The other weekend, I gave a workshop at Mississippi State University. The topic was an elaboration of an article I wrote for the Praxis blog over a year ago, “You Don’t Need a Resume, You Need a Value Proposition.”
The central idea is this: credentialism, resume padding, and rising standards of living and education levels, have all led to resume inflation. The resume is becoming an increasingly poor way to “sell” yourself to companies and clients.
The traditional way of looking for work — sending out a shotgun blast of resumes to companies that are receiving hundreds of other nearly identical resumes — is now, well, traditional. It’s boring, unoriginal, and it does little to distinguish you from the hoards of indebted college students looking to get the job as well.
Enter the value proposition.
This is where you burn that little white paper with Times New Roman font and academic merit badges and you make a direct or indirect sales pitch to an employer. The goal is to prove the following:
A) You’re worth more to them than the money they’ll need to pay you.
B) You can create value for them on day one and you have an action plan to do it (more on this later).
C) You have the skills, experiences, and/or mindsets to do the job you are hired for.
How it looks like in practice is up to you, but here are some examples:
Noah Kagan got a job as the director of marketing at Mint.com by sending the CEO a 90 day plan of what he would do if he got the job.
Charlie Hoehn was able to create his own job for Tim Ferriss by sending an email that included a specific, deliverable action item that he could take for Tim, a plan to achieve it and demonstration of his capabilities, and a value add statement, i.e., why Tim should care.
I myself got started working with Praxis after I proposed to them what amounted to essentially a free work arrangement where I would address areas of their marketing strategy that I believed could be improved. They hired me and saved tens of thousands of dollars that would have gone to another firm. I’m now their Director of Marketing at 23 and here’s the best part: I never had to submit a resume.
If you want to get a job in today’s market, it’s becoming increasingly important that you make a value proposition the key focus of the application process.
The good news is, the bar is low — for now. Most people won’t be doing this and you have the opportunity to stand out in huge ways even if your specific proposals are not the best.
Here’s how to get started:
Step one: Identify 1-2 projects you can do for the company in question. One of the things I proposed to do with Praxis was provide video and photography support for the team. Put some thought into this. You don’t need to be perfect and in all likelihood the company will modify your proposal, but the more specific to the company’s needs you can be up front, the better.
Step two: Prove that this is valuable to the company. Offer adequate reasoning why this would help them. Maybe even show why what they’re currently doing isn’t working and why your solution is better. It’s okay to criticize as long as you can back it up by creating. I typically like to pull successful examples from other similar products to back up my proposal. Showing is always better than telling.
Step three: Demonstrate that you’re capable of delivering on your promise. Embed links in your proposal to relevant work you’ve done — videos you’ve created, articles you’ve written, projects you’ve worked on, testimonials, etc. When I look for a client to run Facebook ads for, not only do I tell them I’ve done Facebook ads for X number of years, I link them to a specific ad that was shared over 200,000 times and generated over a million dollars in revenue. Even if you have no prior work experience, you can show personal projects you’ve worked on.
Step four: Make it low cost and worth their while. I offered to work for Praxis for free, knowing that if I delivered on my proposals I would be offered paid work down the road. How could they refuse? There was literally no downside for them. If I didn’t do good work, they could end the relationship and they wouldn’t be any worse off. The best thing you can do when you’re applying to a new company is to make it very low risk for them. This will set expectations low and give you the chance to over deliver on your proposal. You can transition into paid work very quickly.
Do the above steps and you’re going to have employers crawling over each other to hire you.
Cautions and Common Mistakes
Before I share a template that you can use as a starting point for your own value proposition, there are a few things you need to know.
Mistake one: Most value propositions are too long and poorly formatted. Your goal is to be brief, be bright, and be gone. Include only essentials. The business owner in question likely has far too much on his hands to read through the 4-5 page documents young people normally submit when they first learn the magic of value propositions. Your message should be no more than a page and should be clearly formatted to highlight key points.
Mistake two: Most value propositions lack concreteness and confidence. Don’t try to overdo your proposal. Give some very simple, one sentence project ideas. Nothing more. The hiring person should be able to know exactly what you want to do. Also, don’t ask questions. Questions create confusion and show that you aren’t certain about your ideas. Your ideas should be simple enough that you can guarantee they’ll add value at a low cost.
Here’s a template you can use as a starting point. You’ll want to modify this as necessary but using the basic framework will set you apart from 9/10 people applying for a job. Enjoy!