where you were really engaged in what you were doing.
- Failure: where you fell down and what you really did not enjoy.
Remember the old, very wise saying: "do what you love, and the money will follow." These success stories are clues to help you figure this out. Stories of failure should be equally treasured as they provide incredible learning opportunities and signposts so that you know what to avoid in the future.
Step 4: Strengths
What does your professional and academic history tell you about your strengths? What are you good at? What do you do naturally and effortlessly? Here are three ways to uncover some clues about your strengths:
- For each of your accomplishments, what abilities did you have to demonstrate in order to get the job done? Customer service skills? Project management? Quick thinking?
- Dig into past performance evaluations, reference letters, assessment tools, and notes you have made to yourself. What clues can you find?
- Talk to people with whom you’ve worked. Ask them what they consider to be your strengths, what you are good at, why they like to work with you and then listen carefully.
Step 5: Environments
Job fit is an important factor in success. You could be a very accomplished salesperson for example, but absolutely fail if you worked in the wrong environment, sold the wrong product, worked for the wrong kind of manager, or had to sell using a sales process that wasn’t a fit for your selling style.
Make some notes about the environments you have been successful in and equally important, those where you have not done as well. Think about the degree of structure in the job. The level of autonomy you had. And consider the culture or style of the organization, team, and manager. What do you need to be successful? This is another way of pinpointing where you fit best.
Step 6: Skills & tangible credentials
Catalogue your skills and level of competency. These might be hard skills like operating specialized equipment, knowing how to use a software programming language or being proficient in office software programs. You also have some soft skills like customer service, negotiation, and people management. Record these. List your tangible credentials like degrees, diplomas, courses and certifications and make a note of how relevant they are for your field.
Step 7: Experiences
Companies buy skills and knowledge and experience. Here are some example categories:
- Industry or specific market experience
- Type of organization like public, private, not-for-profit, and government
- Size and situation of employer like rapid growth, shrinking, turnaround and reorganization
- Special situations like change initiatives, product launches and international expansion
When you add these experiences to your functional expertise and skills, your offering starts to become more defined. Rather than being a commodity, you are defining yourself as a specialized product.
- Look for overlap and try to consolidate your ideas. For example, you might have a list of 14 strengths that could be boiled down to a list of 9.
- Try combining concepts to create a more focused profile. For example, an accountant with a passion for not-for-profits could effectively describe herself as a not-for-profit financial manager.
- What are your key selling points? Use your intuition to decide what is most important and relevant.
As you start to construct this puzzle, you will see that you have much more to offer than you thought!