Here’s Why the #2 Pencil Isn’t #1

number-two-pencilsLet’s look ahead to the Fall. Seriously. Next time You receive one of these notes from me, the NFL season will have started, and kids will be back in school. It won’t actually be officially Fall in terms of the calendar but once the football games start and the school bells ring, people tend to turn the page on summer.

Job creation was still strong through July (despite expert talk of the looming recession). Executives are still getting interviews and offers.

If you want to stand out in the start of what many consider the start of a new hiring season, the single best thing you can do is sharpen your value story. It’s like the #2 pencil we all had in our pencil case back when pencils were still a thing, but your value story is so important it’s #1, while the pencil was just #2!

Nothing is more important than knowing your unique value and being able to articulate what problems you are able to solve. At the executive level, saying what you did in you last role isn’t enough; you need to stand out by explaining what problems you solve. That’s what makes you special. It’s your superpower.

I recently talked with Chris, a CEO of a hospital group. He was starting to think about his future and his Next Great Next and wondered about whether he was on the right course.

He’d spent his 20+-year career in hospital management (just like his dad) but was worried the future might be changing for his role and industry. He wasn’t worried about his job, but he wondered what options he had outside of healthcare as an industry and wanted to start figuring out how he could leverage his experience to create options in new areas.

What was great is Chris recognized that he needed to think through his approach because he hadn’t been networking for this purpose before. He also recognized that he needed to get started and be active and ready, and he also realized it takes focused time and effort to put it all in place.

We are currently working with Chris on a “deep dive” into what he really likes doing, what he considers most important, what he does particularly well, and what themes seem to follow him throughout his career and even into his personal life.

When that’s done, we’ll have uncovered Chris’ superpower, his unique value that will make him special to an employer. Then we’ll work with him on how to talk about his ability to solve problems. Believe it or not, this is an area that executives almost always come up short. They can talk about what they did in the past but not how that translates into future solutions. That difference is what separates the one who gets the job from the ones who always seem to come up short. You could say they have been sharpened into a #1 pencil candidate!


If you’d like some help with articulating your work experience into one clear value story that you can share in a way that makes sense for hiring companies, our team of advisors, coaches and recruiters is unparalleled in the executive search industry. They will show you how to weave your unique value story together in all the right places – including your resume, LinkedIn profile, networking efforts, and interview – to connect with target companies in an irresistible way.

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Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson is ExecuNet's president and chief economist. An Arjay Miller Scholar, Mark received his MBA from Stanford University and a BA in economics from Yale University. He joined ExecuNet in 1993, with extensive marketing and new product and business development experience, having served as president and founder of A&M Associates, an investment management firm. Mark's corporate leadership experience includes several senior marketing and financial positions with RCA Global Communications (a GE subsidiary) and American Can Company.

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