August 13, 2012
To stand out, focus on 'why' instead of 'how' or 'what'
The changing nature of today's job market has caused many job seekers to fiddle almost daily with their resumes to cater to specific audiences. From past work experience to lists of relevant skills to job-specific training programs, the variations of how your information is sliced and diced are almost limitless. Except that you're probably focusing on the wrong elements altogether.
At least, that's the view of Simon Sinek, a trained ethnographer and expert on understanding human behavior. In a typical resume, Sinek says, most of the information is about what you can do and how you have done it for other employers. What is missing, he says, is the why — the actual reason you want to work for an employer.
Sinek is best known for his study of what he calls the "golden circle," a model made of three concentric rings that represent the "what" (outer ring), "how" (inner ring) and "why" (central core) of the decision-making process in our brains. In human communication, discussion about what and how can have some effect on our ability to choose, but it is the why that is the essential nonverbal driver of everything we do.
In a nutshell, Sinek's message is, "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." He goes into far more detail on this topic in his bestselling book, "Start With Why," and also in an influential TEDx Puget Sound presentation he made three years ago. Last month, Sinek released a new guidebook, "Stand Out in the Job Market," that applies this same principle to those looking for work.
Sinek cites a 2010 study from Deloitte called "The Shift Index," which found that about 80 percent of workers surveyed were not satisfied with their current jobs. The goal of his new book is not merely to help people find a new job but to help this unhappy demographic find their "dream jobs" by encouraging them to consider why they want to work in the first place. Once they figure it out, he says, all future communication should start with this reason first and then move on to how and what later on.
Starting with "why" requires some fundamental changes in how you write a resume and cover letter, Sinek says. As you prepare to write each one, he advises considering two important questions:
1) What is the overarching theme of your resume? "Nearly every resume on the planet is an uninspiring list of accomplishments and qualifications, which is certainly no way to inspire any employer or even stand out from everyone else who is equally qualified for the job," Sinek writes. Instead, try setting the tone with an engaging statement or career summary about what you want in your professional life and how the employer would be ideal place to find it.
"Be confident in the message you're sending," he adds. "When you actually believe the things you say and do, you begin to find people who believe what you believe. When you surround yourself with people who have similar values and beliefs, trust emerges."
2) What does all your experience convey about who you are? "Rather than viewing your cover letter as a very formal introduction, try writing as if it were a personal letter to someone you really want to meet," Sinek writes. "What are the most important things about who you are that you want this person to know? When are you at your best?"
He provides an excerpt of such a cover letter written by a client named Allison: "I am the lieutenant every general wishes they had," she writes. "I believe people are capable of incredible things ... if they have the support they need. I am at my best when I get to provide support, build the structure and advocate for others to achieve their goals. This is who I am."
This confident statement quickly sums up the basic qualities of Allison's work ethic and establishes a brand explaining why she does what she does professionally. From there, the hiring manager can find out more of the how and what in the job skills and experience portion of the resume.
Those who are used to a more formal approach in job-seeking correspondence may find this personalized method slightly uncomfortable, Sinek says. However, a well-focused attempt to make a direct connection with a hiring manager could be the difference needed to land the all-important interview. "The fact that your resume will look and feel different means it likely won't get lost in the pile," he adds. "And that's a good thing!"
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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