Specificity IS the Narrative!
By Monica M. Fochtman, PhD, CPRW
I recently read Mistakes I made at work, edited by Jessica Bacal (2014). The book is a compilation of stories from 25 high-profile women leaders and entrepreneurs, sharing mistakes they made in their careers and what they learned from them. Most books like this make only vague references to actual mistakes and overemphasize the lessons learned. Not this book. It is an honest and self-aware retelling of the women’s early years in the trenches, before they made it big. The book is so powerful that I have read it twice and I will be recommending it to my clients.
One particular story continues to resonate with me because it reminds me of myself and my clients. Reshma Saujani is the founder of Girls Who Code, a non-profit that exposes young girls to computer science in an effort to close the gender gap in technology. Saujani also ran for Congress and New York City Public Advocate. She lost. Twice. Saujani’s mistake was that she let other people define her public image and her campaign platforms. Her lesson learned was to not let others tell her story. “One way of smoothing the path for a career change is to take control of your own narrative. I often talk about how I have had several careers already, but my mission has always been the same.” (p. 79)
This is the most common mistake I see people make when they are job searching- they let others control their narrative. For example, a natural first step in the job search process is to create or edit a resume. This can be a daunting and time-consuming task, especially if it has been a while since you have written about yourself and your work history. I have seen people repeat the details of their jobs, sometimes even cutting and pasting actual text from their job descriptions and then stopping there. This is a solid place to start, but it is not enough. Not only is that a lost opportunity to shine the light on your individual story, but it also relinquishes control of the narrative.
In my years as a coach, and in my own job searches, I have learned that specificity is the narrative. Every cover letter and resume that you submit should highlight who you are and help sell your story. After reading your materials, a potential employer should be able to answer these questions about you: What did you accomplish in each position you held? What measurable outcomes did you create? What impact did you have? What could you bring to their organization?
Cover letters are a sales pitch. Many people struggle with selling themselves because they fear that they will sound like they are bragging. In their efforts to stay humble, I have seen too many people undersell themselves, their skills, and their experience. As a result, the cover letter reads flat rather than popping with natural connections. The goal of the cover letter is two-fold: make it past electronic systems to human eyes, and pique the reader’s interest enough that they want to interview you. You are not like everyone else. Your cover letter shouldn’t be either. It should be unique to you and to the position you are seeking.
Resumes are the data- Quantify, quantify, quantify. Six seconds. That is how long a recruiter will look at your resume. Generalities do not help potential employers understand the unique impact that you have had in your role. Specify your accomplishments with numbers, tangible results, and outcomes that exceeded expectations. I can help you stand out in those six seconds.
As a coach and leadership consultant, I believe that everyone has a story. I look forward to working with you to help you find yours and write it well.
Monica Fochtman, PhD, CPRW is the CEO and founder of Sheldrake Consulting, a career coaching and consulting company. Monica is a career coach, certified professional resume writer, and Myers-Briggs leadership consultant. She specializes in helping mid-career professionals and industry-changers get unstuck and pivot to their next big thing. Monica provides 1-1 career coaching, interview coaching, resume and cover letter writing, and leadership development workshops. Her candid feedback is always focused on your leadership development and career advancement goals.
Monica earned her Doctorate in Education, with a Cognate in Women in Leadership, from MSU. She lives in Okemos with her husband and two sons. She devotes her “free” time to reading, writing, and volunteering with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which funds cutting-edge childhood cancer research.