What Do You Bring to the Table? A Tip for Job Hunters and Career Changers

“What Do You Bring to the Table?” – This is the fundamental question I ask my clients to think about when contemplating a job or career change, crafting a resume, or preparing for a job interview. Up until perhaps five years ago (the recent recession began in December 2007), a job seeker was almost as likely to ask potential employers what they had to offer as opposed to focusing on what was being offered by the seeker. This stance was often reflected in the very first sentence of a resume. For example: “Job objective – to secure a position that will allow me to combine my passion for ______ with my skill at _______.” Even today I encounter a fairly large number of resumes that place considerable emphasis on what the employee is looking for, rather than what she / he had to offer. In today’s job market, unless you have a very specialized skill possessed by few others that is highly in demand, you need to reconceptualize your job hunting approach, starting by examining the answer to the question “what do I bring to the table?”

What you bring to the table has two key components. First, you: your skills, your experience, your personality, your drive, perhaps even your connections. The second – to what kind of table are you bringing yourself? By this I mean “what exactly are the goals and challenges facing your prospective employer, and how does the specific job for which you’re applying potentially contribute to fulfilling that goal, or meeting that challenge?”

I have found that most applicants (or those contemplating career change) are reasonably well-versed in determining and articulating their own assets. Even those people who come to me desiring testing to reveal their strengths generally have at least a reasonably good idea of what those are. Where they fall down is in knowing more about the table.

I can draw a simple but apt analogy with the recent Thanksgiving holiday. If you’re invited to dinner at someone else’s home and are asked to contribute a dish, it’s important to know both what it is you’re good at cooking, and what it is that the host is planning on serving. You may make the world’s best green bean casserole, but if the host was already planning on preparing one, your casserole would be superfluous.

So how do you determine what’s on your prospective employer’s table? Of course a job description is the place to start, but undertaking an intelligence-gathering campaign will be a good use of your energy. Go beyond looking at the company’s website and annual report. Read articles written about the organization, go to Glassdoor.com for employee reviews (or, even better, talk to current or former employees), look at and research the competitive environment in which the organization operates. From that compendium of knowledge you can write a compelling cover letter or resume and craft responses to interview questions that demonstrate the specific applicability of your strengths to the situation at hand. You might reference how you had encountered and mastered a problem currently being faced by the organization, or what additional dimension you could bring to the table that would be in keeping with the organization’s mission and specific business objectives. With the proper experience, you might even volunteer that you are able to handle a function above and beyond the job for which you’re applying – a bonus that you’d bring to the organization if hired. Just make sure you have a good feel for the table at which you’re asking to be seated.