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The One Word You Should Avoid in a Job Search by Peter Weddle

In today's highly competitive job market, the worst word you can use is "can." I realize that's a stunning turn of events for a people who have historically seen themselves as the "can do" nation. Nevertheless, what employers now want from candidates is a verb they believe has far greater potential. The word they want to hear is "will."

Until recently, employers competed in a global marketplace on the basis of productivity. The more efficient a company's workers, the more profitable it would be. That strategy unfolded in three distinct phases.

First, employers outsourced jobs to cheaper labor overseas. Then, they turned to technology to replace humans on-the-job. And finally, for the past decade or so, they've relied on the pernicious notion of "doing more with less" to squeeze ever more profits out of the workforce left behind.

This quest for productivity is now coming to an end. There are no more costs to be squeezed out of the organization, technology has reached its upper limits of capability at least for the moment, and employees are just too exhausted to give any more.

And, at the very same time, there is a new and formidable dynamic emerging in the global marketplace. It is the globalization of genius. We are now competing with many more smart people around the world. And, that reality is changing what employers want and need from you.

Playing the Big A

Early in the movie The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg is trying to impress his date with how smart he is. At one point, he says, "There are more geniuses in China than the entire population of the U.S.." He, of course, thinks he is similarly endowed with a high IQ and that smart people have a competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

They don't. What counts in economic competition is not your IQ, but your talent. And, talent is a universal donor. We all have it. It is an attribute of our species.

You see, talent is not an exceptional skill - it is not the ability to win The X Factor or the World Series - it is the capacity for excellence. And excellence is what employers want and need from their employees.

How does that change the way you compete for a job?

Your resume, your interview, your conversations with the recruiter - all of those interactions - must make a very different case from that which you made to land your last job. In the past, you simply had to prove you can do the work. Today, you must prove you will excel at it.

How do you accomplish that?

Take every opportunity to recount not what you did, but rather, how well you did it. I call this "playing the Big A" - your accomplishments on-the-job. What's an accomplishment? It's an outcome or result you achieved that helped your employer be more successful. For example:

  • Make sure your resume features your accomplishments in previous jobs. Recruiters are busy, however, and may not read through the entire document, so place an Accomplishments Summary (not a Skills Summary) right at the top where they'll be sure to see it.
  • If you have a profile on LinkedIn or a Facebook page, revise it to highlight your accomplishments at work. Be careful, however, to set the right tone. You're not bragging about what you did, but celebrating how you contributed to your employer.
  • Rehearse the description of your key accomplishment in previous jobs before you go into an interview. Make sure you can clearly and succinctly articulate how your actions directly and meaningfully accrued to your employer's advantage.

Global competition has shifted from a quest for productivity to the search for talent. In order to succeed, therefore, employers no longer need candidates who can do a job. They are, instead, desperate to hire those who will excel at their work. Focus your job search on proving you have that qualification and you'll be competitive every time you apply for an opening.


Reprinted with permission from WEDDLE’s LLC. Peter Weddle is the author or editor of more than two dozen books, including "The Career Activist Republic, Work Strong: Your Personal Career Fitness System," and WEDDLE’s 2011/12 Guide to Employment Sites on the Internet. Order them at Amazon.com.