You Are What You Say You Are

By Kathryn Lorenzen, Principal/Career Development Coach

When you get further along in your career, your track record is everything and can carry you far. But when you’re just graduating, to get a promising first job, you need to be able to convey clearly what you can do for your potential employer.

We geezers have called it the “elevator speech,” which has always been cheesy, even when it meant something (that you need to be able to get your message across to someone you meet in an elevator before you get to their floor). Lisa and I call it your Personal Marketing Statement, which is also not ideal but closer to accurate.

So let’s explore a little more about how you can land on the “must be interviewed” list with just what you say to introduce yourself, either in person, on the phone, or in email.

It’s not quite enough to state that you’re a new college graduate with a degree in (fill in the blank). Your employer wants to know what you can actually walk in and do for them. Right now people are hiring those who can DO stuff, not just those who know stuff. Rather than passively naming the job title you’d like to have, you can connect with people mentally in a “sticky” way if you say what you’d like to get paid for.

Which is why it’s helpful to grasp the difference between hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills encompass WHAT you can do, including software in which you’re proficient, technical processes, certifications, job accountabilities (such as writing, proofreading, researching, drafting, programming, project management, making sales calls, talking with irate clients, etc.). Hard skills are anything that’s listed in a job description under the titles of “Responsibilities” or “Accountabilities.”

The reason it’s effective to name these hard skills in your Personal Marketing Statement in a prominent way is that this is most likely what you’ll get hired for. It’s the pain point of your potential employer, the thing they need someone to come in and do today because they’re short-handed or stretched. Here’s how you can get a handle on what hard skills to hang your hat on: read job descriptions. This is the one thing job boards are truly good for – to help you get a handle on the main responsibilities employers need someone to perform.

Soft skills, in contrast, are HOW you do the job, the qualities you bring with your personality, style, and values. When you talk about your work ethic, honesty, reliability, punctuality, diplomacy, and teamwork, these are soft skills. They are very important, and they can make the difference between you and another finalist in getting hired, but it’s the hard skills that will get you the interview.

Here are a couple of examples of how to make this work:

“I’m David Sloan and I’ll graduate in May from the University of Texas with a bachelor’s degree in Business. I’d like to find an entry-level position where I can help analyze marketing data, working with database platforms to track sales and identify customer opportunities.”

“My name is Allison Brown and I’m a recent graduate in graphic design from Johnson County Community College. I have excellent software skills in Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, and I’d like to work for a non-profit organization that needs help producing newsletters, brochures, and fundraising mailers.”

Here are some final tips and a recap:

  1. Make a list of the hard skills you have to offer to an employer. If you think the list is short or not compelling, consult with a career counselor or coach, or consider whether you need to take any training for employable hard skills.
  2. Make sure your resume highlights your hard skills in a keyword, easy-to-scan fashion. Again, consult a professional if you’re not sure.
  3. When you collect references or testimonials, remember to ask people to cite your excellence or accomplishments in terms of hard skills.

Being aware of the difference between hard skills and soft skills is a surefire technique for setting yourself apart from your competition and getting interviews.

For personal training on crafting and using your Personal Marketing Statement to land your first job, look at what's covered in our one-day workshop, Get a Job and Get On With It: Job Search Secrets You Didn't Learn in School. Now offering a limited number of scholarships to March 19 live event in Kansas City. To learn more, contact us.

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