Defining Your Unique Value Proposition


Think about your career as if it were a business. Define the unique value proposition that you deliver to solve a specific business problem. Your unique value proposition sums up the unique way that you approach your roles and responsibilities. It encapsulates the results and the usefulness of what you deliver.

If you are looking to land a new job or shift your career into a higher orbit, your unique value proposition is the key to attracting the attention of prospective recruiters, hiring managers, and other helpful business connections.

Like Jay Z said, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man!”

When you see your career as a business, you must determine and define exactly what value you provide through the work that you do. While the concept of the “unique value proposition” is most often associated with a brand or a product, it is helpful to adopt the idea to your individual career.

This helps you to think of yourself not as an employee for hire, but as a solution provider who delivers or creates value.

It’s part of a more entrepreneurial mindset. Always think of yourself as a consultant providing a valuable solution to a client. Don’t think of yourself as an employee taking direction from a manager. This is true whether you work as a W2 employee or a 1099 contractor.

What a Unique Value Proposition Is (And Isn’t)

You may be a candidate for an open position, or a consultant looking to close an engagement. Regardless, your unique value proposition is the range of specific benefits, solutions, outcomes, and/or results that you are capable of delivering. Ideally, you also want to be known for delivering these results. Your professional brand is a key component of your value proposition.

Your value proposition is the collection of statements, testimonials, headlines, or other artifacts (e.g. press reports, podcasts, or blog posts) that sum up what you can, do, and will deliver. It is the portfolio of skills, abilities, points of view, procedures, best practices, relationships, and methodologies that are the sources and the resource that you tap into to do your work.

Your unique value proposition is not your resume, your experiences, your achievements, your awards. It is not what you have done in the past (although the past can and does inform your UVP). Your UVP is future-focused, not retro-focused. In product terms, your UVP is not your list of benefits or features. It is your list of deliverables and results.

How You Should Stand Out – But Not Apart

Your UVP has to distinguish you from your competition. This could be your competition for an open position or for a consulting gig. But it should also be what differentiates you on the job itself, and distinguishes you from your colleagues and teammates. Ideally, your unique value proposition stands out as the matrix of complementary characteristics that make you a special addition to the team.

Yes, there are things you can do that no one else can do, but you are not an outlier. Your UVP should be congruent and compatible with the people and the organization you work with and for.

Here’s an on-the-job example of someone who enhanced his UVP to better support his team:

As the oldest and newest member of a business development unit for a brand-name tech company, my contact took it upon himself to become the team’s spreadsheet guru. He saw an opportunity to pro-actively deliver a skill set and accompanying value that the team lacked. Sure, everyone had Excel skills, but he no one was an expert. He saw that up-leveling his skills beyond what everyone knew would help the team track and deliver information with a higher degree of sophistication and impact. After he had been on the job for about six months, over the Christmas holidays, he enrolled in an in-depth Excel course, received a certification, and immediately began to make a difference at work. He quickly became the go-to person for all things Excel, and his younger colleagues sought him out for help with their presentations and reports.

This move added to his portfolio of skills and attributes, and cemented his commitment to his team’s success. It was a solid win-win, delivering value to the team, but also burnishing his own value in the process.

Why Is It Important to Define Your UVP?

Your UVP plays to and expresses your strengths as a professional. In figuring it out and defining it, you are working to communicate to prospective employers or clients exactly who you are and what you are going to solve for them. When you walk into their door (or appear on their screen), you should already have positioned yourself as the solution to the most important problem or pain point that they are trying to resolve.

Imagine how figuring this out can accelerate and deepen the opportunities you can create to do the work that you want to do. It also instantly establishes the framework and the context for your business relationships.

Defining your UVP is also a prerequisite to enlisting the support of your existing (and prospective) colleagues in finding and landing the work you want to do. If they don’t know what you stand for, are known for, and can solve for, they have no way of helping you do that work that you want to do. They won’t understand whom to refer you to. They won’t know which open positions are best suited for you.

Your ability to articulate and communicate your UVP clearly and elegantly is essential. It is the only way your team of supporters will be able to share your value with their connections.

Being “Unique” is Not Enough

You have to make sure that your particular blend of “unique” matches what your target is looking for. If it’s not needed and useful, then it really doesn’t matter. Don’t waste your time stretching to come up with something flashy and attention-getting that doesn’t relate to what your target needs.

Put yourself in the shoes of the person you want to work for. Imagine that they’re reading your profile and evaluating your value proposition. How do you think they’re going to react? Will they see you as someone with a skill set that they need and the ability to deliver what they want? Or will they see you simply as an imaginative visionary? Just because you’re someone with a fascinating skillset and a set of aspirational goals doesn’t mean that they need you. They might want to have an interesting conversation with you, but that doesn’t mean they’re interested in hiring you.

Go Niche or Go Home

Crafting an effective UVP will help you overcome the greatest challenge you face in committing to this process: narrowing the focus on your value.

It is tempting, particularly if you are looking for a job right now, to go broad. The conventional logic is to appeal to as many of your targets as possible and include what they’re looking for. By doing this, you’ll surely land something that is within your abilities.

But as the saying goes: Don’t try to please everyone. You’ll wind up pleasing no one.

When you narrowly define what you do and what solution you provide, you may indeed be excluding many potential targets. But you are also reducing the size of your competition. Relatively few people will be offering the same solution. And none of them will have your special blend of skills, training, background, and experiences.

How to Craft Your Unique Value Proposition

Crafting your UVP is an iterative process. It will take you some time to capture its essence and express it clearly and persuasively. Here are some suggestions on how to get started:

Make a list of all the ways in which what you do and offer is different from what others do or can offer. Be specific. Compare what you do against what others typically deliver. Do some self-evaluation here as well. Look for ways of improving the value of what you already do.

  1. Learn from your competitors. Look them up on LinkedIn. Find the people who could be up for the same jobs – or who are already in those jobs. Who are the people with similar backgrounds and job histories? What are they doing and how are they defining their roles and their output? Let this research inspire you to examine what you do and find out where you fit.
  2. Make two lists, side by side. The first list will include your skills, your accomplishments, your training, your roles, and what fascinates or pre-occupies your mind. The second list will include your values, your goals, your interests, your talents, your hobbies, your causes, and what fills your heart. Compare these lists and see where they intersect. How do you use the elements of your second list in the activities in your first list? You might be surprised at how the synthesis of these two lists describes a pretty unique personality and gives you some ideas of where your UVP could go.
  3. Research your industry niche. What needs are not being met effectively? Does what you’re doing and offering address that deficiency? Can you make a compelling business case for why and how your particular blend of experience, skills, and strategies addresses and solves those needs?
  4. Try writing a mission statement. Can you distill the value you provide into just one arresting and aspirational sentence? What do you stand for? Your full value proposition will of course include more detail and specifics about how you do what you do, But your mission statement distills it all down to the most compelling single takeaway. Put your mission statement at the right spot in your profile. Try it in your LinkedIn About section or as a summary statement on your resume.
  5. Use sticky notes or index cards to create a mind map. On each note or card, jot down a single idea. These could include your target’s pain points, their failed strategies, or business models. You could include successful instances of your approach. Make sure to include your key strengths, abilities, and achievements. Include the three most important things they need to know about you.
  6. Assess yourself: why are you good at what you offer? Why do you love doing what you offer? How do you benefit from doing this work? How do others benefit? Whom do you serve through the work that you do? Consider putting some or all of these takeaways into your Linkedin profile About section.

Admittedly, I approach this very much like a personal development process. But you can also take a more business-planning approach. There’s some overlap, but check out this prescription for a different take.

How You’ll Use It

Your UVP is going to live in a number of places, including your LinkedIn profile, your resume, and your bio. It will also be something you’ll draw on in job interviews, general meetings with colleagues, networking meetings, and industry events.

Your UVP is much more than your elevator pitch. If your elevator pitch is the sizzle that captures someone’s attention, your value proposition is the argument that captures hearts and minds, and convinces people to go to the next level with you.

The above suggestions are exercises to help challenge you and get your creative process flowing. They are not a prescription that you have to follow to the letter. The important thing is to take the plunge into this messy process and keep working at it. Keep going until you have come up with something that feels real, authentic, empowering, and useful.

You Don’t Have to be “The Best”

Don’t be intimidated by people with more accomplishments, higher-profile jobs, or letters after their name.

You’re not looking to outdo anyone else. You’re looking to connect with the right set of people who will understand you and appreciate you exactly the way you are, for exactly the things you have done, and for the way that you offer your particular solution(s).

Don’t compare yourself to others. Don’t try to prove that your background and/or solution is/are better than someone else’s. There is plenty of room for you. The marketplace is full of niches for you to claim and to address.

Use your UVP to bring your target employer or client into your solution. Be transparent, personal, and authentic (without giving away any of your trade secrets). They want to know what they’re buying by bringing you in. Let them know how you work so that they can feel like they know you and feel comfortable with you even before they even actually meet you in person.

Claiming Your Value

It’s easy to freeze up at the notion of claiming and crafting a unique value proposition. After working for others for so long, it can be hard to own the idea that what you did was valuable and unique. We don’t want to be arrogant or claim credit for something that was legitimately a team effort.

But don’t let your time served on the corporate wheel blind you to what you’ve learned and to what you can now do with your lessons, your experiences, and your insights. That is yours and yours alone. It is the foundation of what can be an entirely new stage of your career and your life.

Your unique value proposition is the first step to empower yourself and take control of your career. It is the gateway that will enable you to work the way you want to work, and earn the appreciation and gratitude from those who will benefit from your work.

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John Tarnoff is an executive and career transition coach, speaker, and author who supports mid and late-career professionals in defining, planning, and achieving more meaningful and sustainable careers.

Fired 39% during his 35 years as a film producer, studio executive and tech entrepreneur, he learned how to turn setbacks into successes in a volatile business. He reinvented his own career at 50, earning a master’s degree in counseling psychology to share his career lessons with others going through similar challenges.

Since leaving entertainment in 2010, John has coached individuals, groups, and led career workshops for university alumni, including for UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Corporate coaching clients have included Bank of America, Bridgewater Assoc., Levi-Strauss, Softbank, TD Ameritrade, and Thrive Global.

He is the author of the best-selling Boomer Reinvention: How to Create your Dream Career Over 50 and has been named a Top Influencer in Aging by PBS/NextAvenue.


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