There’s a spreading phenomenon among knowledge workers and the managerial ranks; professional value fuzziness. If your family and friends don’t know exactly what you do, you might have this problem. And when it comes to career change, job search or even just updating your resume, not fully understanding or appreciating your professional value is the number one obstacle. The good news is that once you gain clarity in who you are professionally, making a successful and fulfilling career move becomes much more doable.
In a normal job search, you’re bringing direct experience, knowledge, skills and a track record in the same job function and/or industry. When you’re trying to make a change in industry, in job function, in level, the connection is less obvious.
Between your current state and your desire for some sort of career change is a gap. Someone has to hire you. You have to beat out other candidates. And the bigger the change, the bigger the gap.
There are four big implications to being fuzzy on your professional value:
There’s two broad approaches to career change and they are each impacted by not being clear about your professional value. They are directed and exploratory career moves.
Directed: Directed career changes are about moving from A to B where B is something you’ve specifically identified and hopefully already validated. So, it’s up to you to connect the dots. You have to show them that you can do the job, and that you’re a fit, a safe bet, and hopefully even more than that, someone who is going to add great value to their organization.
Exploratory: Exploratory career changes involve moving from A to ? because you feel you need a change but have no idea what to do. If you’re in exploration mode you’re asking questions like “what’s out there for me?”. That question cannot be answered without first getting clear on who you are professionally. Not only to convince a hiring decision maker, but to actually identify what is out there for you. Jobs that you’ll thrive in. Environments which are a great fit.
In both cases, your chances of landing and sticking with fulfilling work are directly tied to how well you understand and leverage your unique professional value.
Here’s the good news: I bet that you are a highly valuable individual. You probably have a valuable array of attributes that you can offer the market.
Unfortunately, too often, people get stuck in their career moves because they get locked into a narrow definition of experience.
You know what that’s like…Must have X years experience in ________.
If you are going to make a career change, you need to leverage more. Time to discover your professional assets.
You can see from the model that there are different quadrants of attributes that you can potentially bring to the hiring market, both directly and indirectly. I describe them below along with an action item to help you reflect.
Experience: If your job or background is complex and if you’re involved in managing people, programs, projects or processes, there might be a lot to leverage here. For example, your experience in industries, in specific markets and with different customer types as well as different job functions can be leveraged. Within your roles are secondary types of experience (team leadership, projects, initiatives). That’s immensely valuable. And, you can leverage the experiences you’ve worked through (growth, change, turnaround, etc.) as well as the types of organizations you’ve worked with (start-up, multi-national).
Expertise: You are probably in possession of one or more sets of expertise. Know-how that you can put into action around how your industry works, including specific processes, regulations and ways of doing things. Your expertise can be used as a lever to propel your current career or help you successfully enter the next step or a new professional adventure.
Skills & Abilities: You’ve been trained in and have developed skills. You also have developed natural abilities that have become strengths. Both of these are highly transferable between job functions and industries.
Organizational Competencies: The common job language of most organizations today is competencies. Competencies are combinations of skills, abilities and knowledge that result in capability to do something. Every job has a set of key competencies required, and a level expected. Typical competencies (conflict resolution, leadership, coaching & mentoring, for example) are 100% transferable across organizations and industries.
Note: There can be some overlap between the top three categories. Don’t get hung up on that. As long as the asset gets captured, you’re fine.
Your Work Style: There are likely parts of your work personality that you can identify and leverage to help reinforce your change. Personality assessment tools map your work personality into different categories. Use that understanding and language to help make your case.
Professional Interests: There’s a good chance you’ve paid extra attention to certain subjects. Through reading, watching, listening and conversations, you’ve accumulated a level of knowledge, expertise and appreciation about these topics that is above the norm. If you can connect these to your desired career change, and show that you’re active in these areas, you have a thread that might work.
Your Drivers: For some career changes, your values are front and centre and can be leveraged. Want to take your volunteer work and commitment in improving the lives of others to the not-for-profit sector? That’s absolutely something to leverage.
Network: Your professional relationships are important. At a minimum, they represent references, sources of information and referrals. Your connectivity is a measure of your relevance. And for some roles, your professional network is a critical asset and an expectation.
Reputation: The stronger your professional reputation, the more market power you have. If people who matter speak highly of you and champion you, that’s a strong asset.
Stories: Finally, contained in all that you’ve experienced and done are stories. Stories (hopefully) of impact, of successfully working through challenges, of being part of initiatives that had positive outcomes. Your war stories are critical evidence of your approach, the kind of energy and the level of impact you can bring to a new role and organization.
Your goal is to identify and pursue opportunities that are both exciting to you AND a fit based on who you are and what you can bring. When you do that, you both increase the probabilities of taking that next career step, and landing in something that you’ll find more fulfilling. In this article, I outlined a very brief synopsis of an in-depth process available at the Bold Career Project. This process helps uncover your professional value as well as connect the dots when you’re trying to make your case for your resume, LinkedIn profile, interviewing preparation and networking.
Depending on your situation and level, you’ll have more or less information to think about. Don’t get overwhelmed. Not everything is of equal importance. Identify what isn’t a fit. The goal is to identify more than you’re currently using.
Could you use a copy of the assets model above and a workbook to do your exploration? I’ve put together a free PDF that you can download. Get your copy here.
The overall lesson: You are awesome, but not at everything, or everywhere. Don’t rush into a career move without first sharpening your understanding of who you are professionally, what you want to do, what your best fit targets are how you fit. The more you can define your value, the more empowered you are to make better decisions, chase down the right opportunities and truly shape your future.