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Suffering from Professional Value Fuzziness?

Ian Christie | February 14, 2017

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.

The Main Obstacle in Career Change

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.

The Gap

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.

Fuzziness & Crossing the Gap

There are four big implications to being fuzzy on your professional value:

  1. You don’t develop the confidence, clarity and direction that comes from truly knowing your professional value.
  2. You identify the wrong career change targets; ones that aren’t a fit or ones that are remote shiny objects (…my career change target is Apple or Google), and then make no progress and get stuck, or give up.
  3. You don’t get traction in convincing your network and the hiring decision makers.
  4. Or, you do land a job, but the wrong one for you which can result in more risk, more misery and getting stuck all over again.

Two Approaches to Your Career Change

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.

Discover Your Unique 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.

Professional Assets Model

How to Get More Clarity on 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).

  • Conduct a background analysis of your experience to date. Examine each role to look for the learnings, the achievements, the track record, the extra involvement and impact you had.

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.

  • Make a list of your areas of expertise. What’s rare, high value, or something you want to leverage?

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.

  • Make an inventory of your skills and abilities. What stands out? If helpful, you can divide between “hard skills” and “soft” skills.

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.

  • Find out what were the documented competencies for your current and past roles. Add your own. What do you think are your strongest areas? Weakest? Which do you want to leverage?

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.

  • What do you know about your work personality? What do you bring to work that can be a strength for certain type of jobs, organizations or situations?

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.

  • What do you read about in your free time? What break-out presentations do you attend at conferences? What are your professional interests?

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.

  • What motivates and drives you? Which of these motivators are also important to you in your next career step?

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.

  • How strong and relevant is your network?

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.

  • Assess your professional reputation. Think about how people perceive your quality. Your reliability. How interested are they in referring you?

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.

  • Capture and write down your stories.

Putting it Together for a Successful Career Change

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.

Blost post author Ian Christie

About the author

Ian Christie

Ian has devoted his career to helping mid-level and senior-level professionals develop theirs. He’s built deep experience in career transitions, career development and personal branding through 20+ years in roles that have included executive recruitment, managing products at a major online job board, leading the MBA career centre for a global Top 100 b-school, designing and instructing graduate level university programs in professional development and writing articles for major portals. Most importantly, as a Vancouver Canada-based career consultant and founder of the Bold Career Project, he’s served thousands with career transitions, career development, LinkedIn consulting and resume development. Whether it’s designing a new online course or working on his bread-making technique, Ian is a creator at heart, finding new ways to solve problems and communicate ideas.


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