Do You Want Job Search Success? Know Your “Why”

Do You Want Job Search Success? Know Your “Why”

As a person that reads resumes and interviews for a living, it is amazing to me how many people do not understand how to effectively market themselves. I am not just talking about putting together an effective resume. I am talking about understanding your own personal value proposition or the “why” for an employer. A Gallup study in 2018 of the State of the American Workplace found that 51% of American workers were looking for a new job. Even though the unemployment rate in the US is historically low at 3.7% in January 2019, with so many job seekers looking for new opportunities, there still is quite a lot of competition. Just like an author of a book needs to come up with a compelling first paragraph to get you engaged from the start, you need to engage the recruiter/hiring manager right away. If you don’t understand and can’t speak to the “why”, those looking to hire will bypass your information and go on to those that can clearly articulate what they can offer to an employer.

Understand The “Why”

Part of the reason why resumes are mediocre and applicants do poorly in interviews is that they do not really understand their “why” for a new job. I hear many people say they don’t like their present job and can come up with a long list of reasons why is doesn’t suit them, but I rarely hear people list well thought out reasons why they want to work in a particular role or with a particular employer. Sinon Sinek wrote a book called “Start With Why” (see his TEDTalk about this concept). He says the following:

“But if you don't know why you do what you do, and people respond to why you do what you do, then how will you ever get people to vote for you, or buy something from you, or, more importantly, be loyal and want to be a part of what it is that you do. “

Getting to the “why” is hard work. I think this is the reason that so many people want to skip this step and go straight to putting together a resume and applying for jobs. Why is it hard? It is hard because you have to really be honest with yourself. You have to take stock in yourself and understand what motivates you. It is not about what your parents or partner thinks you should do. It is about truthfully defining your strengths, weaknesses, wants and wishes.

Go someplace that is quiet and, with only a pen and paper with you, think. No distractions, please, which means no smartphone and no computer. You need just you, your thoughts and something to write them down on. Ask yourself these questions.

·         What do you like to do?

·         Is there something that you want to do but are not currently doing?

·         What work keeps you engaged?

·         What do you do well?

·         What do you not do well but would be interested in getting better at with training?

·         What do you absolutely not want to do?


You have to be brutally honest with yourself. Maybe you were told to go into a STEM field by well-meaning family members but you honestly do not want to do this type of work. Write down what it is about STEM positions that you don’t like but also think if there are areas that you do like or that you are good in. Maybe you are in a creative field but the feedback is that you your work is okay but not great. Acknowledge this and think about what this might mean for you. Could you get better with more training? Should you look at other aspects of a creative career that better meets your strengths? This is the time to think through these types of questions.

The answers to these questions are important as it will provide you with a roadmap to find those positions that better match to your “why.”

Showcase The “Why”

Showcasing the “why” on a resume, cover letter and your LinkedIn profile is really quite easy if you have done the step above. Go back to your deep thought exercise and put on your resume your “why.” Every part of the resume, from your summary statement, to the skills your highlight, to the accomplishments that you cite, should all be related to your “why.”

Resume Summary

A modern resume will have a summary section. Whether it is called a “summary”, “profile” or “about me”, this section should tell the reader what you will bring to the employer. It should tie back to what you like to do, what you do well as well as what motivates you. It essentially is your “elevator pitch” in written form. This is not long---just a few sentences. It should readily answer the question of what you do and how you do it.

Here is an example of a Summary section that aligns with a person’s “why.”

A restaurant operator with a passion for serving others mixed with good business acumen. Excellent cost controller (food and labor) through extensive employee training. Consistently high guest satisfaction scores with a focus on customer service. Known for high employee morale and low employee turnover. Highly organized and pro-active which results in a smooth running and profitable operation.

Resume Work Experience

In this section of your resume you will list your past employment with what you accomplished. What you are going to put in this section should align with your “why.” If you are passionate about developing relationships, you are going to outline how you have been successful doing this. Where people get it wrong here is to just put their job duties in this section. This is not what they hiring team wants to see. It is not about what you are supposed to do. It is about what you accomplished.

Resume Skills Section

You should now have a list of all of your skills from the “understand the why” exercise. Include here all your hard (technical) and soft skills (personal attributes).

Cover Letter

Applicants are often stumped about what to write on a cover letter. If you have thought long and hard about your strengths and likes, a cover letter is pretty easy to write. You are going to showcase these on your cover letter, with a discussion of what you can do for this employer (see below for Look For Positions That Address The “Why).

LinkedIn Profile

Your LinkedIn profile gives you a great amount of flexibility in how you can showcase your “why.” Your headline areas and the 120 characters that is allows can put your “why” front and center for everyone to see. Instead of being just a Project Manager at Acme Company you can change your headline to be “Award winning Project Manager that brings projects in on time and under budget” You also have 2,000 words to write a summary of your career. This area allows you to write about areas that you are passionate about, where you excel and both the what and how of your accomplishments.

Look For Positions That Address The “Why”

Part of getting HR folks and hiring managers to read your resume is to network and apply for positions that will meet the “why” for you and the company. There is a term called “spray and pray” that many job seekers fall victim to, generally with limited success. The term is used to characterize the actions of job seekers that will just apply to any position they think they are remotely qualified for in the hopes that they will get hired for one. My rule of thumb is to apply to positions where you meet at least 75% of the stated requirements. If you know your “why”, these will be positions that will interest you because it meets your criteria for a new job. You will be able to use the skills you possess and do interesting work that you find challenging and engaging.

If your “why” is to be a career changer, your work in finding positions where you meet the 75% qualification threshold is a bit more challenging. You may need to either get additional training (if you, for instance, want to go into accounting) or do a lot of networking so people can understand your “why” by having conversations with you and not relying on a resume.

Read the job posting multiple times. Go to the company website and do research. What is their business problem and how could you solve it? What have you accomplished that is applicable and transferable? Think like a marketer who is doing feature-benefit selling. What features do you have that would be a benefit to the employer? Showcase those in your resume.

Lastly, the presentation is important (though the content is way more important). Make sure the resume is visually appealing.

·         Use an easy to read font (sans serif fonts are best like Calibri, Georgia, Garamond).

·         Make sure you have white space on your resume.

·         Use bold or italics to emphasize words or phrases but use judicially.

·         Bullet point lists to make for easier reading.

·         Length should be appropriate for your work history. One to two pages is usually best.

Do the work up front to know your “why”, and you will reap the benefits of more people reading your resume AND wanting to talk with you to learn more about you. In interviews, you will be better able to craft answers that highlight the “why”, because you will be very clear about what that means to you and the employer. You will have much better success in finding that position where you will have interesting work that truly engages you. What can be better than that?

Job Seeker: What Does Your Body Language Say About You?

Job Seeker: What Does Your Body Language Say About You?

How To Get Noticed By A Recruiter On LinkedIn

How To Get Noticed By A Recruiter On LinkedIn

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required