Language is everything.
It sends subtle messages about your attitude, your intelligence, your background and even your motivations. Yet, its not something that we always think about changing, so its often sub-optimal.
Our personal brands often speak the wrong language.
This really struck me when speaking with a client of mine, Elizabeth. She is looking to transition from management into leadership and while writing her resume, I was coaching her on talking about her experiences as a mentor.
She weaved a wonderful story about helping out a woman who was unhappy and underpaid at work. She helped her define her values and her goals and then the two of them broke those down into tangible steps. Since that time, the woman has taken classes outside of the office, been promoted and become a lot happier. She gives Elizabeth credit for jump-starting this major shift in her life.
Wonderful story. I was thrilled to hear that she had made such a difference in the woman’s life.
So, the two of us worked on what the right language for an interview would look like:
I identified a woman at work that I could tell had potential to contribute far more value that she was at the time. I pro-actively asked her to coffee, so we could talk about what success at our company looked like for her. Together, we plotted a course of action that resulted in her enrolling in classes outside of the office, taking on more responsibility in her position and eventually being promoted. Her confidence and increasingly positive attitude have been huge benefits of our work. We have recurring monthly meetings to ensure that she grows in ways that are most beneficial for herself and the company.
Do you see how the change in language completely shifted the vantage point of the story?
In the first one, Elizabeth was a good person doing another person a favor. In very effective dinner-table language.
In the second one, she was an effective leader, who identified and coaxed out potential, yielding real value for her company. The language of leadership.
Your own tactical implementation
I want you to take a minute and think of an aspect of your personal brand that may be targeting the wrong audience. Its okay if you aren’t sure. If you’re having trouble thinking of one, try to think of things that you think are good stories, but are not particularly impressive.
Got one? Good.
Now we’re going to answer three questions, all about your audience:
- Who are they? (ex. hiring manager at company X)
- Why do they care? (ex. they want to evaluate my mentoring experience)
- Why do they care about that? (ex. they want to ensure I will bring value to the company by mentoring my subordinates)
Keep asking that last question — 2, 3,10 times — until you come up with a really powerful answer.
Hiring manager X wants to evaluate Elizabeth’s mentoring experience to ensure that she will add value to the company by mentoring her subordinates.
Then ask yourself the question, does my personal brand written in the language of their why?
For Elizabeth, she was addressing her mentorship in a personal language, dinner table language, while her evaluator was addressing her in a business language.
By shifting her story – her language – to the language of her audience, her accomplishments became stronger and more pertinent. Her brand became more attractive. She became more hire-able.
Elizabeth became a more attractive job seeker simply by changing her language.