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Our Take: Connect the Dots For Your Next Employer

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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AUTHORJon Jacobs Insider Comment
  • Ci
    Cindy Kraft
    21 February 2010

    The job hiring process has always been a train wreck. I actually wrote an article about it called "Everybody Lies."

    That said, Andrew, I don't think any of my comments lead to a conclusion of "fueling further innovative ways to color resumes" or "resume fudging." In fact, I would argue that understanding and clearly articulating your value - based on facts and examples - to a clear target market, it is a win/win for the candidate and the company. It is when value is lost in myriad responsibilities that neither the company nor the candidate can clearly connect the dots to see that there is a good fit.

    Cindy Kraft, the CFO-Coach

  • An
    Andrew
    10 February 2010

    This is another epidemic like national debt. The job market distortion and manipulation is so great today, that hiring managers lost all hope of finding the actually qualified candidates. Vast majority of candidates who look genius on papers performs like a crap in the job after hiring.

    We have to bring back some honesty in this market and stop fueling further innovative ways to color resumes and experiences. Half of this mind spent elsewhere could drive innovation, entrepreneurism and economic growth!

    First people have to stop giving positive professional reference based on personal relationship. Second some provisions of punitive action should be built in when a candidate's post hire performance doesn't match up with claimed experience and qualification.

    But the most effective way is probably reverse guarantee. If the candidate doesn't perform as they promise, they will pay back the employer for the time they wasted for everyone. Welcome to the la la land of resume fudging! It will uptick the job market as well, when hiring managers feel it less risky to try a person.

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