Without question, one of the most important concepts professionals today need to grasp, in order to maintain a strong level of marketability/employability, is the idea that what they are selling to employers is not their skills, experience, education, or past accomplishments — but the perception that they can solve future problems for employers in rapid, cost-effective fashion.

Seems simple, I know, but I’d have to say that the root cause of most job search failure is directly related to this principle and a failure to understand its implications.  The resumes that fall the flattest, for example, are those that concentrate entirely on past accomplishments and job duties instead of focused, future solutions.  Along similar lines, the interview candidates who struggle to land offers are those who wax at length about all the great things they did for their past organizations, but display little curiosity about the needs and challenges of their potential future employer.  Simply put, no hiring manager is going to pay you for the things you did for somebody else — and unless you can create a compelling vision of how you are going to make THEIR organization better/stronger/more profitable, they’ll hold on to their cash until they find the person (or piece of software, or temp worker, or vendor…) who can!

So identifying the specific problems you are capable of and passionate about solving for companies is the requisite first step to career success.  But let’s move beyond that aspect for a second and talk instead about the second hurdle one has to clear, which is proving that you are the best available solution to these problems — in an age where companies have thousands of other candidate resumes available at the click of a mouse.  How do you prove you’ve got what it takes?  How do you compel them to make you a job offer, versus holding out for somebody who is perhaps even more capable to come along?

The key to this, I believe, is to understand the primary types of “proof” that job hunters are able to offer to employers and to then make the best possible case you can by weaving together these elements:

— Skills:  You demonstrate that you possess certain specialized hard/soft skills required for success
— Experience:  You show you have a track record of solving similar problems, ideally in similar industries
— Education:  You possess certifications/degrees/training that are highly relevant to the role in question

Without question, the above three criteria are the ones that the job market APPEARS to be built upon (just study any published job description) and are the factors most conventionally asked for and accepted by employers as reliable “evidence” that the candidate has what it takes to get the job done.  If you therefore have a great deal of strength in these areas, relative to your career targets, you should end up doing pretty well out there in your search.  Those candidates who don’t have the perfect pedigree in these three areas, however, need to adjust their strategy and rely instead on a second set of viable “proof points” in order to demonstrate their problem-solving abilities:

— Passion:  You demonstrate your tremendous energy/enthusiasm for tackling the challenges in question
— Ideas:  You capture the employer’s imagination with fresh thinking, keen insights, and brilliant ideas
— Confidence: You project unwavering conviction about your ability to complete the tasks at hand
— Contacts:  You mention key relationships you’ve built that can help achieve the desired job results

Lastly, there’s one final element of proof that trumps all the above and explains why 70-80% of all hiring the marketplace is actually NOT based strictly on skills, experience, and resume considerations:

— Personal Referrals:  There is no more powerful way of convincing somebody you’re going to be a great hire than by having people you know, and whom the employer trusts, tell them about your capabilities and endorse you as a smart, responsible, hard-working employee.

This last element, luckily, is the great equalizer that prevents the job market from being a merciless meritocracy and from all of us being condemned to stick with a single rigid career path throughout our entire lives.  Networking is king and personal referrals/endorsements are still the most trusted and reliable form of evidence employers look for when making hiring decisions.  Just ask yourself: if you were going to hire a contractor to complete a $100,000 remodel on your house, would you hire the firm with the fanciest brochure and slickest website or would you lean, instead, toward the company a trusted friend keeps raving about that did a fantastic, professional, and affordable job on their remodeling project? The job market works the exact same way — and for the exact same reasons.  Use them to your advantage!