Building Confidence in Your Value Proposition
By Julie Norwell
Ashley Turner spent nearly her entire career working in hotels. She never wanted to do anything else. Her father had a hotel management and development company in Indiana. And after Ashley got a degree in hospitality and tourism management, she joined the family business. Over the next 11 years, she gained experience in every position. She worked everything from sales to general manager, to regional manager, then VP of operations, and finally vice president. Ashley even took over the top position briefly when her father, flirting with the idea of retirement, temporarily stepped aside and promoted her to his position. She reveled at the opportunity to pursue her own vision with the business. When her father decided retirement wasn’t for him, however, Ashley knew that, to realize her professional ambitions, it was time that she leave the family business.
That’s when Ashley’s insecurities began.
She felt that she had broad experience running a hotel management company and had always done an excellent job, but was she truly good at it or had her father made things easier for her by doling out favors or withholding the most difficult tasks from her?
It’s an irony of the employment market that jobseekers with the greatest talent sometimes develop the greatest concerns about the value they offer to potential employers. Some people, like Ashley, wonder if they’ve been cushioned from the rigors of the business world by a management structure that seems designed for their success. Others have worked for the same organization so long that they have never truly taken stock of their accomplishments. Sometimes people are fortunate enough to have changed jobs seamlessly throughout their careers without ever having had to look for a job and test themselves in the job market…until they do. People in these situations often begin a job search thinking they have a lot to offer, but then doubt creeps in.
Build Confidence by Taking Stock of Your Accomplishments
The best way to stem doubt and build confidence in your value proposition is to take stock of your accomplishments and figure out how to frame them to your advantage in your job search. You have to be able to tell your own story. If you can’t, no one can. Think of yourself as a product that you’re selling. You should know the features of that product if you want someone to “buy” it.
The first step is to be introspective. Think about what you’ve done in your career. Sit down and take notes. Where have you been successful? When did you get promoted, congratulated, or earn recognition in some way? What have you done to advance yourself and your company?
Next, and equally important, is considering where you have made mistakes. Everyone has career missteps, and hiring managers love to hear how you recovered from those mistakes and what you learned from them. Those moments often tell more about your character than the high points of your career, so pick a few examples that demonstrate how you’ve grown as a person and an employee.
If you have worked for companies that provide written performance evaluations, use them as a resource.
Looking at past evaluations is a great way to refresh your memory about the details of your work experience. (By the way, if you don’t already do so, get in the practice of keeping your resume up to date whether you are job seeking or not. At a minimum, keep your LinkedIn profile current with all your accomplishments.)
If you don’t have a written record and you’re struggling to remember details about your career, talk to people that you know and trust who can give you perspective about your work performance. Talk to former bosses about what made them want to hire you. Would they do it again? Why did they promote you? Talk to former colleagues, too. Ask them why they liked to work with you? In what ways were you a good team member?
Taking stock of your accomplishments in these ways are how you learn your value in the workplace. Once you have assembled a record of your contributions and listened to feedback from former supervisors and colleagues, you’ll likely discover that the impact you’ve had in your work life is considerably more impressive than you thought. This will go a long way towards building your confidence in what you have to offer a prospective employer and provide you useful fodder to market yourself in a job search.
Once you know your value proposition, you need to communicate it well. Your goal is to sell yourself. Select the nuggets in your work experience that demonstrate what you’ve accomplished. Make them interesting and highlight the aspects that illustrate whatever points you want to make.
Think of concrete examples; future employers don’t want to hear hypotheticals. Don’t say, for example, “Whenever I’m in a group position, I like to take charge.” Say instead, “When I worked with the financial operations team, I introduced a new process to standardize operating procedures that streamlined operations and saved $1 million for the company.”
Many people feel uncomfortable tooting their own horn but being able to talk about your successes and being humble are not mutually exclusive. There is no ‘I’ in ‘team,’ that’s true. Still, it’s okay to say “I” if you’re tactful. Acknowledge a laudable team effort, by all means, but add in the details of how you specifically helped the team succeed. If you can’t think of how your contribution stood out, think of a different example that does.
To sell yourself well, mix confidence with humility. There are different ways to do it, you just need to find a way that makes you feel comfortable. Using self-deprecating humor is one way to moderate comments that might otherwise seem egotistical. So is pointing out how you helped someone else to succeed. You might say, for example, “I helped drive our success from the number two position. I took things that I was strong at off the plate of my boss to free her to do things that better fit her strengths.”
Be Fluent with Common Interview Questions
If selling yourself doesn’t come naturally to you, then interview practice is the way to go. In this case, you build confidence by developing familiarity with the most common questions you can expect during an interview – such as, “Tell me about yourself” and “Tell me about your biggest strengths/weaknesses” – and fluency with the answers you would provide to them. A quick google search will yield numerous lists of interview questions, such as Glassdoor’s 50 common interview questions, or Inc.’s recommended answers to common interview questions.
Note that many common interview questions are also “behavioral interview questions.” Behavioral interviewing is an approach designed to elicit information about a candidate’s past behavior in specific situations to assess how the candidate might behave in similar future situations. Increasingly, hiring managers use this approach because they are recruiting not only for the position at hand but also for future leadership needs and they want to know if you exhibit the behaviors in demand at their companies.
Six of the most critical behaviors sought in positions of leadership are:
- Taking ownership
- Taking initiative
- Dealing with complex problems
- Dealing with a difficult person
- Paying attention to details
- Getting a task done on a deadline
When you can comfortably discuss examples of how you’ve exhibited these critical behaviors – as well as offer solid answers to all the other common interview questions – you will walk into any interview with great confidence.
Prep for Obvious Tricky Questions
It goes without saying that you should prep especially well for obvious challenging interview questions. Do you have a gap in your work experience? Were you terminated for eyebrow-raising reasons? Are you shifting industries? Whatever your tricky issue is, think through how to answer that question fully and in a way that is positive and believable because it will carry more weight than other questions. Knowing you have a solid answer in your back pocket will give your confidence a huge boost.
Ashley Turner certainly regained her self-assurance after both working with a career consultant whose objective assessment validated Ashley’s sense of her value proposition and soliciting former work associates for their perspectives of Ashley’s professional contributions. Thanks to their feedback, she learned that she had developed a reputation for being talented and a valuable asset to her family’s business, which energized her job search. But it wasn’t until she learned how to respond to the delicate issue of why she had left her family’s business that she could walk into an interview confidently. With the help of her career coach, she practiced a response that struck the perfect balance. How does she know? Because the hiring manager went out of his way to tell her so – and then he hired her.
Daunting though it may seem at the beginning of a job search, building confidence is simply another skill to learn, and the more you practice, the easier it gets.