Having no identity at all. 

Picture you’re at the airport, making a mad dash for a flight and eager to start your journey.  Unfortunately, one important thing you forgot to pack was your passport and now you’ve managed to bring your trip to a grinding halt.  Why?  Because you have no form of identification to prove who you are and, without that, you’re going nowhere.  

Think about that same scenario as you kick off a job search and you’ll understand the importance of carrying your identification with you.  That passport includes a picture of you, shows where you’ve come from, where you’ve traveled to, and comes with an expiration date.

Let’s look at how your personal identification needs to be in order before your next employer will allow you to come “on board.” First, you’ll need to answer some basic questions.   


Job seekers typically want to kick off their search by simply updating their resume.  They agonize over key words and proper formatting to ensure an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) will forward their resume on to HR. Seems like a perfectly logical place to start, right?  It will be once you’ve carefully considered who you are and what you have to offer.  If you figure that out first, then the words on your resume will follow. 

When you’re at the airport, you’ll need a passport to prove your identity before boarding a flight.  Similarly, Recruiters will be granting “passage” to your next job only when they can make a positive identification.  Since you won’t be bringing a passport to the interview, you’ll need to establish your identity by drawing a picture of who you are.

Start developing that picture by taking a personal inventory.  Here’s a sampling of questions to prompt you.  Consider these couple of statements that begin to define you.  Practice answering them and use a colleague to see how convincing you sound.    

  • What are the three words you’d use to describe yourself?
  • What are you known for in your professional life?
  • What environment have you worked in where you really thrived?

Add questions to this list and develop a more complete profile.  If you’re interested in making a bigger investment, consider purchasing an assessment tool like Strengths Finder, or Strong Interest Inventory.   As you evaluate your skills and preferences, they will serve as a foundation for your elevator speech.


Before you ever arrive at an airport, you’ve already determined your destination and purchased your tickets. Don’t get caught in the trap of spending hours applying to any and every job posting, and then hoping for the best.  Be selective, follow the course you’ve set and chances are you’ll arrive where you intended to go. 

The next step in the identification process is figuring out your destination.  What are the types of organizations (e.g., Entrepreneurial, Fortune 500), industry sector (e.g., technology, energy) and positions that are the best match for YOU?  It’s a two way street when it comes to job search.

Be realistic about the depth and breadth of your knowledge.  For example, if you had a copyrighting job fresh out of college but spent the next 20 years as an Accountant, don’t apply for an editor job.   An employer may have some flexibility with job responsibilities listed in a posting. Realistically, they may not find a 100% match to their wish list; but they will be looking for a high degree of fit and only will consider a candidate who meets most of the requirements. 

Currency of knowledge is a key component.  Remember your passport has an expiration date and you won’t be allowed entry once that date has passed.  Understand that your knowledge and skills also have to be kept up to date to gain admission.    Agility is essential in today’s job market.        


People who travel acquire experience and broaden their perspective along the way.  If you asked those seasoned tourists to describe where they’d been, and what they learned, their ability to convey it all might just interest you enough to explore those same places.   

How well can you tell the story of where your work life has taken you?  You’ve got to transport Recruiters to those places and convince them of the relevance of where you’ve travelled in your career, the experiences you’ve gained and the knowledge you’ll bring compared to what they’re looking for.

The work journey you experienced may be relevant, interesting and well told.  That particular Hiring Manager, however, might not want to continue that journey with you. When it comes to the selection factor called “chemistry”, it’s a subjective thing, so don’t be discouraged.  Have a strong personal identity, recognize your worth, be able to demonstrate it, and you’ll ultimately land the job that’s perfect for you.         

 Know yourself and (eventually) THEY WILL COME.


  • Barbara Schultz

    Career Coach/Founder

    The Career Stager

    Career Coach and founder of The Career Stager. Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) through National Resume Writers' Association. Named Mid-Career Job Search Expert by Job-Hunt, a highly acclaimed career website with 1.5 + million readers. I help job seekers put their best face forward.