This post appeared on October 18th, 2008 as a part of the Career Corner Advice Series
Job seekers looking to convey their unique skills and talents need to first look within. Your ability to concisely and convincingly convey your interests, abilities, and experience is a vital first step to career success. By honing your personal mission statement, you ensure that you are always ready to express yourself to a new contact, networking connection, potential employer, or anyone else who may be able to help you in your search for meaningful, fulfilling work. The whole idea behind networking and building connections with people is to create a group of advocates who know about your interests and abilities and can therefore keep you on their radar for times when opportunities that they hear about could possible fit with what you are seeking.
Self-knowledge and the ability to express yourself through a personal mission statement isn’t about “selling yourself,” rather it is about “knowing yourself.” Transitions Coach and Career Counselor Cathy Wasserman says, “While selling yourself can come across as pushy and insincere, knowing yourself inside and out—your core strengths, experience, passions, and goals—greatly increases the likelihood that you will stand out and land a fulfilling job where you can contribute, be supported, and continue to develop and grow professionally. Furthermore, lack of self-knowledge makes it more likely that you will end up treading professional water or embarking upon a career path that does not maximize your abilities.”
A job seeker should never, ever say, “I don’t really know what I want to do” nor should they say, “There are a gazillion things I would love to do.” Neither of these comments help others help you in your search and they don’t help you stand out. After you do a little bit of self-reflection, it is pretty clear to see what you want to do. And, while it may be true that you have a lot of different interests (almost no one, after all, is only good at or interested in one thing), identifying your two or three key interests allows you to talk about relevant interests with relevant people. For example, I am interested in and generally good at teaching and writing. If I meet a fellow writer, I talk first about my writing. If I meet a teacher, I talk teaching. My other interests and experiences may come out in the course of the conversation but I always try to “hook” a new contact by starting with what I see as the area of greatest common interest and then going from there.
To get started, check out “Self and career assessment,” Chapter Three of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers (you can choose from the first-time job seekers guide or the sector-switcher guide) and learn how to clarify your mission, values, priorities, and greatest skills. Then check out Chapter Four “Networking” to learn ways to turn this self-knowledge into your elevator pitch. By taking steps to identify your greatest skills, understanding what kind of jobs and organizations work best for you, and practicing how to authentically communicate this information to others through your elevator pitch, you will appear confident, self-aware, motivated, and directed. Talk about a great set of qualities to display to anyone helping you find that dream job!
This entry is by Steven Joiner, Director of the Career Transitions Program and author of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers.