I recently dusted off my resume and perused my lackluster website. I’m not someone who embarrasses easily, but the pitiful state of both make me want to crawl up into a fetal position in a remote cabin with no internet service.
It had been over a year since I updated my resume. Yeah, it was dated. But that was only part of the problem. Nothing about it was exciting, eye-catching, or even remotely interesting. Generic described it best.
It suffered from a lack of imagination, originality and depth.
When you list your skills and achievements, you think of the obvious: official titles and responsibilities, awards, certifications, significant accomplishments.
Most of us never take the time to mine, distill and codify our unique, invaluable, and sometimes transformative powers we never knew we possessed.
I chose the words unique and transformative with purpose.
It’s the combination of your skills, character traits, experience, and perspective that makes you unique. That package, let’s call it your superpower, makes you valuable and desirable to a group of people or businesses.
Everyone has at least one superpower.
If you’re mired in a lackluster office job, it might not seem that way, but as you progress through the exercise, you’ll discover your hidden talent.
Once you determine your transformative powers, you can package, deploy, and even sell them as services.
How to mine for your superpower
When you look at most resumes and professional websites, you’ll find mostly generic skillsets. That’s because most people choose the first words that pop into their head: analytical, tech-savvy, project management, spreadsheet expertise.
None of those talents catch the eye of hiring managers, business owners, customers or audiences because they’re too generic, too commoditized.
You need to dig deeper and mine the depths of your talent, experience and character to discern your unique value.
To make the mining process successful, I’ll co-opt a simple rule from my Copywriting days. It’s the fundamental law of writing kick-ass sales bullets.
Focus on the benefit, not the feature.
Your first answer is almost always the feature. You need to determine what that feature does for someone; that’s the benefit. Sometimes you may need to find the benefit of the benefit.
1) Start with categories
Begin the process by focusing on at least five categories. I chose these six.
You can add or subtract categories based on what is relevant to you.
For each category, write down your skills, whatever pops into your head. Your first answers reveal the surface clutter you need to clear out before you get to the good stuff.
In the interpersonal category, I wrote that I was a good listener. By rule, I need to eliminate that as a possibility (it’s a feature, not a benefit). To fix that problem, I answered this question.
What is the benefit of being a good listener?
It helps me understand people’s problems and conflicts. That understanding enables me to empathize with them.
Better but not good enough.
What’s the benefit of understanding and empathizing?
It enables me to mediate tense confrontations and resolve conflicts like customer-client relationships and sales negotiations.
Now we’re getting into real benefits. I also took it one step further to determine the benefit of the benefits. For example, the benefit of resolving customer-client relationships is higher client retention, which translates into real dollars.
Do this for each of the talents you identify.
Once you complete round one of this exercise, go through your list and cross off anything redundant or superseded by a better benefit.
2) Go Deeper
Now that you’ve cleared the junk out of your mind, you can mine deeper and harvest the hidden value.
At this stage, your brain starts to sweat. It’s easy to give up when it gets hard, but if you persevere, you’ll not only impress yourself with discovering your superpower, but you’ll be able to present a clear and unique value proposition to your audience, clients and peers.
The art of self-questioning.
You can sit around at your desk and try to think deeper, but you’ll struggle without asking yourself the right questions. This list will help you uncover your strengths.
For each question, refer to a skill you listed in the previous exercise; these will challenge you but don’t give up. Difficult questions yield profound answers.
- What accomplishments, related to each skill, are you most proud of? What did you do to achieve each of these accomplishments? Give specifics.
- Give an example of how each skill provided benefit to you or someone else. What extraordinary things did you do that the majority of other folks could not do?
- Give an example where you received unexpected praise for each skill. What did the complimenter say? What was the underlying ability which led to the positive outcome that prompted the compliment?
- Give an example of where you initially did not succeed using this skill, but later learned something new that enabled you to pull off the victory. What was the gap between failure and success?
- How did you come to master this skill? Think of events from your past that led you to where you are today.
- What natural talents, character traits and experiences brought you to where you are now? Be honest with yourself. List the qualities that honestly describe you.
- How would you describe this skill after answering these questions?
Complete at least three of the first six questions. Then answer the last question.
3) Unite them all
It’s not the individual talents, experiences and personal traits that matter. It’s how they combine, dance, and play with each other. The result of this interplay yields your unique brand of superpower. It won’t be valuable to everyone, but it will matter to some.
This question will help you cut through the clutter to discern your supremacy.
What are the biggest deficiencies or problems you come across in life or business that your combination of skills, traits and experiences can address?
Be specific. Spell out how your combination of attributes can address these issues.
4) An example you can model
I know it seems overwhelming. If you do it in small doses, it won’t feel so monstrous. Here is an example you can model from my attempt. I show only a sample of answers for brevity.
Skill: Conflict mediation and resolution
- A colleague had gotten into a heated argument with a client. I entered the conversation and talked them down from their heightened emotions by maintaining a soothing, disinterested tone and listening intently to both of their complaints. It saved the relationship and earned me a lunch with the President of the company.
- I once wrote about my experience as a quiet person and received an exceptional level of positive feedback. The underlying skill was my proficiency at distilling my experiences into a story and presenting it as an easy to understand manifesto.
- I embraced what came naturally. I am generally quiet and curious about human nature. I enhanced this skill as my Copywriting and blogging experience progressed.
How would I describe this skill after answering these questions?
Distilling available information without bias to create win-win outcomes.
How can my combination of attributes solve a specific problem?
Conflict resolution + distilling experiences + quiet, non-aggressive nature.
I help executives solve customer relationship problems by drilling into the core issue, crafting a win-win solution, and selling it to both parties.
Completing this exercise will bring you clarity on your set of skills, traits, and experiences that combine into your unique superpower. It’s hard work, and it will test your patience.
But that’s good news for you.
It means most people will give up before they finish, leaving you with a competitive advantage.