Back in July I wrote about the importance of claiming our power by owning our wins. In the weeks since then, I’ve invested a lot of time creating my new coaching program, the Women’s Career Conservatory. While talking with women about this program, I kept hearing “No one wants to hire me! I’m just going to settle on any job that I can get.”
Every time I hear it I cringe because this is what I hear instead: “My experience and my work have no value, so I’ll do anything.” Incorrect. Wrong. Absolutely not. Do not do this. Do not even think it.
Own your work
Here’s the thing. The only way forward is to absolutely and unequivocally claim the power of your work – loudly, pointedly, forcefully, deliberately. Whether you’ve spent the last 10 years working at home or in a corporation, the only way you can continue to evolve is to build your future on the foundation of the work you’ve already done.
If you’ve spent the last 10 years in a corporate environment, I’m sure you have learned all sorts of ways to navigate the corporate world, including how to communicate effectively with people, manage them, handle controversy, manage plan and manage projects, and negotiate – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You’ve kept that job because you’ve learned how to do these things while also deploying the specialized skills and talents you use to accomplish your work in your own unique way.
Strategies, plans, budgets – at home!
And, if you’ve spent the last 10 years at home, I’ll bet you’ve learned very similar things. I know I did. I learned more about negotiations as a mom than I ever did working outside our home! And, let’s not get started on the difference between planning an event for people who are paid to be there and participate and planning an event that uses volunteers to get all the work done. Planning, negotiating, cajoling, budgeting – every one of these tasks has value.
But there’s a problem. We’re not taught to claim the power of our work. We dismiss our efforts, talk about how hard we’re willing to work, don’t hesitate to help someone out. We’re nice, prompt, hardworking.
Well sure, we’re all of those. But no one is interested in hiring someone who’s nice, prompt, and hard working. Those attributes are givens. And, when we default to using those words to describe ourselves and our work, we are not claiming the power of our work.
Who gets hired?
The real question is who do people want to hire? They want to hire people who are strategic, driven, goal oriented, competitive team players. Stop shuddering. You are all of those things, I guarantee it. We’re just not trained to use those words to apply to the work we do.
Let’s break it down. In a corporate environment – you know, I keep labeling it as a corporate environment, but it could be any work you do outside of the home – the people who go the furthest, fastest are strategic thinkers. They know how to look beyond their little piece of the pie when making decisions and take into account all of the moving parts involved in those decisions.
Strategies to tame beasts
Come on, own it! You are a strategic thinker. You know how to evaluate a situation and choose a path through it where everyone gets what they need. At work, when you’re assigned a project, you know how to look at your team, their skills and abilities, and you make it all come together to deliver your project on time. That’s strategic thinking.
If you’re at home (hah – I was never at home when I was a stay-at-home mom – ask anybody), I know you exercise your strategic thinking every darn day. Of course, at home it’s coupled with negotiating daily with terrorists, aka your spouse and kids, to get to that outcome you all need – even if you’re the only one who recognizes it. You know exactly how to position the need for a new couch to replace the one that’s been vomited on 87 times. You know the buttons to push and the exact words to elicit the result you want. And you don’t think twice about deploying your strategy, do you?
As volunteers, you’ve had to deliver events on time with volunteer help – or, even worse, with little or none of the help you were promised (I see you nodding!). Think about it. It’s hard to deliver the results you want when you can’t force people to show up – and manage to do it anyway – you probably even planned for it!
Ok. Now confess. You also want that event, that project, that presentation to be the best that anyone has ever seen. I know you do. So, guess what? That means you’re competitive. And, it’s a good thing! Employers want to hire people with drive, who want to be the best at what they do.
Here’s the problem. When we talk about ourselves and our work, we don’t know to use strong, powerful words to describe our work. How would we? We don’t think about our work in those terms – but we absolutely must.
Hardworking and loyal – oh no!
I attended a Women in Business event recently and heard Gail Evans, a retired Executive Vice President at CNN talk about women, men, language, and promotions. She framed part of her talk around the top words used to describe men and women when somebody writes a reference for them.
The top 3 words used to describe women in a reference letter are hardworking, loyal, and collaborative. The top 3 words used to describe men are leadership potential, strategic, and go-getter. Look at the difference in the power of the two sets of words. Who would you hire – the hard worker or the person with leadership potential? Everybody works hard, but it’s a rare person who has leadership potential.
Maybe you’re thinking being loyal is a good thing. It could be, but only when it is a two way street. I see way too many people (both women and men) who are loyal to companies that cut them off at the knees. Layoffs are the name of the game these days; loyalty will not guarantee that you are perceived as a valuable member of the team. The powerful language you use to think about and describe your work will.
As we evolve in our work, we must acquire new, powerful ways to describe the work that we’ve done. We didn’t plan a successful basket raffle; we strategically designed a fund-raising event that raised $15,000 for our child’s school, which, by the way, was a 25% increase over the previous year. Strategic, competitive, go-getter – all of these adjectives apply to the person who accomplished this.
At work, you didn’t successfully develop a training program that makes it easier to onboard new employees; you created a strategic program that takes 25% less time to onboard new hires. And, when you talk to your boss or anyone else at your company about the program, you own it. If someone compliments the program, you can say “I enjoyed creating a program that’s having a great impact on both employees and our bottom line.” That’s not bragging, it’s owning the power of your work.
Your work is what you say it is
When we develop new ways to label our work, we claim its power. The more we practice talking about ourselves and our achievements using powerful words, the more natural it becomes. We’ll find those words seeping into our personal pitch and our marketing materials. Most importantly, we’ll find it seeping into our own psyches where we can finally, finally own the power of our work. We are powerful. We do powerful work. It’s time to claim it.