Written by Russell Johnson
In today’s employment market, it’s wise to think like a business owner rather than an employee. You may not work under that formal structure, but most executives now share much of the exposure to risk that business owners experience.
Once we embrace this reality, the need to effectively position our services becomes apparent, so here are five keys that are particularly relevant to your business as an executive. Take a quick check to see if your positioning needs to be updated.
1. Clarify Your Brand Purpose
Many high achievers spend their careers with the awful shadow of ‘impostor syndrome’ hovering over them. If you’re one of those who suffer from it, you may find it helpful to know that impostor syndrome is more of an issue for high achievers than for low achievers. This is because high achievers tend to be more self-aware than others. And self-awareness allows us to identify when and how we are compromising. As a result, we naturally become concerned by our lack of authenticity when we try to fit into a situation that doesn’t meet our own inner needs.
For your peace of mind, your fulfillment and your long-term success, your brand must be authentic. Your brand purpose must, therefore, be aligned with how you see yourself and with the difference you want to make.
It’s essential to believe in yourself and to accept that what you choose to believe about your value is valid. Otherwise, you’ll be sending a fear-based message to your subconscious. Namely, the message that you have to pretend to be someone you don’t want to be.
The answer lies in authenticity, and in accepting the fact that not everyone will like the real you. But why would you want to accept a role that’s not right for the person you really are?
When you’re living authentically, you won’t be prepared to put on a ‘work personality’. There will only be the real you; the one you are deliberately choosing to be, based on your vision of a life worth living. Therefore, to be authentic, you need clarity about the kind of person you’re aiming to be and what you’re aiming to create and to contribute.
2. Craft Your Authentic Story
Over the millennia since we developed the capacity for speech, we humans have learned to relate to each other through stories. Your story will be central to the impression you create in networking meetings and interviews. In fact, the stories we tell ourselves about our experiences even determine how we understand ourselves.
To be taken seriously, you must take yourself seriously. Focus on seeing the lessons of your life in a way that enables you to be the version of yourself that you want to be. In developing your story, see yourself as chronicling a journey that conveys valuable lessons and inspiration. Properly understood, you can be sure that it does.
Even in the most seemingly mundane life, there is storytelling potential. Aim to tell your story in a way that is truthful, faithful to how you see your life, and that will engage anyone who learns about your journey.
Your life needs a theme that is meaningful to you, so look for patterns. Additionally, a sense of purpose should pervade your story, even if it is only now in the process of becoming apparent. And just as importantly, the finished narrative should have a sense of resolution. That is to say, it should end with whatever you are currently able to articulate about the career outcome you are seeking. Moreover, your conclusion should convey the sense of its being the natural outcome to your life’s journey thus far.
When the time comes to tell your story, you’ll need to do so in a way that’s empowering to you and compelling to others. This does not require hiding from anything; past mistakes can be powerful sources of learning. Articulated well, they can make your story more powerful and more compelling.
Another consideration is that you’ll need multiple versions of your story. Depending on the situation, these may range from under thirty seconds to many minutes. Whatever the version, you’ll need to edit it tightly for impact.
3. Articulate Your Achievements
Employers look to your achievements to assess the value you add. Consequently, you’ll need to create a list that showcases the value you have created in the past. You can then use it in situations such as a behavioral interview and (in edited form) in your resume or CV.
Use the STAR format (Situation, Task, Action and Result). Begin with the Situation or problem you were facing and progress through the Task you had to accomplish, the Actions you took and the Results you achieved. Push yourself to identify and prepare as many success stories as you can, using the above format. Aim to know these stories by heart so you can use them when they’re needed.
Use action verbs and quantify your achievements as fully as possible, using relevant figures – percentages, dollars etc – for the improvements you have made. Be sure to convey the difficulty of the situation in a colorful way, using appropriate adjectives.
Furthermore, make it easy for your listener/s to understand the significance of the challenge in each case. Otherwise, they won’t appreciate the significance of the result you achieved. And use the personal pronoun, singular – i.e. claim the credit personally, as fully as you legitimately can.
Usually, your achievements will have required more than one strength. Note these at the beginning of each achievement, as reminders to help you in recalling multiple examples of whatever strengths you may need to illustrate.
4. Make Your LinkedIn Profile Do the Work it Should
LinkedIn has over six hundred million members, and millions of active job listings. Using the platform well has become a major key to effective self-marketing for executives and professionals, because:
- It’s used around the world by companies and the recruiters who assist them in hiring
- It allows companies and recruiters to find individual members readily
- It enables members to showcase their value more effectively than they can through a CV or resume
- And most importantly, it enables members to expand their networks vastly and to network more efficiently and effectively than ever before
Millions of people use LinkedIn every day. It’s a business and professional network that people join to connect with others. However, the overwhelming majority of members are harnessing only a tiny fraction of its potential.
It’s a tool to be used within a sophisticated marketing approach, and it takes more than just a Premium subscription to gain the benefits it has to offer. Used skillfully, the right LinkedIn membership for your situation will enable you to clarify areas of interest and to develop relevant connections in those areas, far more effectively than was formerly possible.
5. Maximize the Impact of Your Resume or CV
The terms Curriculum Vitae or CV and Resume are now largely used interchangeably, with usage depending mainly on geographic location. Whatever we choose to call it, we should all have one – not so that we can focus on sending out a lot of job applications but to have a succinctly organized presentation of the value that we bring to the world.
It’s often stated that LinkedIn is in the process of making the traditional resume or CV irrelevant; however, this is unlikely to be possible for executive-level positions. In part, this is because LinkedIn is a publicly available record (which it must be to attract attention). Therefore, it doesn’t allow us to include the level of detail regarding our achievements etc that a confidential resume does. And unlike your resume, your LinkedIn profile cannot be customized for its specific purpose each time you use it. It follows that the resume remains vital.
The work of developing your resume is likely to benefit from some guidance and feedback, but it should ultimately be YOUR work, not that of a resume or CV writer. Accordingly, you need to understand why certain ways of expressing things work well, while others don’t. And you need to be good at expressing them, verbally as well as in writing.
If you have trouble doing this, it may suggest a need to bolster your communication skills through a course or some personal guidance. After all, if you can’t compellingly express your own experience and the value you add, why would an employer find your performance acceptable in a role requiring high-level communication skills?
A good resume or CV will get you interviews far more readily than a bad one, so there’s value in doing it well for that reason – and because some of it will be useful for your LinkedIn profile. But remember that in a strategically managed career, you don’t need a lot of interviews. You only want the right ones. And you need to be just as much a buyer as a seller.
Generally, the best way to approach applications is to apply only when you have spoken with someone with influence in the hiring decision, and they have encouraged you to apply. Focus on quality, not quantity.
This article has only scratched the surface of the potential of the keys outlined above. Individually, they are powerful. However, used together, they can have a synergistic effect, adding significantly to your career success and fulfilment. The time you spend working on them can be amongst the most valuable activities of your career.