The vast majority of theories of learning and development – and therapy, come to that – all say pretty much the same thing; that what we are unaware of controls us, and that of which we aware, we can control – and more importantly, can make sure those attributes work for us. If we know what our skills and strengths are, we can make sure we use them to our advantage. And that is very important when job hunting because if we are sure about what our Unique Selling Points are, we can make sure potential employers know what they are too.
We are all used to seeing brand names for products and services all around us every day of our lives. We gradually attach meaning to those brands. We will associate some brands with quality, some with value, some with products and services we trust; yet others with distaste. Think of 5 brands that you have been aware of in the past few days. What thoughts and feelings do those brands conjure up? What words would you use to describe them? How do your thoughts and feelings about these brands influence what you buy?
Peculiar as it may seem, brands also apply to people. Like with products and services, they act as a kind of shortcut so we don’t have to build up a picture of them from scratch every time we think about them, see them or have to interact with them in some way.
You have a brand. It is what people say about you when you are not in the room. It helps us to separate ourselves from the competition when we are job hunting, to increase our visibility when we are looking for that promotion and it also helps us to be clear about who we are and to ensure we are acting in ways that are true to who we are. It has built up over a long time but it need not be hidden to us or beyond our control. It is a very useful exercise to think about how others might see you and how you wish to be seen. We can also shape it to make sure we are coming across in the way we intend and have a clear message about who we are.
We can think of our personal brand as comprising 3 core elements;
– Our values
– Our skills and strengths
– Our Unique Selling Points
Determining our values can help us to identify what we want from our work. Values are different from interests and also from our skills and strengths. Values are our core beliefs about what is right and wrong and what is important to us; they reflect the footprint we want to leave and they say a lot about who we are as individuals. The culture we were brought up in, the way we were parented, our religion and our experiences as children and as adults all have an impact on our values. They can be treated as a route map; an inner voice or guide – or sometimes our conscience – and ultimately lead us to determining our behaviours and attitudes.
When we act against these values, we get a ‘pricking’ of our conscience. Psychologists call this cognitive dissonance. It’s an unpleasant feeling and it’s unpleasant for a reason: in order to prompt us to change either the belief/attitude or the behaviour so that the tension goes away. It’s always worth listening to this tension – this inner voice – because when we behave in accordance with our values, we become more fulfilled by what we’re doing.
Our strengths are different from our values. Our strengths are those qualities that energise us, when we are acting at our best and when we appear full of energy. When we are using our strengths at work, when we are using them to help our job hunting or merely helping us be clear about how to sell ourselves when applying for jobs, we can be sure that we are coming across or performing at our best. When things are going well, playing to your strengths help you to do even better. When things are rather more difficult or challenging, we can turn to those strengths to increase our confidence and resilience. For example, I know one of my key strengths is Common Sense. When times get tough, I can consciously turn to this strength to get the best from the situation by logically evaluating it.
A useful framework of 24 work-based strengths has been developed by The Strengths Partnership (www.strengthspartnership.com) and these are explored in my latest book. These were chosen through research to depict the 24 strengths that have the biggest impact on work performance; examples are Relationship Building, Results Focus and Persuasiveness.
There is a saying that “if you have more than three priorities, you have no priorities” – and it is difficult to concentrate fully on more than three of these strengths when faced with a real-life situation. Identifying the three “standout” strengths from the full list of 24 is useful to ensure that they are always at the back of our mind; choose the three that are most descriptive of you. For each of these strengths, you can then ask yourself the following questions: when have I demonstrated this strength? How did it help me meet a difficult challenge? How can I stretch this strength further?
When we have identified our top three strengths, we have the instant answer on the tip of our tongue to the question “What do we get if we employ you?” and you have a useful framework for your opening paragraph on your CV!
Adding your values to your strengths and key transferable skills (learnt from previous jobs, our studies, voluntary work or even travel) help you create your Unique Selling Point – what it is about you that makes you special and organisations can see at a glance whether you will match what they are looking for. Understanding your values, strengths and what you bring to the table means you are better able to sell them – and help you to get that job!