Job Seekers: Are You Underselling Yourself?


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I recently had a mentoring conversation with an Army veteran who was pursuing a new career as a leadership coach and speaker. He asked me about being a business owner, starting a speaking business and developing a client list.

When I inquired as to his value proposition, brand and qualifications, he pointed to his certification in leadership coaching, his understanding of organizational development and then, finally, his experience in the Army. We agreed that the leadership training in the Army was exemplary, and his talents were to be respected in the civilian sector, but I reminded him that leadership coaches and speakers were plentiful in the private sector.

I pushed further about his passion and qualifications to teach leadership. "What makes you stand apart from all the other leadership coaches out there?" That's when he softly mentioned, "Well, I actually taught leadership at West Point for 10 years. Does that count?"

What? Yes!

You Must Learn to Self-Promote

Civilians are accustomed to self-promotion. We've learned -- in school and throughout our careers -- to list off our accomplishments at a moment's notice.

While the concept of "selling yourself" feels repugnant to someone coming from a military background, where values of service before self are lived, it is imperative that you can articulate what makes you unique, compelling and relevant to someone who asks.

Bring Your Value Forward

When a prospective employer looks at your resume, LinkedIn profile or interviews you, they are looking for how you (specifically) can help them solve the problem they have at hand: They need to hire an X, with experience doing Y, who will fit within the culture of the team.

To keep your skills, talents and unique value vague or general does not serve you at that moment. The employer is looking for someone specific, so specificity works.

Keep in mind:

  1. Your cover letter should list out (in bullet points) how your training and experience directly qualify you for the open position.
  2. If you include an "objective" statement on your resume, it should speak directly to the open position for which you are applying.
  3. When listing "skills" or "qualifications" on your resume, lead with the most noteworthy or notable.
  4. Your list of past jobs should highlight all the qualifications you bring that set you apart from the competition and point to your fit for the job.
  5. Ensure that your online profiles match up with what you're presenting in a resume.

In the case of my Army mentee, we added a list of "Key Qualifications" to the top of his resume and led with his expertise in leadership training, having served as an instructor at one of the most premier military academies in the world.

On his website, we promoted his valuable training in the military and drew direct correlations to how private-sector businesses could learn from techniques taught there. Then, we built out areas of his online profiles and resume where he could show how that experience transferred skills, expertise and value to clients outside of the military.

Related: Does your resume pass the 6-second test? Get a FREE assessment.

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