The job search is tough for everyone, but left-brained candidates have a big mountain to climb. Find out what their biggest challenge and how to conquer it.
By Rob Sullivan
Much scientific research in recent decades has focused on the left and right hemispheres of the brain and suggested that people in whom one side dominates are likely to share certain ways of thinking.
While the right hemisphere is more intuitive and emotional, studies suggest, the left is more logical and sequential. Left-brained thinkers frequently excel in highly analytical fields such as IT, engineering and law.
When it comes to job hunting, however, left-brained people often have more difficulty than their right-brained counterparts — but not for the reasons you might think.
To compete effectively in the marketplace, left-brained people have to overcome two important obstacles. The first challenge is common to most job hunters; the second is specific to technical and analytical types.
Our difficulties and their origins
What is the obstacle? After spending more than 18 years helping job hunters in a range of occupations, I have found that most people have difficulty talking about themselves. What’s even more fascinating is that the problem goes deeper. Much deeper. An overwhelming majority of the people who have a hard time talking about themselves have just as much trouble thinking about themselves.
In other words, they struggle to acknowledge their own skills, talents and contributions.
Where does this obstacle originate? For analytical and technical types, logical, left-brained, process-oriented thinking is exactly what makes them successful professionally. Job hunting, however, is a marketing challenge that relies more on right-brained skills rarely possessed by hard-core left-brained people. We’ll explore a few options that should help you think more creatively about your experiences, but don’t be embarrassed if you struggle with the concepts.
You’re not alone. Just find someone who can coach you through the process.
Why right-brained job searches thrive
Job hunters in general — and left-brained types in particular — miss most of the opportunities to leverage their experiences because they don’t understand the difference between an attribute and a benefit. Even marketers aren’t always clear on the concept. For years, Castrol Motor Oil ran commercials focusing on the product’s ability to prevent “engine viscosity and thermal breakdown.” Unless you are a mechanic, that probably doesn’t mean anything to you. This is a great example of a company selling an attribute rather than a benefit.
For people at Castrol, the thinking stopped at what the product does. A benefit, in contrast, takes into consideration what the product does for you, the consumer. After all, if you don’t know what “engine viscosity” or “thermal breakdown” is, it probably isn’t keeping you up at night.
Let’s look instead at the benefits. For the purposes of this example, let’s assume that by using Castrol Motor Oil you’d lower automobile repair expenses by $400 per year and your cars would last, on average, five years longer. If true, that would be the benefit of using Castrol. It might even convince you to use the product.
Now, apply this thinking to your resume. Your ability to use Java or C++, your proficiency with Oracle databases, and even your advanced degree are attributes. People who possess the same basic skills and credentials are everywhere. That’s not why people are going to hire you. True, companies are looking to hire people with those skills, but there has to be more. What really matters is what you have done with those skills. That’s where you’ll find the benefit.
A few right-brained principles
Give them the benefit. There are six basic ways to quantify your experience:
Safety and compliance may not always be relevant, but the first four quantifiers almost always are. First, give people an idea of the types of projects you’ve done. Start with the basics and describe the purpose, length, scope and results of the project. This is important because employers want to know what you are capable of handling. Then, ask yourself the following questions:
- Was this part of your job, or were you specially selected to work on the project?
- What did you do or contribute that otherwise might never have happened?
- Were you able to convince the company or client to invest more time, money or resources than they originally planned?
These questions focus more on your individual contributions. Highlight any projects for which you were specifically selected. This is one of the best ways to show that others value your input. In addition, it is always helpful to identify any ideas you had that improved the outcome of the project. For example, if you came up with an idea and convinced a company to spend time or money to implement it, that can be very compelling. Come up with as many examples of idea generation and problem solving as you can. All companies have problems and are looking for people who can solve them.
Applying these principles
To make these principles work for you, it is absolutely essential to think beyond generic job descriptions and raw skills to actual accomplishments. In this economy, there are countless people who have the same basic skills. Some are more qualified, and some are less qualified. But most don’t take the time to quantify their experiences. That’s what will make the difference. Help people understand what you can do and how it will benefit them.
This is a particularly difficult challenge because marketing yourself effectively requires more right-brained thinking than you may be used to doing. Remember, jobs don’t always go to the most qualified people; jobs go to the people who know how to market themselves. It’s going to take time to do a thorough self-assessment, but I promise it’s worth it.
It all boils down to one simple choice: You can either invest your time up front creating an inventory of quantified, compelling experiences, or you can spend the time on the back end dealing with a string of rejections and the strong possibility of underemployment. Choose wisely.
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Rob Sullivan is an author, corporate trainer, inspirational speaker and professional development coach whose passion is helping people recognize, leverage, and communicate the gold in their backgrounds. Rob has been a repeat guest on television and radio stations across the country including NBC, ABC and WGN. He was also featured in the Wall Street Journal and as a guest expert on “Starting Over,” an Emmy-winning reality show that airs nationally on NBC. Contact Rob Sullivan