When it comes to describing your career and positioning yourself, do you find yourself taking a “jack of all trades” approach? Many people do. But why? In this article we'll examine what it is, show you the pitfalls of taking this approach and explain how you can avoid it. We'll also learn from a real-life career situation and discover the solution I used for my client Peter.
If you’re a person who’s held various roles over the course of your career, or you have many passions, talents or projects, you may find it a problem or challenge to combine everything into a comprehensive “Summary” or “About Me” section for your resume, CV or LinkedIn profile.
Most of us who’ve worked for many years in various roles and across different fields sometimes have a difficult time of narrowing things down and selecting the right highlights to present to others. It’s precisely the opposite situation of a career starter - someone who feels they must pad their profile, feels afraid they don’t have much to offer, or who resorts to stretching things out to create more filler and inflated content. For sure, this is something we all do grow out of - and we learn to spot “filler” in other people’s writing a mile away.
However, at this point in your career you may have too much content - and you’re not really sure what to do with it or how to shape it. You've done so many things that you don’t know where to begin. The result? Content overwhelm and paralysis!
So it may just seem easier to go down the jack of all trades route (‘So what kind of work do you do?‘ ‘I handle everything from A to Z’, ‘I’m in essence a Gal Friday’, ‘I’ve worn so many hats I’ve lost count’. ‘Marketing. I can market pretty well anything’). When you start applying this attitude towards your job search or in writing your summary description, you have one basic motivation: fear. Fear of missing out, fear of not being appealing to everyone. So you describe yourself very generally and ‘throw in everything but the kitchen sink’. You’re convinced you should cast out the widest net possible to appeal to as many people as possible. And then hope that your reader/listener/audience will fill in the blanks themselves, fix gaps and magically figure out where you fit in.
But is this really a good way to position yourself?
When it comes time to marketing yourself - especially on LinkedIn or on your resume - you must avoid falling into the ‘jack of all trades’ syndrome. Instead, you should do the precise opposite: be specific and provide a sharp focus for yourself and others.
What does this mean? You have a specialty and a niche that you’ve worked hard for – you’re the ‘go-to’ person for XYZ. And this is what you should be highlighting - in contrast to presenting yourself as an ‘I can do a bit of everything’ kind of person. When you keep yourself too general, it only serves to confuse your audience (and yourself) because you have a lack of focus. Your busy audience/readers/target clientele are overwhelmed and choking on information overload much of the time anyways – they don’t have time to read between the lines or figure out where you fit in.
What’s the common reaction of busy, impatient, confused or overwhelmed audiences? Clicking away, moving away, skipping on to something else (or someone else) that feels more crystal clear and confident rather than hopefully vague and scattershot. Your job here is to help out busy readers by bringing yourself into sharper focus and making their decision-making quick and painless.
Recently I had a client who needed a complete revamp of his LinkedIn profile. Peter was a dynamic, high-performance guy in his early 30s who had played a lot of interesting roles in his life. In business - as a sports marketing expert and key account manager. In professional athletics - as an Olympic medal winner, a world champion in his field, plus as a sports trainer in the army. In corporate social responsibility and PR-related roles - as a motivational speaker, coach at the University of Chicago’s youth summer camp and as a TV commentator for sports broadcasts.
Peter needed a clear focus - and a new, creative strategy for his LinkedIn profile approach. What aspects was he going to emphasize? How could he improve his focus? Which details should be brought to the forefront? And which activities should only be mentioned briefly? Peter indeed had a lot to offer the market - there was no shortage of dazzling, impressive details. His issue now was ‘focus’ (he had too much going on) combined with thinking through his ‘approach to the market’ (he wanted to avoid a profile that was scattered and all over the place, or that attempted to bring all his valuable nuggets into one giant mix).
The key is first deciding on who your target market will be (what is your No. 1 choice of field to work in right now?). Then you hone in on a few essential aspects such as:
• What tone does this key market find appealing? (put on your detective cap and read their website and PR material with a close eye)
• What’s important to the readers and decision-makers? (what image, energy, attitude fits and harmonizes with their team and brand?)
• What content and details you should include towards this objective? (highlight your matching / near matching achievements)
Always keep in mind that not all activities should be given equal weight: not everything you’ve done in the past should be detailed in the same way in your summary, LinkedIn profile or resume. Aspects from the distant past should be mentioned using far less space, unless it is something that would truly interest your reader and place you in a better, more competitive position. Your “time and space” is very limited (time of reader’s attention span and brief space on paper or screen field). Use this prime real estate solely to present your curiosity-inspiring, relevant goodies.
The benchmark question always is: will the reader / potential employer/prospect find this important and critical for their decision making? There may be a situation when you can weave a common thread throughout your activities and paint a logical trajectory. Other times, you may need just to focus on 1-2 critical areas or major skill combination which are of key interest to your audience. Everything else must go on the backburner once you focus on a particularly hot objective. In a previous blog post, we examined how to create a more targeted profile that really focusses on your key(word) areas.
Peter had a lot of different options for how he could position himself and he was open to working in a few different areas that would be a great fit. So, this meant that we had a few options as to how we could shape his summary.
The solution? We decided to create several summary versions. Since he was at the job application stage after recently completing an MBA; he wished to target a certain type of organization (youth program management at international sports centers). I shaped a few sections of his profile that he could switch around, depending on the company and sector. After 4-6 weeks of trying to land a job in this No. 1 priority area, he could switch to another job hunt area (e.g. sports marketing) and tweak his profile to match the needs of a new audience. He now had customized content he could use for his No. 1 and No. 2 priority target job fields.
Peter was also now in the position to switch things around – and not feel that he had to pursue just one track, armed with just one set of documents, a summary or profile that was fixed watertight. This was far better than crafting a giant densely packed mix of everything he’d ever done under the sun and then shooting it off to 100 companies.
In other words: There’s no reason why you need to maintain just one summary or one version! Or believe that your one version is written in stone, with little change over the long run. LinkedIn readers, the flow of the labour market, the flow of your development – and your own likes and dislikes – are always works in progress. You are free to change up your summary texts and profile content whenever you think it’s necessary. Think of it as a toolbox of components that you combine and switch out, depending on the nature of the job at hand and the specific audience you wish to target.
Before we end, let me leave you with this food-for-thought.
Your background and career path will not interest everyone. It won’t appeal to everybody under the sun. Why should it? Make yourself appealing only to the people / potential audience/clients you truly value. Show your hand. And feel the relief of showing your hand and taking off your mask.
As my favourite HR advice queen Liz Ryan always says: “If they don’t get you, they don’t deserve you”. Check out Liz Ryan’s straight-talk video from The Human Workplace, the first video on the CareerLove video page. If you’ve never heard Liz Ryan speak before or read her column where she answers her readers’ queries in sticky career situations, do so; you’re in for a welcome treat of humour, rare directness and cultivation of increased self-respect. Liz’s column is featured in Forbes online and shared regularly on LinkedIn (follow Liz Ryan on LinkedIn to receive the latest postings in your notifications).
Careers and job searching can be a high stakes game involving money, benefits, your overall happiness and quality of life. Like in a game of cards, you’ll be forced to show your hand sooner or later. Luckily you get to be a dealer and a player at the same time, and have chances to reshuffle and play a better hand as you move along. A hand that has power and can take you to the next round. Don’t be afraid to show that skillful hand to the right people.
CareerLove is a writing service for job applications and LinkedIn profiles that helps experienced professionals, career starters, freelancers and entrepreneurs to communicate in a more original and unique way on the job market. Founder Astrid Schmidtchen works with people from around the world across all levels and industries. She welcomes your contact and feedback.Back to Candidate blogs
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