The 1 Thing Holding You Back (And 3 Real-Life Examples)

I give this advice with every resume I review. I also give this advice in conversations about career development. I say it so often, I decided to write a post about it. 

It's not about you. 

It may feel a bit harsh, but it's a lesson you must learn if you want to write a good resume, perform well in an interview, get promoted, get a raise, and/or generally advance in your career. 

It's not about you. 

Here are a few common examples where this plays out.

1. The Resume

The hiring manager is the audience of the resume, so we must write to the audience, while understanding the context of the situation. The hiring manager has a problem (or a whole list of problems) they are trying to solve. They need human resources to solve their problem. You represent a potential solution to their problem.

  • Audience = hiring manager
  • Context = solving a problem

A well written resume answers the hiring manager's one question - can this person solve my problem? A well written resume understands the problem (based on the job posting and research about the company) and positions past experience as proof the individual can solve the hiring manager's problem, and is a better solution than the person who's resume the hiring manager just finished reading as well as the one they are about to read next.

The hiring manager doesn't care about what you were tasked with in your last job; they simply care about if you can solve their problem based on your past experience (see numbers 4 and 5 here).  

The best way to show a hiring manager you can solve their problem is to frame your past experience in a way that shows you've proven you're great at solving that problem! 

2. The Interview 

Many people don't focus much beyond not puking on their shoes due to nerves in their interview prep. And while that's an important first step, you can do better.

The audience and the context in the interview are the same as the resume, which is why spending time perfecting a resume is an incredibly valuable and vastly underrated exercise! The goal of the interview is to show the hiring manager that you are a good solution to their problem, you aren't a creep or jerk, and can play nice with others. 

They want to be confident that what you put on paper is as true as it can be, and that you can present yourself and your work well. The interview is your chance to remind them that you're the best solution, by talking about how you've been there, done that, and can help them right now implement a solution.

You do this by telling very specific stories with very specific outcomes not about how great you are but how you have already delivered solutions to their problem(s), and how you can absolutely do it again in this new context (this is a transferable skill).

This requires you to display that you understand their needs more than it requires you to display your genius. And by showing you know their pain points and showing how you can swoop in and take the pain away, you are displaying your genius!

3. The Career Progression/Raise/Promotion Conversation

People struggle with the resume and the interview because it's uncomfortable talking about ourselves. We've all (well...most of us) been raised not to boast or brag, or pat ourselves on the back, and both the resume and the interview feel very much like doing so. Of course, when you re-frame the experience to that of the hiring manager's problem being the focus, and you simply being the solution, it helps a bit. We all like to be helpful, right!?

But the progression/raise/promotion conversation...this is undoubtedly the toughest, because it is you advocating both that you've successfully solved the problem you were hired to solve and that you are ready to solve more problems.  The key here is...

The audience nor the context changes! This still is (and shall forever be!) about the problems your boss is facing. You are the solution to the problem.

You successfully solved the problem you were hired to solve? High five! But that's why you were hired, so it doesn't entitle you to anything other than you're already getting. Most people kill their own cause here, thinking that because they did what they were hired to do, their boss should jump out from behind their cubicle wall with a giant check and some balloons like they've won a sweepstakes. But no...it doesn't work that way. If you want to move forward, take on more, work with more autonomy, etc. you need to begin to solve more (and more complex) problems. And how you do that is by asking to take on more problems your boss needs solved! This is not rocket science, but too many people get this backwards and are frustrated at their lack of progression. 

If you want that job, go after it. If you want that raise, ask for it. If you want that promotion, no one is stopping you. Just remember...it's not about you. Keep that perspective, and the sky is the limit.