Once you have a good sense of what types of jobs you find interesting and the skills required for those jobs, your next step is to clearly understand how to position your strengths for a potential employer in a way that aligns with the organization’s needs as identified in the job postings you’ve read.
Overall, you want to target all of your “messages,” that is, your resume, cover letter, and interview responses, toward one key value statement: “I am the solution to your problem.” When you’re ready to apply for a job, your goal is to learn, from the job posting and doing as much research on the organization as possible, what problem, challenge, or opportunity it’s trying to address through the posted position, and then focus entirely on the value you bring that will help it successfully do so.
Basically, your communications should showcase four things:
You have the skills, expertise, and track record necessary to fix the problem. This can include education, credentials, work experience, and/or volunteer engagements that relate to the challenge the company needs to address. Whether in your resume, cover letter, or interview, your communications need to be about the professional value you bring that lets you help the organization resolve its “pain points.” You may also have professional connections that will be of value to your potential employer – if so, be sure to point that out.
You deliver results. Prospective employers pay attention when you can point to quantifiable results from work you did (solutions you provided). Being able to say that you increased customer retention by 15 percent or led a project that came in 20 percent under budget or achieved some other measurable positive result means that you have a track record of delivering actual results. How to frame this? Companies generally focus on two bottom-line benefits: an increase in revenue or decrease in costs (for nonprofits, this may translate to increased membership or donations or similar metrics). If you’re able to point to achievable results in any of these areas, make sure potential employers know it.
You learn fast. Almost any new job is going to involve a learning curve where you’re trained on existing systems, processes, and practices. The faster you can master these and actually start producing value (i.e., being the solution), the happier your employer. So be sure to highlight any experiences that demonstrate how you quickly mastered new information and were able to apply that knowledge in previous situations.
You’re easy to work with and will fit in with – rather than disrupt – their team. In terms of being that great solution, think “seamless transition.” Make it clear that your great people and team skills have helped drive successful solutions in the past and will do so now as well.
Understanding your compelling attributes
Part of the process of understanding your value is to do a bit of self assessment. Not only is it helpful to know your Myers-Briggs profile (check out Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type by Tieger, Barron, and Tieger), but it’s also valuable to be able to identify and highlight your strengths. A great resource for this is Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton’s Now, Discover Your Strengths, and the assessment follow-up by Tom Rath, Strengthsfinder 2.0, both of which will help you be able to confidently describe and provide examples of your value in an interview situation. Another resource that initially comes across as a bit “glitzy” but actually offers useful information is Sally Hogshead’s Fascinate: How to Make Your Brand Impossible to Resist, rev. and upd. (Trust me, it’s less gimmicky than it sounds!)
Your value proposition: based on self-knowledge and the organization’s need
All of these personality assessment books are of course indicators on a spectrum rather than definitive identifiers of set-in-stone personality traits, but they nevertheless provide various ways to understand aspects of your persona (and how you react to the people and world around you) – information that you can use to your advantage in interview situations. (Self-awareness is always a good thing….)
This self-knowledge will also provide a solid basis for you to answer those really tough behavioral questions that interviewers so love to ask. It’s always great to begin your response with “One of the things I’m particularly good at is…”