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This Is How To Get Your Next Job: Give Me Some Proof

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Mar. 28 2013, Published 4:15 a.m. ET

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You’re a good team player—so you say. Can you tell me more?

Mmmm, Let me think, you say?

This is not a good sign.

If you’re going to make a statement such as “Works well on teams” on your resume or in a cover letter, you’d better know what you mean. The same goes for live conversations.

It might be true. You might be the most supportive, reliable, cooperative, flexible, committed team player on the planet. The question is: Where? How? What exactly did you do that made you so effective? What was the result?

You say you’re passionate about this work. OK, tell me more.

Well, let me think, you say.

Really? You have to think about that too? Passion means to have a powerful, compelling emotion or feeling. It implies you have drive, great enthusiasm, fascination. If you have to think about why you’re passionate about this work, well, maybe you aren’t.

You would be a valuable asset to our group, you say?

Can you share some examples of how you’ve contributed to these kinds of projects in the past and why that was so terrific?

Silence.

Not being able to provide specific examples of how you contributed to a project and where you’ve added value is a big misstep—and one that Tonya Lain, regional vice president for Adecco Group, a staffing and recruiting firm, sees over and over.

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She describes candidates who can’t provide a detailed description of how they fixed a problem or how they went above and beyond the call of duty. “They aren’t articulating or demonstrating what they are willing to do to set themselves apart.”

One employer told me about such an interview with a candidate for a public relations job. The employer really wanted to understand her skills. She had worked on an awards program for a large company, describing it as “a big success.” When he asked her specifically what she did to create such a success, here’s how the conversation went:

Employer: “What did you do?”

Candidate: “You know, I let people know about it.”

Employer: “How? Did you send out a news release?”

Candidate: “Yes.”

Employer: “Who did you send it to?”

Candidate: “Well, you know. News media.”

Employer: “What else did you do?”

Candidate: “You know. I worked on it.”

Employer: “What did you do?”

Candidate: “I called some people. I sat in on some meetings. It was very successful.”

Employer: “What makes you say that?”

Candidate: “Everybody was happy.”

Clearly, she had not thought through nor mastered her content.

If you can’t explain what you mean, don’t say it. But if your claims have merit, make those words come to life. Do so in a way that the employer can digest it: in small, yet complete, enticing bites. Then be prepared to tell more details.

Besides helping employers see your value, you’ll be getting to the heart of what every employer is hoping you have:

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  • The ability to communicate so others can understand what you’re talking about
  • The ability to consider and analyze data and then summarize it in a way that’s relevant to the listener
  • The ability to think on your feet

Would it help to have some nifty techniques to show you how to do that?

Here you go.

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How to Make Your Claims Come to Life

1. Pretend a seven-year-old is sitting in front of you. How would you explain a complicated job or project you were involved in to her? How would you slim down your explanation?

Or think through how to summarize a key accomplishment in two or three sentences.

Let’s say, for example, you want to show that you know how to lead others and do it well even in less-than-perfect circumstances. A good example is from this past year, when you led a team of people from four different disciplines who are scattered around three countries. You were able to complete a huge information technology project on time with the help of this team.

So how can you summarize that in a sentence or two in a way that’s relevant and clear?

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Think simple. Like those good old sentence-diagramming days when you broke sentences into a subject, verb, and direct object, enhanced with adjectives. It might sound something like this: “My team of brilliant engineers, lawyers, and marketing and IT wizards from Europe, Asia, and America met weekly for a month, launching the largest IT implementation project in the company’s history in time for the opening of the new facility.”

You can elaborate, of course. See where the conversation goes. If the employer says, “How did you do that?” share more detail. Of course, think through the gist of what you’d say.

2. To explain what you’ve been doing lately, what you’ve accomplished, and how your work has made a difference, answer this question: If USA Today were writing an article about the past six months of your life, what would the headline say? What would the article discuss?

A sample headline might be this: “James Jupiter Managed Implementation of Largest IT Project in Company History, Adding Over $3MM in Revenues.”

If you haven’t been contributing to a company in the past six months or more, make the headline about training you’ve taken to improve yourself, what you’ve learned as you keep up-to-date in your field, or trends you’re tracking that can apply to this job:

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“Maria Studies Ways Computer Games Can Train Patients to Care for Themselves as Health-Related Games Take Over 20 Percent Of ‘Game Market.’”

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Give Me Some Proof

You can have all the talent in the world, but the employer is taking a big risk by hiring you. They don’t want to spend $10,000 to $30,000 to hire and train you, only to learn six months later you were full of hot air. They want proof.

This would be proof that helps them see you are the solution to their problems. Proof that makes them say, “OK, I see how you did that in the past. That’s what I want you to do for me.”

Most of your competition hasn’t taken the time to figure out their proof either. When you do, you’ll be miles ahead of them. You will stand out.

You can come up with proof whether you have loads of experience, have just graduated from school, or have done mostly volunteer or unpaid work. You may think what you do isn’t measurable. But everything has a result. Whether you’re moving tickets for a theater performance or implementing software that will let a bank support capital markets and private banking, it’s about results.

So if you’re going to say, “My strengths include the ability to lead others,” be ready to cite a juicy example or two of how you’ve done that. If you don’t, when asked, you’ll fumble around and say things like “I have a lot of experience leading people to get great results.” Do you hear how lame that is?

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Or you’ll be as inarticulate as that woman in my previous example who tried to explain what she did to create a successful awards problem.

She said: “You know. I worked on it.” “Everybody was happy.”

It’s all well and good to just tell an employer where you excel. But it’s not enough. With that kind of response you’re asking employers to make a great leap of faith to believe you’re fabulous and want to hire you. I assure you, you won’t sound so fabulous.

Don’t

  • Name projects, knowledge, experience, and personal attributes in your letters, resume, online, or in conversations unless you can discuss them in nice, juicy detail.
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Employers will conclude . . .

  • You can’t do the work the job entails.
  • You’re exaggerating or not being honest about your abilities.
  • You don’t understand what the work requires.
  • You’re not an effective communicator.
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Do

  • Think through your content and specific scenarios to explain what you do and how you do it. For example, if you want to show you’ve worked on teams, provide details about a successful team project. What was the problem you were solving? How were you a valuable contributor to the project? How did you make a difference?
  • Think through the qualities you exhibit. Are you a great team player? Do you speak up and share ideas in a constructive way? Are you known for your ability to consider other points of view? Do you come prepared for meetings with a “what can I do to help us succeed?” approach? Do you look for solutions instead of whom to blame when things go wrong?
  • Look at everything you claim to be and to have done on your resume, in your cover letters, and when you talk about yourself. Look at the adjectives you use. Can you back them up? Look at the types of projects you say you know how to handle. Can you give examples?
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For more tips, guidance and advice on how to get your next job, you can purchase a copy of Andrea Kay’s book by clicking here.

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Bonus, you can win a copy of Andrea Kay’s book.  How? Tell us, what’s one adjective that you use on your resume? How do you back it up with a specific example?

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Leave your response in the comments below.

The selection above is an excerpt from This is How to Get Your Next Job: An Inside Look at What Employers Really Want by Andrea Kay. Copyright © 2013 Andrea Kay. Published by AMACOM Books, a division of American Management Association, New York, NY. Used with permission. All rights reserved. http://www.amacombooks.org.

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