Strong Personal Mission Statement Works Like A Career GPS

Personal Branding

In order to bridge the gap from college to your first career you need to know yourself; what you bring to the table and what drives you, what you value and what you can do that adds value.  All of this should be succinctly crafted into a personal mission statement. Eric Hellweg who writes for the Harvard Business Review asserts,

Most companies, regardless of their sectors, have a mission statement. And most are awash in jargon and marble-mouthed pronouncements. Worse still, these gobbledy-gook statements are often forgotten by, misremembered, or flatly ignored by frontline employees.

You can’t anticipate every conflict of interest employees might encounter. But, you can increase the likeliness that employees act in the company’s best interest if you provide clear guidelines. A well-crafted mission statement serves as a “true north” for all employees to follow and can do the same for individuals.

Surprisingly, most students spend approximately 21 years in school and less than 30 minutes crafting their resume or personal mission statement. In fact, most of my clients have never written a mission statement at all. Individuals have a hard time defining their personal mission and making it authentic and memorable for perspective employers or admissions counselors. It’s no surprise that many people make costly, painful mistakes in their life and career decisions, as they don’t have a clear focus for their goals, summarized in a personal mission statement.

To combat this in the corporate world, Kevin Starr, the executive director of the Mulago Foundation, insists that companies he funds can express their mission statement in under eight words. They also must follow this format: “Verb, target, outcome.” Some examples: “Save endangered species from extinction” and “Improve African children’s health.”  Please see bottom of page for other well-known company’s corporate mission statements:

I think Starr’s strategy also works well for students. Every student should write a personal mission statement that can serve as his/her GPS for future career and life choices.

First, I suggest engaging in a mission statement brainstorming session, asking yourself the following questions in order to define your reason for existence and your vision:  When am I at my best? What do I really love to do at work and in my personal life? What are my natural gifts? If I had unlimited time and resources, and knew I could not fail, I would choose to do…?  What do I consider the most important future contribution to the most important people in my life?  What is the one quality or attribute I admire most in people I know from the past or present? What problem can I help fix?  Where can I become a part of a team that is working to help resolve a problem that intrigues me?

Once you have answered these questions, hone your mission statement down to a verb, target and the outcome/impact. It should look just like a corporate mission statement but tailored to the actions you choose to pursue, whom you choose to help and the results you expect to achieve. This exercise will be useful when you begin to format your resume.  At that time, you will need to tailor your mission statement to fit the objectives and needs of each prospective employer.

Your resume becomes your marketing brochure that highlights your qualifications and how you have added value to past and current groups/associations/companies. To distinguish your value in the marketplace you must have concrete examples of initiatives you’ve taken that succeeded in making a significant contribution and instances where you advanced a reputable cause or increased their bottom line.

The activities you choose to participate in, the role you assume as a participant in these activities, the references you develop based on your contribution there, tell a lot about what makes you special, and why you have potential to fit in and add value to your next perspective employer. Following this approach for building the content for your resume is the first step in creating your personal brand!

The content for your resume should not be merely a chronological list of your experiences. Jay Block, an internationally certified career coach and resume strategist frowns on strictly chronological resumes and cleverly equates them to an obituary. Your resume should ideally reflect your “brand” and should feature your core values, accomplishments and your positive character traits that are distinctive to help recruiters and hiring managers predict how successful a candidate you’ll be in the workforce. Start thinking about your positive character traits. Provide examples of how you’ve used them to further a respected cause. Also begin thinking about answers to questions that will define you as a person.  (See From Diploma to Dream Job: 5 Overlooked Steps to a Successful Career for an extensive list of graduate school questions to get a feel for what’s will be asked of you in the near future). This will help you begin the process of developing social intelligence that you will need for success in college and for launching your first career.

All things being equal, having the social intelligence to know the traits that apply to your perspective employer’s needs and the ability to articulate how you can contribute to that institution will give YOU the competitive edge and help you get your foot in the door first. Be aware that hiring managers try to gauge an applicant’s competence as an individual who can function in a diverse group environment. Keep this in mind: Develop truthful anecdotes that portray your best character traits and demonstrate how you’ve overcome challenges and forged relationships with people from diverse backgrounds and who have varied skill-sets.

The gatekeepers to your future career are aware of character traits that indicate success. The most savvy candidates do their research to discern which traits to highlight and which accomplishments to showcase in order to develop a picture of a promising candidate who can help solve that specific firm’s problems and can add the most value where the company needs support. You can get more insight about who the gatekeepers are and how to impress them in my book From Diploma to Dream Job: 5 Overlooked Steps to a Successful Career.

To summarize: Developing your personal mission statement combined with showcasing your pursuits and accomplishments that reflect your mission are the critical first steps to establishing and reinforcing your personal brand. Having a distinctive personal brand as a student will make you more memorable to employers. Your academic pursuits, volunteer work, internships, jobs and extra-curricular activities all afford you the opportunity to develop your reputation and a “personal marketing brochure” if you will that describes what you do best and defines what qualifies you to help fill the needs of that institution/organization. The best mission statements crystallize a person’s core values and identify what makes you special. Ultimately, your personal mission statement becomes your statement of purpose and will drive the choices you make for your career and where you’ll apply for a job. Writing a truthful, thoughtful and cogent mission statement will improve your chances for selecting the right career and for getting hired!

Your next step will be discovering what it is that the (graduate school admissions officer or hiring manager is looking for and how you can fill the gap and apply your talents to help her/him accomplish her goals).

Examples of Company’s Mission Statements

Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.

Google’s mission is to organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Microsoft’s mission is to enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential.

Skype’s mission is to be the fabric of real-time communication on the web.

Yahoo!’s mission is to be the most essential global Internet service for consumers and businesses

YouTube’s mission is to provide fast and easy video access and the ability to share videos frequently

Beth’s personal mission statement:

Verb: Improve

Target:  Generation Y

Outcome: Competitive Edge and quality of life

Dramatically improve generation Y’s competitive edge and quality of life in today’s challenging marketplace