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.
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.
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.”
—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