Updated 3/2022: “Substantiate yourself” is a phrase I must have said a thousand times since I wrote this post. This was one of the most epiphanic posts I’ve written. Enjoy!
I don’t know where I picked it up but substantiate is a word I’ve said a little too much these last few months. I usually say “having a blog is a great way to substantiate your breadth and depth”… or “you need to substantiate your personal brand.”
This isn’t a post on personal branding per se, but I’ve been thinking about sharing this with you for a while – I hope you find it interesting! More than that, I hope you find it intriguing enough to figure out how to do something similar.
Nobody Knows Until You Substantiate Yourself
When I began my job search (we’re just about at the 1 year anniversary of getting laid off!) I thought I was hot stuff. I had a degree in CIS, an MBA, cool job titles (IT Manager, CIO, VP, GM), great experience (internet programmer with newer technologies, “increased revenue 500%”, etc.). I had even moved from a small town (population 50,000) to a small metro area so I’d be closer to more job opportunities in case I needed to find a new job. It was “a job seeker’s market” and I was assured by many that I would have a job soon.
So I did what any regular person would do – I spent a week getting my resume ready, making a list of companies I should target, establishing accounts on pertinent job boards, and even talking to some “players” that were connected in town. Since I was relatively new (I had been here for almost 2 years but spent most of the time working or commuting) it was easy for me to say, “I don’t know anyone,” so my networking efforts were pretty wimpy.
People Don’t See You Until You Substantiate Yourself
I’ll never forget the first 6 weeks. I got one interview invite from a regional hospital chain and one interview invite from a company that I targeted and just sent a resume to “firstname.lastname@example.org.” Both of those led to a second, and at the company, a third interview, but “someone else was chosen.” After six weeks I had nothing, and not much hope of getting much more than that (my success rate was less than 2%).
It was a very, very discouraging process, and completely different than what I thought I was going to experience.
What happened to all those years studying, all those cool job titles, all that great experience? Why did no one want to hire me on the spot? What was going on??
Substantiate Yourself by Creating Things
Fast forward a couple of months to May 15th, 2006. That is the day we released JibberJobber. I sent out e-mails to friends, and many of them signed up to check it out. What they found was a very cool, functional application. Sure, it was rough around the edges, but it was colorful, functional, and pretty dang cool (if I don’t say so myself ;)). I never expected what would happen next…
The next time I saw those friends, almost every single one of them, they treated me differently. The common reaction was, “Hey, I want you to meet my boss (or president of the company)!” Or, “Hey, you need to meet my friend that works at XYZ Company.”
What changed? Not my resume. Not my skillset. I’m sure my demeanor changed (there’s an important post I wrote on not letting others smell blood that definitely came into play)… but the most significant thing was that I had substantiated who I was. Instead of people asking “what do you do” or “what are you looking for” they were able to see the website and guess that I was involved in very cool web applications, leading edge stuff (design, functionality, marketing, etc.).
This was the most significant thing that I did in my job search.
How can you substantiate yourself?
I know you are busy looking for a job, but if what you are doing isn’t working, can you take some time to substantiate yourself? If you are a web designer or graphics artist, do you have a portfolio that is easy for people to see? Take the Seth Godin route and combine this substantiation with service, which will allow you to market your substantiation (subtly) to an elite group of others that would otherwise be impossible to meet with.
If you are a marketing/advertising/PR professional, I’ll make you an offer – contact me at jason at JibberJobber.com and let me know what you can do. I have a bunch of projects but I’m no expert – I’d love to have you help me out – I can’t pay you but I’d be more than happy to provide a reference, blog on your contribution, or otherwise help substantiate your skills.
If you are a graphics artist you know there are some places where JibberJobber could use some polishing. Again, same offer applies.
If you are hung up over doing it for free then go find another opportunity where you can charge for it. Go hustle some work and build your “portfolio.” Or go find a non-profit that needs it.
This is how you substantiate yourself.
I don’t know if it will do it for you, but substantiating my skillset was the single most important thing I did in my job search – and it changed the results that I had previously seen.
As a result of my work I’ve been recognized in ways that I never thought possible… here are just some of the more significant results of my substantiation, and I’m honored to be on either of these:
Thom Singer’s Praise Other’s Project – this is a month-long project, I encourage you to subscribe to his blog via e-mail. Anyone that Thom praises is someone that I want to know!
Dave Perry’s 12 days of Christmas – I blogged on this a few days ago and now he’s up to day 6 – where he lists JibberJobber as an essential tool (he says to download, although it is just a website ;)) – you should check out the other tools he recommends, and definitely follow this series).
I’ve also had mention in articles or blogs by Patricia Kitchen of Newsday, Carl Chapman, Dave Mendoza, Jeff Tokarz and others that are experts in their fields. I’ve made a little wave in the recruiting world, the coaching world, the personal branding world.
I’m certainly not bragging about the results that I’ve seen, that’s why I’ve hesitated to put this post up for so long. But I think it’s critical you begin your own substantiation journey, which usually is not an overnight journey. But you need to start your own journey to substantiate yourself.
I’d love to hear about your results!