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Communicating Your Value-added Series, Part 2

Identifying your unique differentiator.

Onlyness idea

Everyone has a unique profile of skills, experience and way of viewing the world.

In Part 1, Don’t hide your light under a bushel basket! we asked the question:
How can you continue to leverage and build your Career Capital in a way that is visible to the right people? The people who need you to help solve their problem.

Our suggested strategy is by continuing to learn and develop your skill stack, but not in secret.
Before we look at adding what you may consider a “skill” to your skill stack, let’s step back and explore what sets you apart, which may not be what you think of as a skill.

Where to start?
The only place you can start is where you are.

  • Where is your energy and engagement right now?
  • What are the types of projects or causes you are drawn to?
  • What people and organizations are currently doing that type of work?
  • Would a few conversations with the right people help you get a better handle on the problems to be solved, the skills need, as well as future trends?

Once you’ve done your preliminary research, which skills do you already have?
Notice the gap. Is it real or perceived? By that I mean, are there skills and experience that you need before you can do that work OR do you have the skills, and it’s an issue of others recognizing that you have the skills to do the work?

Realistically, is moving in this direction a short or long-term goal? Will a quick learning sprint (1-3 months) position you for your next move? In Part 3 we’ll pick up this train of thought with developing and leveraging your learning sprint. Before we do that, it’s important to identify what makes you unique.

Recognizing and Owning Your Uniqueness
What’s the unique perspective, experience or skill that you bring to your work, and to the problems you solve?

Onlyness, a term Nilofer Merchant coined in 2011 in her book The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World, describes the distinct insight, experience and vision every single one of us possesses. New ideas are born when someone stands in that singular spot where only they stand.

Your unique differentiator is unique to you. You might not even be aware of it because it’s so much a part of you. It’s something you just take for granted. Like the air you breathe. From the feedback you’ve received over the years, the activities and projects you’ve enjoyed, and the unique way you tend to look at things, you may already have a sense of what your onlyness is.

This is where certain assessments, e.g. the Values in Action (VIA) or the CliftonStrengths, can be a great help reinforcing what you already know and giving you the words to express it. I strongly recommend taking and using something like the CliftonStrengths assessment as a framework to explore you uniqueness and learning to communicate it clearly and powerfully.

For our purposes I’ll refer to the CliftonStrengths assessment. If you’ve taken the assessment, you’re aware of your top five strengths. My top five strengths are strategic, deliberative, ideation, learner, and intellection. They show up in pretty much everything I do, sometimes they’re a strength, other times they are a blind spot and cause mischief.

When you first read your strengths report, you may or may not have been surprised, but upon a closer look you began to recognize how those strengths are just so much a part of who you are and how you show up.

Assessments like CliftonStrengths allow us to better understand ourselves and others. We all have a different combination of strengths, and they manifest differently. The chance of someone having the same signature strengths in the same order as someone else is one in 33.4 million.

Identifying your strengths can be a good starting point for identifying and appreciating your onlyness. Your strengths also provides a direction and stepping off point as you decide where to focus next in developing your career capital and skill stack.

The CliftonStrengths assessment report allows you to look at your strengths from more of a meta level – the perspective and strengths you bring to the table regardless of the skill or project you’re involved with.

Let’s use your accomplishments, the ones on your resume, to further explore and understand your onlyness.

Mining Your Greatest Hits

  1. Skim your accomplishment statements on your resume. Pull out the top three or so of your greatest hits. Don’t worry if they are recent or from early on in your career.
  2. Craft a story with a beginning, middle, and end for each of these accomplishment. Remember the context, the situation, the assignment or the project they were a part of.
  3. Take time to reflect on each story as you’re crafting it.
      • What was a favorite part of that project?
      • What did you learn? What “ahh” or insight did it provide?
      • How did it change your behavior?

Every good story has a challenge, a struggle.

      • What was the challenge or struggle in the project?
      • Whether you had a big or small part in the project, what did you add? Don’t just think in terms of skills or knowledge, but also temperament, personality, perspective, emotional intelligence.

What was the impact?

      • For you.
      • For your team.
      • For your company.
      • For your customer.

Put yourself back in the situation.
Feel what it was like.

      • Was it a challenge?
      • What was your energy and engagement like?
      • What was your favorite part?

Let your thoughts and feelings go where they want as you remember more of the specifics, key people involved, and even related projects.

Jot down a few keywords or phrases as they come to mind. This can add to the richness of the story, and also connect with other accomplishments to add to your greatest hits.

These accomplishment stories are ones you’ll need to return to again and again. Find a place to inventory these stories so you can continue to develop them. Adding them to a special section of your journal is a great habit to get into.

These successes didn’t just happen by chance. There was a unique confluence of events that allowed you to be successful. Let’s figure out what they were, so you can repeat the process.

Identifying Your Recipe
As you review your strength stories and your greatest hits, what themes arise?
What situations, challenges or teams bring out the best in you?

There is always a recipe. It may take a while to spot it. Give yourself the time. When you’re reminded of other situations, make note of them. What’s the pattern? What’s the combination of variables that allowed you to do your best work?

  • What is that special something, your onlyness, your unique value added?
  • What types of problems, situations, and challenges are likely to align to create another opportunity to contribute?

Showing up at your best ready to do your best work doesn’t happen by chance. There is a unique set of activities, people, circumstances, energy, and mindset that converge. It is a recipe that can be repeated.

  • What are the key ingredients that converge when you do your best work?
  • Can you feel and own what you brought to the table then? What you can continue to bring to the table that sets you apart.
  • Can you see the positive impact? Did others see it?
  • If you’re familiar with your top five CliftonStrengths, which two or three of your top five strengths did you leverage in those situations.

It can be helpful to work on a few of your stories at the same time so they can rift off each other – this can help you to spot themes and patterns. Once you’ve recognized the uniqueness you bring to the table, make time to reflect and own and be grateful for your value added.

Building On Your Uniqueness
In what way is that uniqueness transferable to what you want to do next?

  • To the work you want to be doing.
  • To the problems you want to be working on.
  • To the people you want to be working with.

Now, based on your onlyness, what situations, work environments and teams do you thrive in?

Is that what you’re looking for in your search?


Next Up
Based on what you want to do next and who you want to do it for and with, what’s the next skill or experience you want to add to your career capital?

The next post in the series will take a look at developing and implementing your learning sprint to get you up to speed quickly while leveraging the learning process to increase your visibility.

Tom our community

Tom McDonough, a career and life coach, is director of programs and founding Board member for the Institute for Career Transitions. Though his career story has allowed him to experience many roles, the underlying theme is helping colleagues clarify and align personal and career goals with their core values.

Together, we can support one another through this unscripted journey better than if we try alone.

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