Career Tip 6: Define Your Message – Qualifiers and Differentiators

Define Your Message

As you write your resume and prepare for interviews, you can opt to slug it out with many others who are equally qualified, or you can identify and market your uniqueness. To achieve the latter, two concepts – qualifiers and differentiators – become critically important to creating the career transition success you desire. Let’s look at how to define and use both to your advantage.

In this Tip, expect to answer these questions: What makes you qualified? What makes you unique? What special qualities do you offer?


Qualifiers are the basic credentials for your profession or a job opportunity you are targeting. They are the critical items on an employer’s candidate screening checklist: specific technical or professional knowledge, years of experience, educational requirements, and certifications. If you have the appropriate qualifiers for a specific opportunity, it is likely you will be selected, along with others, for further consideration.

Insider’s Tip #1: While possessing the right qualifiers for a job opportunity is critically important, candidates who rely too much on their qualifiers may never turn job opportunities into job offers. That is because, in today’s highly competitive employment market, many job opportunities automatically generate a stack of candidates who are essentially all qualified. We often characterize this dynamic as follows: Qualifiers earn the initial interview. Differentiators generate the job offer.


Differentiators are unique or one-of-a-kind factors about a candidate. They are often extraordinary things that cause the candidate to stand out from others in the initial interview screening process.

Differentiators may include additional skills or interests, accomplishments, advanced education, certifications, personality characteristics, foreign language skills, leadership experience, or even a perception that you would fit well with the team.

Essentially, differentiators separate you from everyone else in the short stack of qualified resumes. When the final hiring decision is made, it is highly likely that differentiators will form the basis of that decision.

Insider’s Tip #2: A candidate’s differentiators can be so uniquely positive that a hiring manager may choose to modify some basic job requirements. A manager may think to himself, “He does not fit all the qualifications, but I like the other things he can potentially bring to our team.”

Qualifiers earn the initial interview. Differentiators generate the job offer.

Qualifiers earn the initial interview. Differentiators generate the job offer.

Is It a Qualifier or a Differentiator?

Keep in mind, what may be a qualifier for one job may be a differentiator for another. For example, if a customer service job requires Spanish fluency, Spanish is a qualifier. In another situation, even if foreign language skills are not required, an employer may consider Spanish fluency a potential bonus to the organization, which can make it a candidate’s differentiator. Similarly, an advanced Microsoft Suite software certification may be either a qualifier or differentiator, depending on the job opportunity.

Essentially, employers do not want to know what makes you like everyone else. Employers want to know what makes you unique.

Essentially, employers do not want to know what makes you like everyone else. Employers want to know what makes you unique.

Brainstorm & Develop Five or Six Key Messages about You

To begin, brainstorm. List as many of your qualifiers and differentiators as you can think of. Next, prioritize and combine those ideas into five or six key messages. The following points, adapted from an article on preparing political candidates for the campaign trail, can help you focus your brainstorming efforts.

  • The key to running a successful political (or job) campaign is to prepare a message that demonstrates credibility and differentiates the candidate from his/her competitors.
  • The candidate must define five or six key messages that he/she wants to project. Research proves that more than five or six means that none will have an impact or be memorable. Fewer than five or six, and the result is the same.

“He has not found his message. He needs to define himself.”

—A Today television show news anchor, when discussing a political candidate

“He has not found his message. He needs to define himself.”

—Matt Lauer, Today Show Host, when discussing a political candidate

Whether you are a political candidate or a job candidate, the requirements are the same. Each networking meeting, phone contact, cover letter, resume, interview, and thank-you note must convey at least one of the key messages you have developed. If you answer a hundred questions with a hundred different answers, you lose. If you stay on message, you win.

“Let your main points hog the spotlight. If you say ten things, you say nothing. You probably agree with that statement, and yet it’s a hard rule to live by!”

Making Your Presentation Stick – Chip and Dan Heath

“Let your main points hog the spotlight. If you say ten things, you say nothing. You probably agree with that statement, and yet it’s a hard rule to live by!”

Making Your Presentation Stick – Chip and Dan Heath


Brainstorm Your Own List

  • What makes you qualified for the jobs you are seeking?
  • What makes you unique among all of the qualified candidates?
  • Of the list you develop, four or five items should be qualifiers, and one to two key messages should be differentiators.

We recommend you develop these ideas on flip-chart paper and keep them front-and-center in your home office so that you can continually hone them. As you actively develop yourself as a job candidate, you will integrate these same statements into

  • elevator statements,
  • resumes,
  • cover letters, and
  • interviews

Qualifiers and Differentiators that The Job Dog Clients Used on Resumes


Administrative and Customer Service Professional

  • Software Skills: Advanced Microsoft Office (Excel, Access, Word, and PowerPoint), Schoolcraft College, Spring 2014. Enrolled in Technical Writing, summer, 2014.
  • Administrative Experience: Student intern; provided administrative support within the legal department of Wayne State, professional knowledge of Microsoft Office (Excel, Access, PowerPoint, Word, and Outlook).
  • Communications and Customer Service Skills: Six years of sales experience as well as leadership and service roles at Wayne State and as a community volunteer. Comfortable interfacing with a wide variety of internal and external customers, including university officers. Professional presentation and writing skills.
  • Project Leader and Initiator: Consistently selected as the team leader for virtually all class and activity projects; recognized for building collaboration and achieving project timelines.
  • Highly Motivated: Recognized as the person who constructively pushes limits, often leading others to complete projects, assignments, and presentations.
  • Education: Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing, emphasis in Sales, minor in Advertising and Public Relations, Wayne State University, 2014.


Creative IT Executive and Business Strategist

  • Trusted IT executive and CEO/COO advisor who achieves measurable results through technologically advanced IT solutions.
  • Progressive IT career history through a wide range of industries: retail, health insurance, marketing/advertising, and manufacturing. Company size ranged from 400 to 4,000 employees with IT teams ranging from 8 to 100.
  • Project manager and cross-functional collaborator. Delivered integrated IT business solutions during sustained periods of revenue growth from $210 to $280M and from $120 to $320M.
  • Implemented process improvements to consistently achieve financial goals. Reduced logistics costs by $1.2M, eliminated $500k in telecom expenses, and improved call center efficiencies by 15%.
  • Respected leader known for bringing enthusiasm and energy to group efforts. Teacher, mentor, coach, and developer of employees and peers. Capitalizes on diverse personalities and talents.


Innovative Financial Analyst & Business Strategist

  • Recognized for the ability to develop and present financial analytics that point to business growth opportunities.
  • Comfortable with the unknown; always open to a calculated risk.
  • Project manager for a national, award-winning online application that assists businesses when evaluating alternative forms of capitalization.
  • Established a regional business development framework adopted as a benchmark strategy for the State of Michigan.
  • MBA, Certified Public Accountant (CPA).


OSHA Safety Supervisor

  • Bachelor of Science Degree, Public Safety Administration, December 2011. This program professionally develops entry-level personnel for public service organizations.
  • Safety Internship at Capstone Construction. Implemented and maintained the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) safety accident prevention program for two diverse construction projects: 1) an advanced technology steel mill manufacturing facility, and 2) a major university residential and academic complex.
  • OSHA 10-hour General Industry Course certified. Currently studying for the OSHA 30-hour General Industry Course certification.
  • American Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED certified. This program is fully aligned with the OSHA Best Practices for Workplace First Aid Training Programs.
  • Graduate of the Dale Carnegie Effective Communications program. Through this 12-week program, learned how to increase my confidence, strengthen interpersonal relationships, and communicate effectively one-on-one and in front of a large group.
  • Organized, reliable, and conscientious hard-worker with an outstanding attendance record.


Patient Services Professional

  • Career history includes progressive Patient Services assignments at Calumet Community Hospital serving patients, families, and medical staff in the Emergency Room.
  • Recognized by supervisor and staff for being 100% accountable and ensuring that the critical details of caring for a patient’s records are accurately completed.
  • Served at both the reception desk of the ER admitting patients and at the back desk synchronizing ER staff requests. Coordinated patient tests and ensured that “next step services” were completed in an expeditious manner.
  • Periodically appointed as the Lead ER Administrative Coordinator to cover leadership absences.
  • Performance reviews recognized performance at the highest levels, including perfect attendance, work accuracy, and customer service feedback.


Registered Nurse

  • Associate’s Degree in Nursing, December 2010, Washtenaw Community College, Honors Graduate, 3.7 GPA.
  • RN licensure pending, March 2011.
  • Enrolled April 2011, BSN program, University of Michigan-Flint.
  • As part of nursing program clinical rotations, developed a primary interest and affinity for caring for mental health and dementia patients as well as the senior population.
  • Recognized by clinical instructors, peers, and patients as a professional and compassionate caregiver with strength in the nursing processes of assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation.
  • Excellent relational and communication skills involving collaboration, communication, and teaching patients and families.


Technical Education Instructor

  • BS Technical Education, AAS Heavy Equipment Technology.
  • Taught Diesel Technology and Medium/Heavy Duty Truck classes as an educator (3 years) and a corporate trainer (2+ years).
  • Educational background includes the continuous improvement of instructional methodologies, curriculum, and course development.
  • Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) Master Heavy Duty Truck certification.
  • Experience teaching in a National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) accredited diesel program.
  • Experience recruiting and advising students in both educational and corporate environments.


Computer Test Engineer, Software Analyst & Developer  

  • MS/BS Computer Science, plus 10+ years’ experience developing, testing, verifying, and validating software. Proficient in automated testing.
  • Skilled at code design, writing, testing, debugging, and interface design. Unit, functional, performance, reliability, integration, regression, GUI, compatibility, and related test methodologies.
  • Knowledge of black box, white box, and gray box testing processes.
  • Strengths in test automation software, including scripting testing tools, Froglogic Squish, and software language compiler.
  • Programming languages: C++, QT, Java, JavaScript, Python, MySQL, HTML, ASP, Oracle developer, CGI, PHP, and SAS.


Project Coordinator and Data Analyst

  • BA Marketing, Michigan State University, Eli Broad College of Business, 2010.
  • Presently employed as a Marketing Account Coordinator with specialties in client/account management, development of creative concepts, marketing communications, print media, and tradeshow coordination.
  • Project management skills include analysis of sales trends, competitive activity, market research analysis, budget administration, planning, scheduling functions, and supporting product launch and sales strategies.
  • Maintain real-time reporting with dashboards, using information to organize special studies or projects as required.
  • Communications/writing skills include blogging, website content development, ad writing, and text-to-eBook processing/editing. Development and delivery of highly effective presentations.
  • Interact with clients, advertising agencies, vendors, and design teams to plan, coordinate, and ensure meeting time-sensitive, critical deadlines. Customer service strength handling difficult situations/customers.
  • Software Proficiencies: Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook), Windows, Macintosh iOS, and Adobe Creative Suite (Acrobat, Photoshop, InDesign).

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