For well over a decade, I have been in the fortunate position to help guide people as they look for jobs, evaluate opportunities and navigate their careers.
While my advice is always customized to the individual situation (stage of career, staying or leaving an industry, finding oneself in a fork in the career road or finding oneself stuck without any forward momentum or sometimes unfortunately without a job) there is one exercise I recommend to every person.
It is The Nine Word Exercise.
Today many are evaluating where they work, why they work, how they work and who they work for, this exercise could be one resource to help guide the way.
The Nine Word Exercise.
The nine-word exercise requires one to identify three words that describe one’s niche, voice, and story.
Niche: What are the three words that describe what you are very good at? What expertise, craft, or subject matter knowledge do you have an edge in?
Employers are looking for specific skills, competitive edge, and depth of experience.
Voice: Three words that describe who you are? While niche is about what you are good at, voice is about who you are as a person and your personality.
People today do not follow titles, but they follow people. So, who are you?
Story: Why should people believe you ? What three words describe your journey and experiences that give a reason to believe?
While niche calls out what you are good at, and voice describes who you are, story lets you explain what forged and made you.
Here are my nine words.
Niche: Future. Change. Innovation.
Voice: Authentic. Provocative. Inspirational.
Story: Global. Mongrel. Re-Inventing.
Things to keep in mind as you do the exercise.
It looks easy but it is not. You are attempting to distill yourself down to nine words and only nine words. Not sentences or paragraphs. Just words. These need to be sharp and not soft. As precise as possible vs fuzzy and generalized.
Do not do it all alone. It helps to get input from people who know you and those you trust for honest feedback. This could include your partner, bosses and ex-bosses, current colleagues, and friends.
It is an iterative process: Once you settle in on your nine words do keep revisiting them to see if you can further curate and clarify the words. Re-visit as your career evolves and the world changes around you.
The audience with whom you will share the nine words with is a prospective or current employer and not a potential life partner or friend. Thus, describing yourself as “funny” only makes sense if you are applying to be a comic or clown.
Focus. Frame. Filter.
How do you use the nine words?
First to focus yourself and provide key points for any conversation.
Second is to frame yourself so that it is easier to present yourself and to make your story easy to get and help it stand out.
Third is to filter opportunities. When you get multiple offers or must determine how to navigate the fork in the career road the nine words can be a great filtering device to both decide which way to go but also what new skills/habits/stories will you need to build if you wish to avail of other opportunities.
Hope you try it.
Photography by Massimo Listri.
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