Over 600 people applied for my last overseas role with a multinational humanitarian organization in London. The role was highly-specialized, and the job description contained a very clear message that those without applicable experience need not apply. The hiring team received hundreds of great applicants for this role – some with many more years of humanitarian experience than I had. However, I landed this role because I was able to demonstrate my Hidden Value to the hiring team.
In my numerous roles as IT Project Manager, Technical Team Lead, and Lead Business Analyst I have hired many technology professionals, both local and abroad, and I clearly see where most applicants are lacking – most are not able to convey their Hidden Value and true worth to potential clients and employers.
In this blog post, I want to share the concept of Hidden Value, how to use it and how it can help you land the type of role you are looking for – either abroad, or at home.
What is Hidden Value, and How Do I Determine Mine?
Your Hidden Value is how you can best apply the intersection of your work experience, industry exposure, and technical skills against the current needs of your prospective client or employer.
This Hidden Value combination is often hidden from the hiring manager’s view because applicants focus too much on the skills that they believe they are strongest in – be it a specific technology, tool, business application, project management methodology, etc. While technical professionals often have some great “Gee-Whiz” keywords, certifications, degrees or a high GPA on their CV, they often omit the most important and valuable information that the hiring manager is looking for – the very information that applicant needs to stand out among the rest and get hired. This is also the same information that could mean the difference between the organization saying yes to sponsoring you or hiring the next local candidate.
Information, such as your previous exposure and experience dealing with specific business problems, is what your Hiring Manager could be more interested in than your ability to configure an application or create specific code modules. Business challenges, such as changes in regulatory compliance, the need for integration of master data elements across systems after a new acquisition, or simply deploying an application in multiple languages across multiple countries, are real problems that project and business leaders are trying to solve – and ultimately, they want to know if and how you can help them.
Now, I am not discrediting the importance of credentials, qualifications, and education in your application – on the contrary, these elements should indeed be on your application as they are valuable supporting information that you are knowledgeable, trained, able to learn quickly, and that you can achieve goals that you are committed to. However, as techies, we can sometimes become too focused on our own view of our skills regarding specific technical vehicles and methods – rather than focusing on what we can do with our unique combination of skills, experience, and exposure to help our prospective employer or client solve their immediate pain points. Being able to understand and work with technology to solve these actual business problems is often more important than how well or fast you can configure a business application, or throw together a snazzy piece of code. Any project manager worth his/her salt is not interested in hiring the fastest coder or having the highest collective GPA among his/her team members – they aim to assemble the right group of people to solve an actual business problem for which they are held responsible to solve.
In short, your prospective organization needed a well-rounded professional who is able to think critically and creatively to address specific and painful business problems – as well as have the know-how and experience to apply technology to enable a strong solution.
As a technology expert, being able to demonstrate your worth to a Hiring Manager as a well-rounded professional with Hidden Value that cannot only code or configure, but also input valuable insight and foresight into business challenges and technology solutions is the best way to justify hiring you over other “local” in-country candidates that do not require sponsorship – because your unique combination of specific skills, experience and exposure is what they need to solve their problem and make their organization stronger and more efficient.
But I Actually WANT to Focus on Technology – Not on Business Problems. Can I still Find a Role Overseas?
In some cases, your specific skills and experience in emerging technologies may be the key to landing a great new role at home or abroad. This situation can be found when working with a technology or tool that is largely unknown to people outside the original development team. If you truly and completely want to focus on technology only, then your Hidden Value would be that you are prepared to keep up with the latest and greatest in that technology space – as well as stay up to date on breaking edge algorithms, the latest updates/upgrades, patches and solutions/platforms. Being able to speak to these authoritatively will take you far – especially in the circumstance that you are one of 20 people on earth who can speak to and address a specific technical issue – and the other 19 are busy.
Keeping up with technology changes is a great amount of work, but those committed to emerging technologies are highly valued in the workplace – and are often compensated accordingly. Consulting companies are especially keen to acquire these people for their teams as they can continually charge them out to clients at very high rates.
For the rest of us folk who work with well-worn, standard technology platforms that many clients choose often because of their reliable, well-trodden paths, it is simply not enough to demonstrate competency with that technology to shortlist your application for that long-coveted role in today’s competitive landscape – especially overseas in places like Europe where applicants from various countries can apply and rightfully work in the role without required sponsorship.
How do I determine MY Hidden Value?
Today’s workplace needs brainpower that can work through the high-level business process and industry context, as well as have the know-how to use technology to solve specific business challenges – or achieve Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) set out by the organization.
Because these business challenges and KPI’s will differ from organization to organization, your Hidden Value will likely be different for each job application. Well-written job descriptions will articulate at a high-level the business problem or goal that the team is trying to address, as well as the semantics of the role and activities to be undertaken by the incumbent. However, all too often the job description is not written this way and is more focused on lower-level results (i.e., systems integration of two technologies) and/or day-to-day actions (i.e., coding) rather than the goal of the team effort (for example, a roll-out of a new procurement solution to save the company 10-15% in procurement costs annually over the next five years).
Here are the steps to discovering your hidden value for each application:
- Read the job description carefully and try to uncover the context of what the organization is trying to achieve overall
- Research the internet to see if there have been acquisitions, changes in leadership, or some other catalyst that has sparked change at a technology, business process or leadership level that may have led to this job posting
- Network with people in the organization (or competitors) to uncover what is going on
- Project how this new role fits into reaching the organization’s goals
- Work with a career coach or mentor skilled in international work to uncover and help you to clearly demonstrate and communicate your Hidden Value, as well as how to strategically network within your industry (and/or chosen country). More information on international career mentoring can be found at the bottom of this post.
It is difficult, but not impossible, to tailor your CV to demonstrate your Hidden Value when the goals of the team, organization or division are unknown. Some strategic networking may connect you with someone who can give you some context as to what is going on within the organization that sparked the need for this new role. Gaining support from someone inside the organization not only grows your professional network but also could be the one final aspect that tips your application over another candidate’s to win the role. However, even if you cannot obtain the specifics from inside the team, referencing your knowledge about similar business situations to your client’s in your application, even if you don’t do so in a way that is 100% similar to their situation, demonstrates your ability to think creatively to problem solve at a higher-level outside the bits and bytes solution. This will enable you to stand-out and be short-listed because you have spoken to their needs in a way that other candidates won’t – because they will often be focused on their specific technology skills.
In short, the ability to clearly convey your Hidden Value to an organization in your application may very well be the determining factor in whether or not you get the job – or if it will go to the next candidate who did.
How Do I Demonstrate my Hidden Value in My Application
Creating a solid job application isn’t about demonstrating what you think you do well, but rather the value you provide to the client, and having it perceived and understood as such on the other side.
Put yourself in your hiring manager’s shoes – what do you think he/she is looking for in this candidate? When I am reviewing the applications of technology professionals for positions on my team, these are some of the questions that I am asking myself:
- Does the applicant have the industry knowledge to understand the challenges we’re trying to address?
- Will they be able to develop scalable technical modules that will suit our current and future needs?
- Does he/she seem resourceful enough to research the business requirements, if needed, and propose viable technical solutions (technology, business process or otherwise) based on our current systems and the available platforms on the market today?
- Can he/she communicate effectively, problem solve and work well within our team?
- Can he/she think critically about the integration of business process, technology, and leadership to solve a problem?
- Is he/she confident and knowledgeable enough to raise a critical issue (or important suggestion) if we are going down the wrong path?
As the applicant, if your answer is no to these questions then you clearly have some work to do – because in today’s landscape of shrinking project budgets, team members are expected to wear multiple hats, cover for each other during absences and turnover, and contribute to creating a business and technology solution for the organization.
In short, the cream of the applicants will rise to the top – and those that are able to demonstrate the right combination of technical and non-technical skills, as well as their ability to network themselves and form relationships with peers quickly (see notes on strategic networking above), are the ones that will win the work.
What To Do and Not Do, In Your Job Application
When you go to the grocery store, you typically don’t read all of the ingredients and recipes on the labels – you read the important bits and make a decision. Similarly, whether a CV is one or ten pages, I (like many hiring managers) typically only read the first half of the first page before deciding whether or not I need or want to read further. It is important to word your sentences concisely, and prioritize information from top to bottom as best you can with the knowledge you have about the position, project, organization.
One element that may often be disregarded by applicants is the importance of any “bonus / non-essential but highly desired skills” at the bottom of a job description. These are often strong indicators of business context and aspects of the role that may be more important than you and/or the hiring manager may realize – that is, until the right candidate that has these bonus skills (and the essential skills) shows up in the resume pile and takes that role.
You may also want to strongly consider working with a career coach on assessing your Hidden Value, how to communicate it, what areas need to improve in over the long term – and most importantly, leverage and communicate the talent you have now to land that role. Shameless plug aside, the reason why my company, Know Your World, and its mentoring program exists is because I didn’t have this support and assistance to transition and grow my career to the point where I could easily build a life overseas. It was very difficult, and I made a lot of mistakes. If I had the support of a good coach in those early days, one who had a strong understanding of international talent acquisition, my transition overseas would have been gone much more smoothly and I likely would have found more suitable (and better paying) roles.
Here are some Do’s and Don’t to demonstrate your hidden value and improve your application:
- Summarize your understanding of the need for the role, and how you can help
- Clearly put the following important information in the top half of your CV and cover letter:
- Main technical skill(s) that the client/employer can use immediately (the essentials)
- Exposure to the industry that the client/employer is in
- Quick summary of your work experience in the business context of the job applied for
- Reduce/eliminate information that is not pertinent to the role – if it is not relevant, it is distracting noise
- Pay attention to and address bonus skills, if applicable
- Speak of recent experience or something you did that is very similar to the role or activities in question, and how the actions you performed provided lasting value to your former employer
- Gain feedback on your application by working with a mentor to gain a stronger understanding of how to more closely align your profile with the needs of the client, and create a plan to grow your Hidden Value in the long-term
- Fill space on your resume with non-essential information so that it appears “full”, or for you to appear “smart”.
- Overwhelm with non-essential, irrelevant details of your past career – focus on the current need instead
- Submit a resume that is more than three pages (it should really be two) or a cover letter that is more than a single page. If you can’t narrow your focus enough to do this, it may confuse or overwhelm your audience
- Go it alone – instead, work on strategic networking with your coach to make sure you are meeting the right people and getting a foothold on the inside of the right organizations for your career growth
How to Increase Your Hidden Value When You Do Not Have Much Non-Technical Experience
If you feel lacking in one of the elements of Hidden Value (technical experience, industry exposure, work experience), then it is time to get out of your comfort zone, do some introspection, research, and ask for help. Call someone on your last team or your former project manager and tell them about the new role you are applying for, and ask him/her if he/she has experience with the type of initiative you’ll be taking part in – ask if he/she has insight into some of the challenges and possible solutions, and how it related to your last job. You may be surprised at what you learn and what you missed out on while your head was buried in that technical spec.
Research the internet to get a true understanding of business problems and business processes, such as the need for procurement approval levels – even if it doesn’t directly relate specifically to your role – it will enable you to have a more intelligent dialogue about their business process and current challenges.
Take responsibility for gaining an understanding of a specific industry and an understanding of the context of what is needed to run a successful business within it. Research competitors, what they have done and haven’t done similarly to your potential client– and bring these points up in your correspondence as appropriate. Read industry journals, and make it a priority to grow and expand your network by providing value in online communities such as Facebook groups, slack communities, GitHub, etc. Ask questions in these forums, and contribute your thoughts to begin a dialogue and build relationships. In addition to increasing your Hidden Value and understanding for specific applications, you will also be expanding your network and opportunities within your targeted industries.
Set reasonable goals to expand your Hidden Value each year – and stick to them. Have an accountability buddy or coach to help you with this when you struggle or get distracted. Reflect on your career and skill-set and where it is lacking.
Well-rounded IT professionals have a solid triangulation of skills in business processes, technology, and management. If you’re lacking in any of these areas, try finding training and experience (paid or unpaid) to be skilled and able to speak to these areas. It will greatly increase your options and Hidden Value for future opportunities both inside and outside your organization. If paid work isn’t an option, there are many open source projects where you could volunteer to get this type of experience.
Set aside time on your calendar once a fortnight, or on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for example, to spend time in online communities. Take courses or read about specific areas that you need to brush up on to be competitive in your job applications for specific industries.
Getting international experience and/or leading remote and disparate teams in technology efforts across timezones is also a huge aspect of Hidden Value for your prospective client. Be sure to highlight this as an important point of mention in your application. If you do not have this experience, I encourage you to travel to networking events out of the country – if that is not possible then participate in some open-source, volunteer projects for non-profits with global teams to get some experience working with people outside your home country. In short, if you want something different than what you have now, you will have to do something different to get it. You will also need to distinguish yourself from the others who are trying to do the same.
I Demonstrated My Hidden Value in an Application, But I Didn’t Get the Role
Sometimes even showcasing your Hidden Value may not be enough – perhaps someone else’s profile hit all the right buttons, or the successful candidate had a long-standing relationship with someone inside the team. Perhaps the job description didn’t clearly convey some of the must-have’s (which sometimes the Hiring Managers only clearly discover for themselves after they have interviewed a few candidates). There are many reasons why you may not have been successful in your application – because of this, it is very important to ask for feedback. Start analyzing what went wrong and how you can do better next time. More importantly, don’t give up. Just because this one role did not work out does not mean the next one won’t. Stay in touch with your network inside the organization where you didn’t get the role – it is possible that they may remember you for the next opportunity. Some Hiring Managers (including myself) re-visit former candidate pools for previous roles before posting a new role to avoid being overwhelmed again by another set of resumes. In any case, you will notice that the more you apply for jobs demonstrating your Hidden Value, the easier it will become – and you will be another step closer to your new job and life at home or overseas.
Tracey is a technology consultant, helping global organizations deploy new business application solutions and change processes to transform their business. She is also an entrepreneur, and a coach in career change and international job/life transition.
Contact Tracey here to learn more about working together.