Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Paradox of the Comfort of Crowds

An interesting dynamic occurs with new clients. They sign on, initially, because their current job search isn’t working. They have a traditional resume, one that lists, in chronological order, the responsibilities of the jobs they’ve held over the years. They’ve posted this resume on a number of job boards and used it in applying for the positions listed on the boards and on company websites. They’ve waited for someone to contact them. And they’ve waited some more. Rinse. Repeat.

They get discouraged, naturally. Then they come to us. They want help; they can’t do this on their own. We show them something different: A framework where they differentiate themselves from everyone else. We write them a new resume, one that emphasizes their accomplishments over responsibilities. We coach them on how to speak to the value they can bring to a prospective employer. We help them build their brand. We coach them on how to network and create relationships with decision makers.

They get very excited. This is different. It will work. After all, the process they’ve been following hasn’t produced any results; it’s been a black hole.

So, they begin anew with great energy. They have a brand and a resume that shows how their brand works; and a LinkedIn profile that reflects their brand. This is really different. They’re really gonna stand out.

They reach out to people on LinkedIn; they join Groups; they follow companies. They post their new resume on the job boards, replacing their old one. They send it in when they apply for positions posted on the job boards and on company websites. They wait for someone to contact them. They consider selling life insurance or becoming a financial planner.

They may get contacted by a recruiter who tells them that he needs a resume that shows their responsibilities from every company they’ve worked for, in chronological order. They come back and ask for a new resume that looks much like their old one. They’re concerned that they don’t look like everybody else.

I had a recent conversation with a recruiter. I asked her how she saw 2011 shaping up for jobs. Her response was that it will be a great year for people who can articulate and demonstrate their value to prospective employers; those who rely solely on skill sets, not so much. The interesting thing is, with published positions – those posted online on job boards or company websites – skills are how HR folks determine candidates’ qualifications. Decision makers, on the other hand, are more focused on value.

If you’re in a job search and you’re relying solely on your skills you blend in with the crowd. Like the gunslingers of the Old West, if you’re relying solely on your skills, there will always be someone younger and faster and cheaper. It may feel safe in the crowd, but you don’t get noticed.

Value isn’t necessarily related to time or cost. Values relates to accomplishments rather than responsibilities. It appeals to the people who care; the people who make the decision whether to hire or not. Skills may get you in the door for an interview, but it’s your value that will get you hired.

Value stands out; it’s what makes you unique; it becomes your brand. Skills are necessary, but not sufficient, they don’t trump value.

So do you feel safe if you run with the crowd, by blending in with everyone else? Are you indistinguishable from others?

Or do you take the risk and stand out? Can you articulate and demonstrate your value? Can you stand out from the crowd?

What do you think? Is there safety in numbers? Is it worth the risk to stand out and stand on your value?


  1. For what it is worth... I've been through the entire process Scott describes. I got my current, great job, using my accomplishments based resume and in parallel, connecting with folks in the organization. Oh, I think the cover letter probably played a really important role as well, because that is where I was able to be very targeted by matching my accomplishments to the needs of the organization.

    Now that I am 3 months into the new job, Scott has reminded me, to start creating new SARs based on my new accomplishments. You never know when you will need them again.

    Resolution for 2011 - keep my network alive and warm.

    Happy New Year.

  2. Ah Mark, you're so right. The process NEVER ends!

    ~ Scott

  3. Scott couldn't be more correct...if you don't stand out as someone who can add value to a potential employer, you're not going to be noticed. And the way to illustrate your ability add value is by showing how you've done it in the past, which is what your accomplishments are all about.

    I'm still amazed at how many people are mystified by the need to show what they can contribute to a company's success. What part of "What can you do for us? Why should I hire you?" don't they understand?

    Would YOU pay money for something that'll be no earthly use to you, or give you nothing in return? Why would a potential employer?

  4. Paula,

    Thanks for your comment. It takes a sense of risk to stand out; a sense of self knowledge to articulate one's value. However, as you point out it is what's required in this market.

    ~ Scott