‘So what do you do?’… A simple, straightforward and commonly asked question, but how do you respond?
At an event, you are introduced to an esteemed peer, who asks ‘so what do you do?’. In the two or so minutes that you have to fully engage their attention do you:
- Impress with an exhaustive list of qualifications, accomplishments and skills? Or
- Provide enough information to inspire a coffee chat to share views, exchange ideas and explore opportunities?
If you are in the midst of transition, seeking new employment or redefining your direction, networking will undoubtedly expand your potential to cultivate opportunities. If one of your goals is to be top of mind when there is a business need that fits your expertise, it helps to be prepared to concisely communicate:
|WHO YOU ARE: Professional identity, authority, and expertise|
|WHY YOU DO IT: Driving purpose, cause, and belief – What do you prioritise, aspire to change or deem important?|
|STRENGTHS YOU OFFER: Your unique combination of knowledge, skills, capabilities, and characteristics|
THE SCIENCE AND PRACTICE OF COMMUNICATING VALUE
Across recruitment, outplacement and coaching circles, a statement crafted with the objective of engaging interest in professional expertise, has been coined ‘positioning statement’, ‘career narrative’ or ‘value proposition’. Despite the preferred form of jargon, this practice is rooted in personal branding, initially brought to mainstream attention in 1997 by Tom Peters in his article The Brand Called You.
The popularisation of personal branding rests on the notion that buying decisions tend to be underpinned by trust, confidence and the emotional connection projected towards a product or service (Rampersand, 2009) – a premise that remains congruous with:
- Professor Antonio Damasio’s (1999) adroit observation that “reason makes the lists but emotion makes the decisions”
- Biological explanations of human behaviour, that have stipulated emotions are indeed the primary driver of behaviour and action (Brown, Swart, & Meyler, 2009) and
- The growth in neuroscientific research efforts that have examined how brain responses influence consumers’ behaviour (Jordão, Souza, Oliveira, & Giraldi, 2017)
So the next time someone asks ‘so what do you do?’, consider how your response may land and integrate at the intellectual and emotional level, but especially the latter. What perception and reaction does your response evoke?
CULTIVATING YOUR VALUE STATEMENT
1) Remain mindful of your audience – Introduce your ‘Who’ and ‘Why’!
In his Ted Talk, and book Start with Why, Simon Sinek, Organisational Consultant and Motivational Speaker, has made a compelling argument on the notion that inspirational leadership (and selling) begins with ‘Why’. Sinek summarized, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. He further proposed that most leaders and companies may miss opportunities because they start from the ‘outside-in’. They begin with ‘What’.
As a marketing strategy, Sinek proposed the application of the Golden Circle (diagram below) of inspirational leadership and thinking, acting, and communicating from the ‘inside out’. His claim is that if you start with your ‘Why’, or core purpose, cause and driving belief, you are likely to inspire and energise more interest in your expertise, services or business.
While there is validity in Sinek’s notion of starting with ‘Why’, the mobilising impact of a ‘Why’ statement may vary across business settings, geographic locations or economic climates.
Across some cultures, people may place more credence on professional identity and status. In this instance, clearly stating your ‘Who Am I?’ may boost gravitas, engage interest or mobilise an opportunity. Consider the following questions:
- Are you a legally registered professional in a specific country?
- Are you qualified by a recognised authority?
- Are you a generalist or a specialist?
- Where do you fit in terms of seniority or level of expertise?
- What areas are you a recognised authority for?’
Accordingly, in volatile, competitive or uncertain contexts, providing a sense of assurance that you bring the depth of anecdotal experience and understanding of people in similar situations may hold more traction. This means that addressing the ‘Who I Service?’ may serve to better engage and win the trust of your audience. Consider the following questions:
- What individuals, demographics or groups benefit from your services?
- What types of entities have you helped or assisted? Multinational? Corporate? Health? Education? Government? Not for Profit?
2) CLARIFY – What strengths do you offer that make a difference?
The next step is to validate your expertise and capacity to deliver on your driving purpose, with a concise summary of your strengths including any skills, knowledge or characteristics. This serves to:
- Build confidence and trust that you will deliver on tangible outcomes
- Bring to life the more pragmatic and functional aspects of a value statement – the key question to support the ‘How’ and ‘What’, being: ‘What unique combination of strengths, skills, knowledge or characteristics enable you to fulfil your core belief and purpose ?’
In summary, there is merit in taking a moment to pause, paying attention to the nuances of your context and:
- Letting go of preconceptions and formulaic approaches
- Accounting for priorities and needs in light of cultural norms and economic climate
- Remaining responsive, and so tailor your value statement so that it resonates with the contextual needs of your audience
CRAFTING A VALUE STATEMENT IS TIME-CONSUMING | Why Would You Bother?
Developing your value statement requires careful thought, consideration and potentially a few rounds of ‘wordsmithing’. While this may sound like a significant investment in time, showing up prepared to articulate a clear and memorable value statement enhances your confidence and readiness to effectively position yourself in the market.
Benefits can include:
|Conversation starters that generate curiosity, excitement and interest in your expertise and services|
|Engaging and attracting the right employers, clients or business partners|
|Increasing interview requests and prospects of being successfully hired or appointed|
|Building visibility, authority and recognition in a certain field|
|Establishing a career identity that differentiates you from competitors|
SOME GUIDED QUESTIONS TO ASSIST YOU TO DRAFT YOUR VALUE STATEMENT
If you are feeling ‘stuck’ or procrastinating ‘putting pen to paper’, take time to reflect and make notes using the following questions:
WHO ARE YOU? This Sets the Tone/Perception – Your Professional Identity
- How would you like to be remembered?
- What words would you use to cultivate the most accurate perception of your professional identity?
- If a peer was speaking about you at an event, how would they describe your core expertise?
- When people speak about you, would you like to be primarily associated with your:
- Leadership rank (e.g. Global Executive, Operational Leader, Director, C Suite, etc.)?
- Functional expertise (investment, finance, psychology, medicine, human resources, legal counsel, marketing, etc.)?
WHO ARE YOUR CUSTOMERS? Who Are You Helping?
- Who are your potential customers/employers?
- Who are you inspired to help and make a difference for? For whom do you wish to make a difference?
- Who benefits from your expertise and services?
WHY? Driving Purpose/Cause/Mission/Driver?
- How do you aspire to contribute or make a difference? What results would energise, excite and/or inspire you?
- e.g. advancing medical science, helping small business to grow and expand, inspiring high-performance teams, etc.
- What initiatives and causes matter to you? What outcomes would provide you with the strongest sense of meaning and purpose?
- What accomplishments would make you feel proud and/or provide you with the strongest sense of fulfilment?
- How do you aspire to make an impact? What changes, improvements or issues are you energised to tackle and resolve?
WHAT AND HOW? Unique Combination of Experience and Strengths
- What distinguishing skills, knowledge, and capabilities are you offering, employers, companies, or clients?
- How does your unique experience or exposure benefits prospective employers, partnered or customers?
- What outcomes or results can be expected from you (e.g., market share, increased revenue, saved costs, problem-solving, reduced turnover, high-performance team, or healthy workforce etc.)?
- For what functional or specialist knowledge are you known to be the “go-to” person?
- For what responsibilities or tasks do others generally rely on you to take ownership? (e.g., business development, spotting prospective partnerships, contract negotiations, advocacy, etc.)
- What are you recognised for that distinguishes you from other applicants, professionals in the field, or your competition?
- What impact does your presence bring to an organisation, team, community?
- What do you stand for?
- What are the values or guiding principles that inform your work (e.g., being the best, honesty, teamwork etc.)?
- What values and virtues make you different, unique or stand out from the crowd?
SOME FINAL BUT IMPORTATNT TIPS
- Do not exaggerate
- Do not claim to be an expert or leader at something that you are not
Keep It Simple and Memorable
- Although it may be tempting to use impressive words, refrain from using complicated language or jargon that may be less accessible to your audience
Remain Current – Be Responsive!
- Make sure that you reflect updated changes or advancements
- What can you do to shift the way you operate in order to adapt to the current economic and global climate?
Consistency Is Key!
In order to stimulate and reinforce meaningful perception about your expertise and intention, consistently and cohesively incorporate elements of your ‘value statement’ across:
|Your resume if searching for an employer|
|Social media presence, blogs, or biographies on websites|
|Conversations during networking events|
|Job interviews and prospective business meetings|
EXAMPLE VALUE STATEMENTS
Executive Coach with 15 years helping leaders to realize their full potential through collaborative and goal-focused conversations underpinned by data-driven and scientifically informed practices.
Global Human Resources Executive with more than 15 years assisting corporate and government organisations implement policy and programmes that raise the bar with regards to diversity & inclusion, employee engagement, retention and practices that foster health for the whole organisation. I bring over 20 years working across four continents, with expertise in leading global talent management programmes, devising assessment strategies, corporate governance and ensuring cohesion and engagement during major business transformation initiatives.
Reputable Editor-in-chief of more than 20 years with track success leading the enhancement of brand image and increasing magazine readership via innovative, insightful, and creative strategies. Successful in building and managing cross-functional teams and client servicing across diverse cultures.
Global Business Development Executive with a visionary lens, and with established relationships and interpersonal qualities to assist technology companies and start ups in building, inspiring and developing cross-functional and multinational high performing sales teams. I bring more than 20 years across three continents producing over $150M in revenue and consistent 10-15% business growth as well as expertise in new market entry gained through 5 separate products/services.
For more insights and practical tips that can assist you to bounce forward after redundancy, build momentum with transition or focus your attention on the ‘what next?’, visit our blog Pause…Reset or Pivot?
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Karen Gotthelf, Founder, Pathways Limited
Registered Australian Psychologist (AHRPA), Associate Fellow HKPS, RIOP(HKPS), Member Australian Psychological Society (APS), MBPsS, Accredited Coach ICF(ACC).
MSc(Organisational Psychology), BSc(Hon)Psych
Dawn Chan, Associate Consultant, Pathways Limited
MSSc (Applied Psychology) CityU, PhD (Industrial-Organisational Psychology) CUHK