Our Take: Connect the Dots For Your Next Employer

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Whether transitioning to a new sector or eyeing the next rung on the ladder where you're already perched, it's essential to spell out your competitive advantages clearly and concisely in both your resume and face-to-face presentations.

Career and personal branding strategist Cindy Kraft explains why in a post on her CFO-Coach blog. When a client voiced frustration that target employers failed to recognize his financial leadership ability, the coach asked: "Whose responsibility is it to connect the dots so your value is obvious? Yours? Or, the prospective company?"

Kraft dissects two major ways job seekers often fail to "connect the dots" - thus mis-positioning themselves as candidates:

- Failing to present a clear "value proposition" in resumes and supporting documents.

- Presenting an overly broad professional identity in a misguided effort to be all things to all people.

On the first point, she observes:

It is not what you did (responsibilities) that a company is buying. It is your ability to solve problems, and particularly their problems, that they will pay good money to get. If you aren't positioned as a problem solver, your positioning is weak, vulnerable, and suspect and relegates you to commodity status.

Pay Attention to 'Cognitive Fluency'

Even if you can eloquently explain your value proposition in person, you won't get the chance unless your marketing documents convey the same message. Resume writing, Kraft remarks, "is about strategy, which is why templates often fail to make the grade. A one-size-fits-all approach isn't a good marketing document strategy, nor is it a good candidate strategy."

We here at eFinancialCareers News often hammer at that message. Regardless of job function or level, any job-seeker's initial communications should be designed to make it easy and appealing for the recipient to help you in your search. That holds whether you're chatting with a new acquaintance over coffee, having an informational interview or an actual job interview, or sending resumes to recruiters. That's why elevator pitches exist: to let a new contact or hiring manager effortlessly grasp who you are, what you want to do and what you've proved you can do well.

Defining your value to employers and contacts in language both precise and concise also aligns with research findings on "cognitive fluency" - a hot area in experimental psychology these days. A recent Boston Globe article defines cognitive fluency as "a measure of how easy it is to think about something."

It turns out that people prefer things that are easy to think about to those that are hard... Psychologists are only beginning to uncover the surprising extent to which fluency guides our thinking, and in situations where we have no idea it is at work.

Focus Your Brand and Your Job Search

Kraft's second essential point is it's better to have a tightly focused professional identity than a broad and diffuse one:

My belief is that being a subject matter expert trumps being a generalist; knowing a lot about a little is more valued than knowing a little about a lot; and everyone has one or two things at which they excel and would differentiate them from the competition. Most people just haven't taken the time to figure it out.

That, too, is well worth repeating. Here's how I expressed it last year:

To work, your pitch must be narrow enough to let most contacts instantly locate you within the framework of job categories they carry in their heads. Try defining yourself as all things to all people, and you'll end up representing nothing in particular to anyone. Figuring where you fit in is a task you should be performing. You shouldn't be thrusting it onto your contacts' shoulders. The more work you make them do in order to help you, the less likely they will.

Extending that line of thought to job postings can help you get the most benefit from eFinancialCareers. Rather than answer postings just because they're there, spend some time winnowing your list to a handful that play to your strengths. To quote myself again:

The more postings you apply to, the greater the radius between the least promising among them and the core of your skill set. If you adopt the scattershot approach, you may not even have sufficient time to gauge how closely each opening meshes with your skill set, or tailor your resumes and cover letters to spotlight facets of your background that best match each opportunity you seek.

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