Finding the Right Words for Effective Self-Presentation

Define who you are, what you have done and what your goals are. Develop the stories expressing your authentic self.

Jolanta Jonaszko
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woman presenting to colleagues

It may seem an unlikely proposition but learning a new language can play an important role in responding to job loss positively and achieving job search success. I don’t mean learning a new foreign language, but a new way of talking about yourself. It’s a challenge. Finding a new job requires a degree of tooting your own horn when what you may really want is simply to convey your authentic self. The key is to realize that being authentic and promoting yourself effectively aren’t incompatible. You have to find the right words.

In my outplacement practice, I’ve come across a number of ways job seekers can use language less than effectively. At one extreme are those who are simply at a loss. Perhaps out of a sense of modesty (“I’m doer, not a talker.”) or self-doubt (“Are my skills really that special?”), people at this end of the spectrum struggle to find any words, let alone the right ones, to present themselves in the market. At the other extreme are those who have a plethora of words—in fact too many. At this extreme, their talkativeness may be masking insecurity (“The more I say, the more seriously I’m sure to be taken.”) or indecision (“Since I can’t decide what path my career should take, I’ll tell them everything.”). 

For candidates from more senior levels, loquacity may take on the form of using excessively conceptual language, that is, too many big words. Here the issue may again be insecurity (big words are good for hiding behind) or a simple habit of mind. Such candidates may be used to speaking managerial shorthand and not have the distance to see that outsiders may not be able to follow. In any case, as with being at a loss, being too forthcoming can impede real communication. The quality of what you say matters more than the quantity.

Wherever you may land on the spectrum, a good starting point to effective self-presentation in the job market is always to consider yourself in relation to the audience you are addressing. Define who you are, what you have done and what your goals are. Develop the stories expressing your authentic self, but be sure also to market that authentic self. Learn and use the language that reflects job market norms and speaks to those recruiting new employees. Couching your self-presentation in terms familiar to your prospective audience will help you strike a balance between saying too little or too much. In the process, you even gain a new appreciation of your achievements and strengths, and of your own self-worth.

 

About the Author

Jolanta Jonaszko holds a Bachelor degree in Modern Languages and Literature from Oxford University and a Master Degree in European and Russian Studies from Yale University. After graduation, she worked in a communication consultancy IFOK specializing in the design and facilitation of dialogue processes, among others for the German government. Since 2014, Jolanta has worked as a senior consultant at LHH focusing on career transition, change and talent management. Her debut memoir, “Without Grandpa,” was published in 2018 in Poland and received outstanding reviews. Jolanta is currently working on a new book, “Miniatures of Change,” which shares poignant stories from her work helping people through job loss. Connect with Jolanta on LinkedIn.

 
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