Want to transform your career experiences? Here's the question you need to ask.

In almost every career transition coaching engagement, I work with clients on how to market themselves and their skills to their desired target audiences.

We first crystallize a Personal Brand and we reflect on the work they’ve accomplished thus far in their career relevant to their go-forward plan. We then build this material into their Linkedin profile, their resumes/CV's, and in the words they use to describe how fabulous they are. It’s a fun process, and a critically important one.

One thing I've noticed is that the majority of clients—no matter the industry or level—suffer from the same ailment. The work experience section of their resumes/profiles read like a job description, tending to look like this:

  • Responsible for determining new marketing strategy for client.
  • Responsible for migrating Windows Mobile into Microsoft Partner Program.
  • Led five member team.

This is the entree to asking my favorite, simplest question: “So what?"

My query is usually met with a shocked or blank expression. “What do you mean, ‘so what’?”

“Just what I said: so what?” At this point, I usually take the resume and draw a long black arrow at the end of whatever work experience bullet point we’re discussing. Then I sit back and wait.

“Sorry...what?” Still the blank look.

“So what?” I say. “What was the great thing that happened as a result of your work on this?”

At that point, the light begins to dawn—my client realizes that he's left off the most important aspect of his experience: What happened because he did what he did and why did it matter?

The resume reader may have an idea of what he did when she reads the bullets above, but NO idea if he did any of it well, what great thing(s) happened as a result of it, nor what value he added to the team or organization by doing it. And, make no mistake, it’s not a smart strategy to think or hope that the reader will come up with these answers on her own.

Here’s the big point: When you ask and then answer the 'so what?' question as you present the evidence of your experience, you transform a fairly humdrum list of responsibilities into accomplishment-oriented deliverables that get noticed AND allow you to claim the well-deserved credit for the good work you’ve done.

Here are the bullets after we asked "so what?"

  • Within team of 4, collected data on and analyzed challenges of high-growth online start-up business in order to develop and implement innovative marketing strategy, resulting in a 150% increase in daily customer subscriptions and the launch of services in over 20 new markets in a 4 month period.
  • As product manager, led the initiative and strategy for migrating the Windows Mobile partner program into the Microsoft Partner Program, creating a mobility competency and increasing partner benefits by leveraging the larger Microsoft marketing and sales lead engines.
  •  Promoted to team manager after one year; as manager, mentored team members by providing shadowing opportunities, product trainings, and peer feedback resulting in improved customer support and employee productivity.

Transformed, right? And it shouldn't stop there—empowering the bullet points on your resume is just the beginning. Make sure you’re asking and answering the 'so what' question—noting accomplishments and claiming credit—when you’re making your verbal pitch in an informational discussion or actual interview as well.

My call to action? Take a look at your work experiences and ask yourself "so what?"…and see what good things happen when you do!