I know, I know.  The word “value” tends to get thrown around so often out there that it’s become almost meaningless — in part, I think, due to the term’s success at worming itself into a number of high-falutin B-school buzzwords like “value proposition” and “value-added.”

When you think about it, though, it’s an extremely important, significant, and special word.  It embodies a concept that an awful lot of job seekers, as well as business owners, might benefit from reflecting on given current economic conditions.  Value, in my mind, translates as “what am I going to get from you and how much is it going to cost me?”  If the answer to this question seems favorable compared to the OTHER options available at the moment, a transaction or sale is likely to occur.  If not, the company or consumer is likely to select another option that is perceived as being a better investment — or they might decide, instead, that their needs aren’t actually all that critical and that it’s best to hold off making any decision for the time being.  Right now, there’s a lot of this going around, whether it’s a company deciding to institute a “job freeze” or to delay potential expansion plans, perhaps, until their cash flow is more stable.

At any rate, the main relevance of this concept in the job market is pretty obvious.  It relates to hiring.  In deciding whether or not to add a new employee to the team, every company (that cares about profitability) weighs the amount of money it would take to hire a new individual against what they’d likely get back from this person, in return, in terms of work product or corporate “pain relief”.  And these numbers can be trickier than they appear.  For starters, keep in mind that your salary is far from the only cost that companies will incur if they elect to bring you on board.  There’s a multiplier that has to be factored in, reflecting the true cost-per-hire to the organization.  If you’re asking for $50,000 in salary, for example, experts estimate that the true cost of hiring you will typically be in the neighborhood of $60-70K, once you add benefits, and possibly as high as $85-130K if you count activities such as training, supplies, rent, and other ramp-up expenses.  Throw in the services of a recruiter or an executive headhunter, and the costs climb higher, still.

My point is that many job hunters need to start thinking of themselves — and their careers — in these sorts of bottom-line terms, whether they are a Director of First Impressions (aka a Receptionist) or a Director of Financial Management.  They need to embrace the reality that people are perceived by employers as an investment and that, just like the rest of us when we invest, they’re interested in more than just breaking even!

Once you get your arms around these principles, you’ll have a clear road map of where you need to focus in order to most effectively boost your “value” quotient.  You can either find ways to cut back on your compensation requirements, improving your attractiveness from a purely financial standpoint, or you can focus on a) identifying the specific benefits you can bring to a company and then b) practicing (not just pondering, but practicing) the communication of these benefits in a clear, convincing, and confident manner.

Most job hunters, in my experience, think they do a good job on this latter part — but still often have a ways to go.  They focus on selling experience, skills, and qualifications, when in reality, these aren’t the things companies are interested in buying.  Employers instead are on the lookout for conscious, capable individuals who can present them with a distinct breakdown of the results, solutions, and measurable outcomes that they can make happen for the organization, if brought on board.  This is what companies get excited about.  And it’s still an awfully rare thing, since most candidates still take a way-too-passive role in the interviewing process, expecting the employer to fish around and hopefully figure out where they could add value — versus assertively beating this drum, themselves, and arriving at the meeting with some compelling material and ideas already in hand.

The bottom line?  Even (and especially) in this economy, value stands out like a sore thumb — and word spreads like wildfire about who offers stellar ROI (Return on Investment) whether one is in the market for a consultant, vendor, or job candidate.  Your job?  Rise above the uncertainty, reconnect with your best and brightest achievements, and become one of these people that the Puget Sound network is buzzing about…