When Aaron Schock resigned from the House of Representatives recently, few people will focus on the impact he made in Congress.
Why? For starters, the Illinois politician never sponsored a bill that became a law. But more importantly, Schock, who has come under fire because of a spending scandal, is best known for a ‘Downton Abby’-inspired officeand bare-chested cover photo for Men’s Health.
In short: Schock was heavy on the style… and light on the substance.
Which seems to be a growing trend; many of those looking to build an early career seem to be good at using colorful words to describe themselves, but fail to demonstrate any real substance.
Look at your personal branding documents and online accounts. Do you include these three adjectives?
Find any of them in your resume or cover letter? Your LinkedIn profile? Probably. That’s because EVERYONE describes themselves the same way. It’s a bad habit we carry over from life as an undergrad in our quest to seem impressive.
Joanie Connell, PhD sums it up in her book “Flying without a Helicopter: How to Prepare Young People for Work and Life.” Connell writes:
“The funny thing about college is how little of it applies to work.”
Yep. Now’s the time to replace words like “successful” with your actual job history. Your applications will become more interesting because you provide substance, not style. It’s the winning strategy I employ with all of my career coaching clients.
Let’s break down the three adjectives that, by default, damage your personal brand:
STYLE | “I’m a successful project manager who always delivers for the client.”
SUBSTANCE | “The best example of my work as a project manager is when I oversaw the merger of three client websites into one. The project took seven months and involved 17 other people, but I kept everyone on track to complete the job.”
Everyone claims to be “successful,” but only YOU merged three websites and dealt with 17 people along the way. Let the competition tout their “success.” You have a far better story to tell.
STYLE | “I’m hard-working and always get the job done.”
SUBSTANCE | “At my most recent job, I gathered and sorted 12,000 pieces of data on childhood obesity across all 50 states. I only had two weeks to create a report so my boss could deliver the information at a national conference. I had several late nights at the office but got the job done.”
How would anyone believe you’re “hard-working” unless you explain yourself? Skip the style. Go with substance.
STYLE | “I always bring an enthusiastic approach the job.”
SUBSTANCE | “Most interns wouldn’t love a summer fetching coffee for team leaders, but I took full advantage of the opportunity. Since I became the ‘coffee runner,’ I developed relationships with my superiors and was able to ask questions about the business and their own careers. For me, buying coffee was the best use of my time as an intern.”
Let the other 100 job applicants claim to be “enthusiastic.” You demonstrate enthusiasm with actual work history and real impact (AKA substance).
In every “substance” example, notice how I don’t use the three adjectives: successful, hard-working and enthusiastic? Even once? That’s because when you explain HOW you’re “successful,” you don’t need to use the word at all.
Let your experience drive your job applications. Leave the fluff to everyone else… and Aaron Schock, of course.
What other adjectives can we remove from our personal branding? Share below!