As communicators, we know that the effort to appeal to a large and diverse audience can sometimes dilute the message. We are taught to tailor our content and target a segment of the audience, so that we can speak, write and advertise more effectively. But it can be easy to forget or neglect this strategy when it comes to marketing ourselves. When you are on the job hunt, urgency may drive you to try to be all things to all people. Painting yourself with broad strokes does not help you to stand out and doesn’t give credit to the nuanced and distinct experience that only you can bring.
What Have I Done?
Whether it’s a networking event or a social gathering, you are bound to be asked what you do and what you’ve done. How can your answer to that question actually help the other person to learn more about you? It’s easy to give a 5 second response (“I’m in healthcare” or “I’m a publicist”), but that doesn’t give much to remember you by nor does it really answer the question. J.T. O’Donnell of careerealism.com says on her LinkedIn blog, “People answer with a label when they should be responding with an action.” Answer the question with precision. “I work with luxury retail companies to reimagine their online presence and introduce them to new digital platforms. It’s a lot of time spent getting to know a client’s brand, visiting stores and meeting with their creatives, and also staying up on the latest technology, which I love discovering and figuring out how to use.” A detailed and enthusiastic response makes you more identifiable and gives the conversation somewhere to go. Don’t make it all about you though- they don’t need to know about the totally outdated email server your company refuses to overhaul or the amazing cupcakes you bring your team on Fridays if they’ve met their weekly goals.
In an interview on the other hand, you’ll be judged on your ability to present your experience in a way that’s relevant to the position for which you’re interviewing, and you must speak with an even greater level of specificity. Think of your resume as an outline. It provides jumping off points, but does not tell the whole story. If asked whether you have digital experience, don’t leave it at “Yes, I did that at in my last role” – expand upon the kind of electronic media you’ve worked with and what exactly your function was. This will not limit you in the eyes of the employer, but will substantiate your claim and might even illuminate a skill they didn’t know you had.
What Do I Want to Do?
At Chaloner when we bring people in who we haven’t met before, we will often ask about their long-term goals and plans. The most compelling candidates can present a clear picture of what they would look like in their sweet spot. There may be more experience that needs to be had before they could assume such a role, but there is an articulated mission or goal that drives them. Do you want to manage communications for a leading software company, write about politics for the New York Times, start your own healthcare public relations consultancy? What space are you seeking to fill? Most of us want to generally achieve “success” in our field, but be sure you know what that would actually look like for you. Take some time to define it for yourself so that you can communicate it to others.
How Am I Going to Make That Happen?
Once you have a clear picture of where you’re headed, you need an equally detailed road map of how to get there. Simply saying “I’m going to develop my social media skills” or “I’m going to gain management experience” doesn’t give you anywhere to begin, and it doesn’t help you quantify your progress. Be specific about your plans– “I’m going to take this class at NYU on social media marketing” or “I’m going to apply to jobs where I would manage a team of at least four people.”
The language you use to describe yourself and your work should reflect the distinct perspective, varied experiences, and passionate mission that you, and only you, bring into the room. We agonize over the wording of job descriptions, press releases and marketing materials- why not give this same care to the articulation of our professional identity?
Chaloner, founded in 1979 as Chaloner Associates, is a national executive search firm that focuses on recruiting mid- to senior-level communications, public relations, marketing and investor relations professionals.