What Can You Do?

—Making promises during a job search

I was once being interviewed for an executive job in Ohio. At the time I had not yet completed my master’s degree, so I asked the company CEO if that would work against me. “I don’t care how much you know,” he replied. “I want to know what you can do.”

During a job interview, the hiring manager is not thinking about you. He’s thinking about himself. He’s not concerned about your success, your knowledge or your experience—except as it relates to him and to his success, his profitability and his ability to look good.

With that realization, you should focus your job search communication on what you can do. Occasionally you may need to mention your degree, your experience or your achievements. But those should always be presented as evidence of what you can do in the future.

Twice I’ve hired candidates who presented me with a list of things they intended to accomplish during their first 90 days on the job. Admittedly the lists needed revision, but I was impressed to know that the applicants were already thinking about the work needing to be done. Both candidates sold me on what they could do, not on what they knew, where they’d come from or what they had done. They demonstrated that they were already engaged and eager to get started. Momentum was already building. I appreciated the thinking that both individuals had shown, and I rewarded them with key leadership opportunities on my already-successful marketing team.

Making “campaign promises” during a job search requires a combination of two important elements—introspection and research.

Introspection. Before you really know what you can do, you have to look inside yourself and become fully aware of what you have already done, where you’ve been successful and what types of work have made you feel most alive and productive. You then have a good idea of what you can do.

Research. To find the ideal match for you, you will also need to research market trends, study the major projects of targeted companies and understand the priorities of the hiring manager. You will be well positioned to achieve exceptional success when there is alignment between a) what you can do and b) what they need.

My advice to anyone in a career transition is to talk about what you can do. In other words, change the sentence, “I’m looking for a job in ______________.” to “I’m looking for an opportunity where I can ______________.”

Many LinkedIn status reports describe the type of job the person is looking for. I was impressed, though, when one of my jobless friends stated that he was “looking for a sales opportunity where I can generate exceptional revenue.” He talked about what he could do. Before long he found a great job and is now doing what he promised he could do—making sales and generating revenue.

So my question of you is:  What can you do?

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2 Responses to What Can You Do?

  1. Ron Cushing says:

    Duane,
    I just read all of your blogs and really appreciate your insight and common sense to marketing yourself. I hadn’t been on your website for a while, but the timing is perfect today and your words will no doubt be of great help to me.

    I’m going into an interview this afternoon for a job that I am over-qualified for and pays much less than what I’ve earned in any year in the past 20. Still, I’m excited because I believe it will be a job I will LOVE.

    Keep up the good advice. Very timely topics for today’s world. Great job!

  2. Duane Hallock says:

    Ron, thanks for your note. And good luck with your job interview.

    In the final analysis, we’re all on the same path and most of us go through very similar transitions. Knowing that others are there makes the journey less lonely. Learning from others gives us a collective wisdom that benefits everyone. For what it’s worth, I’ve left higher paying jobs for ones where I was much happier and where I made a greater contribution to society.

    Keep sharing the insights, Ron. As a subscriber to your blog, I’ll say you’ve got a real talent for writing and I hope the next phase of your career builds on your communications skills.

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