Written by Jim Hockenberry – Copyright 2009. Reproduced on www.candidateschair.com with Jim’s permission.
Jim and I are fellow chapter chairs for FENG (Financial Executives Networking Group), the following is what he has shared with his FENG chapter. Now we are lucky to see it here. Thanks Jim!
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Imagine going to the grocery store looking for a great new ice cream flavor. Your time is short, but you know what you like. A quick look tells you that there are about ten different vanillas sold. Looking further, you come across “chocolate chip coconut Italian Supreme”. Yum – it has everything that you like, and you grab it. Nothing else competes.
Now imagine a recruiter sifting through hundreds of resumes (flavors). There are over 100 vanillas in the pile, but only one chocolate chip coconut Italian Supreme. The recruiter may be looking for banana peach Deluxe, but the chocolate chip coconut catches his eye, and he remembers it. If it is what he is looking for, there is a sell. In either case, the recruiter can make an easy decision on the flavor (candidate). The poor vanilla resumes are quickly forgotten and placed aside.
Would you rather compete as a commodity vanilla, where choice is as much about luck and price (salary), or the unique and well defined chocolate chip coconut Italian Supreme?
As one of FENG’s resume reviewers and over the course of numerous chapter and network meetings, I have seen many resumes. It always surprises me how many of us choose to represent (i.e., compete) ourselves as vanilla. Recently, I saw the resume of an outstanding FENG member who had an unusual background. His résumé’s opening and key summary bullets were so general that it occurred to me that at least 1,000 FENG members could have highlighted the same points.
I am convinced that in today’s tight market, it is vital to make yourself stand out and to be unique. I have heard the argument that doing so may cause one to be ignored for many positions. I counter by arguing that not doing so merely places you in a commodity pool of vanillas where you will have little chance anyway. In other words, one is now obligated to “brand” himself. Distinguishing yourself is the best way that you can compete and to better control your fate. We are in a world where intangibles such as intellectual property and ideas are the true value adders, not the product itself. Make sure you know how you will add value to perspective employers, and make sure that your message communicates this. Very quickly in the resume, cover letter, or 30 second commercial, you need to make this clear, and in a way that is memorable and superior to your competition.
The message needs to be credible and convincing. In essence, the details of the resume support the message / brand. However, the reader will not get to the details unless his five second read of your message (brand) steers him in that direction. It is important to buttress the resume details with a problem, action, and result description. Doing so places your career and achievements in context. Mere quantification does not tell the reader what you had to overcome and what you needed to do to achieve the quantified result.
How does one do this? It is very hard and may be the most important part of your prep work. When I was in outplacement many years ago, I struggled because I perceived myself as a jack of all trades and a generalist. I found that such an approach does not play well in today’s market that places a premium on specialization. Here are some suggestions to identifying and selling your “brand”:
- For your lead-in, use a quote that will attract the reader / listener. I often start my commercial by saying that we all know that 70% of all acquisitions fail to meet their performance objectives. I am the person to call when this happens.
- Try to focus on a narrow subject area. Although I am changing this now, I used to say that I worked on “troubled operations”. This is a lot better than saying my background was in specialty chemical manufacturing. (Yawn – too general in a slow industry, next resume.)
- Try to define a special skill that is unique and easy to understand. To paraphrase, Matt (he says it better) has said that he is skilled at making obscure financial concepts understandable to non-financial managers. I like to say that I am an excellent synthesizer of complex business issues. I have a friend who says in his commercial (and everywhere else) that he excels at the tough assignments that most people look to avoid (and he can back it up). In today’s world, I think that this is an eye catcher and a distinct competitive advantage.
- Make it memorable. In outplacement, I met a man whose job it was to manage parking lots across tri-state (NY, NJ, and CT). There were not many openings for him as the industry consolidated. However, he was responsible for the parking lot under the World Trade Center during the 1993 bombing. In trying to redefine his career, he said he was excellent at crisis management and could prove it. I once met a Viet vet who was a tunnel rat – this was an impressive hard nosed guy who commanded instant respect.
- If you can, humor helps. I once heard of a consultant who called her company “Malarky.” This is a name one remembers and is a great way to start conversations about her business.
Each of us has a great background. How we define and communicate it will be a major key to our success in the job market. Although vanilla is the flavor of ice cream that is the most purchased, it is merely a commodity that will not attract the salaries and positions we all seek. Someone may not need chocolate chip coconut Italian Supreme, but it sure sounds good.