There’s a reason we’re constantly publishing lists of resume clichés. Despite the fact that each and every job seeker is different, most have a hard time figuring out exactly what makes them different. As a result, hiring managers get job applications littered with the same phrases and descriptions, again and again.
That’s why pinning down your unique blend of capabilities and expertise will put you way ahead—not just when you’re looking for a job, but after you’ve gotten one, too.
Steve Harvey, author of Act Like a Success, Think Like a Success (and yes, the host of Family Feud), calls this unique blend of abilities your “gift.” I recently had the privilege of hearing Harvey speak at the Success Summit he hosted with Strayer University. At the Summit, he explained what your gift is, what it’s not, and how to figure out what yours is.
Harvey says your gift is “the thing you do at your absolute best with the least amount of effort.” For example, his gift is making people laugh. Maybe your gift is problem-solving. Maybe it’s being able to listen to people and hear what they’re really saying. Or maybe your listening skills could improve, but you’re a fantastic speaker.
Harvey says your gift is not your past, present, or future job. If you’re a lawyer, your gift isn’t for law, but it could be negotiating, finding creative solutions, or being able to analyze information. When you’re looking around, trying to figure out what your gift is, don’t end your search at the office. You should also examine your relationships, your communities, your hobbies—basically, every aspect of your life.
“It’s connected to you whether you are working or vacationing, whether you are with the family or even all alone,” he explains in his book.
To figure out your gift, try this: Write down all of your successes, both personal and career-related. Then, see if there’s a common theme. If there’s one talent or skill that runs through most of your achievements, chances are that’s your gift. For example, you’ve been praised for your ability to calm down angry co-workers or clients. Outside of work, you’ve become the go-to person in your neighborhood, family, or friend group to resolve conflicts. Your gift is for mediation.
You can also ask your friends, family, and co-workers what abilities they associate with you. They may have picked up on a characteristic you’ve under-valued, ignored, or not even noticed.
After you hone in on what you do the best with the least amount of effort, you can use that knowledge to advance your career.
If you’re looking for a job, highlight your gift throughout the application process. It should show up again and again in your resume bullets. For example, if you’re a wonderful communicator, include the number of successful presentations you gave, how many clients you’ve been the liaison for, and your clear and concise reports. In your cover letter, draw a clear link between the roles of the job and your gift. You might write, “I’ve always had a passion for rallying people around a common cause. As sales manager for your company, I’d use this gift to create an environment that’s collaborative rather than competitive and lead our team to record sales.”
During the interview process, keep circling back to your gift. If you’re asked about your greatest strength, reply, “In every facet of my life, I bring people together, which would serve me well as your sales manager.” What if the interviewer wants to know how you spend your free time? Bring up your love of ultimate frisbee or your choir—“because I love accomplishing goals as a team.” You’re not trying to be subtle, you’re trying to construct a memorable portrayal of what you’re really amazing at—and how that would help you succeed at the organization.
Once you have a job, you can continue using your gift to your advantage. Start making sure all your work actions align with your gift. For example, if you’ve always been able to make things happen, make sure that’s coming through loud and clear in the office. Volunteer to help with projects behind deadline. Turn in your own projects on time, or even early. Promote accomplishments especially when they relate to your gift so people can really draw the connection between what you’re able to do and what results followed. Before long, your colleagues will know you as the go-to person for that thing you’re really amazing at—making you even more of an invaluable member of the team.
This isn’t to say your potential contributions start and end at your gift. We’re all good at many things, and we should take full advantage of those skill sets. However, by really honing in on what you’re best at, you can invest in that capability and make sure it’s on full display.
While everyone has a gift, only you have your gift—and that’s what’s known as a competitive advantage.