Discover Your Voice: How confidence and authenticity can change your career

What is your ‘Voice?’ We’re not talking about what Ariel flippantly gambled away to Ursula for love (although that’s a part of it)— it’s much more than that. It’s YOU, how you communicate, how you present yourself to the world. Your voice is nimble, and can work for you in different ways, but it is always you! Through helping people navigate their career transitions, we’ve found that the more you own your voice, the more respect you will get, and the more you will get what you want.

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Discovering your voice is taking ownership of your own story, recognizing you are the ‘ME-Subject-Matter-Expert,’ finding the confidence to be your most authentic self, and being able to address your needs head-on. It’s not only helpful in how you interview for a new job or navigate a tough conversation in your career, but it will also allow you to build more authentic professional relationships. When you speak with your unique voice, you become a more effective communicator who is in control of your career journey.

ME-Subject-Matter-Expert:

Only you know everything there is to know about you. That includes what you want and don’t want, what gives you happiness, the unique experience and skills you bring to the table, and what you have accomplished in your career thus far. Simply put— you are your own best resource! That said, we know that it can be tricky to tap into your own shine. Before you can discover your voice, you need to know who you are. Being self-reflective and self-aware takes practice (see our Monthly Career Check-up for some ideas), but once you are in-touch with your needs and wants, it becomes much easier to tell your story.

Giving Your Story Shine:

With a deep understanding of yourself, you have the power to make the most of your professional interactions. Giving your story shine means sharing what is going to make the most impact. When you share your career story on a professional level it isn't a data dump, it's a strategic conversation that highlights what is important in the given situation. While everything about you may be interesting or special, only certain things impact the job at hand. You have to be deliberate about what you share, especially when it comes to a first impression. Being yourself doesn't mean not having a filter. You have to craft your story to suit your audience. I could be a world-class juggler and a boss at creating macros in Excel, but the power in those skills is very different depending on the context. Remember, you are different things to your boss than you are to your partner or parents, but they are all authentically you.

Confidently, Authentically YOU:

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Think that you can “fake it ‘til you make it”? Reality check: people tend to catch on when you aren’t being yourself. And let’s be honest, trying to be someone else is exhausting. When you decide to be authentically you, you are setting yourself up for long-term success. Whether you are interviewing, working with a new team on a project, or meeting a client for the first time, all parties, including you, are assessing fit and building trust. Operating with authenticity takes the guesswork out of professional interactions and allows you to move through your career with confidence.

Now, being your authentic self still means understanding professionalism and what type of behavior is appropriate for the dynamics you are working within (see KYP in the tips section below). You are not going to be the same person in an interview that you are when you and your college buddies get together for drinks, but you can still share your hobbies, favorite movies, and showcase the personality quirks that are uniquely you.

Being your authentic self paves the way to have direct conversations, which is a fundamental part of discovering your voice.

Direct Conversations:

You can never assume anyone knows what you want or need unless you tell them, and the most effective way to do this is to be direct. Don’t beat around the bush, make it flowery, or use any other plant-related-sayings to spare feelings or cover-up feeling intimidated. The best course is the path of least resistance.

With direct dialogue, it’s crucial that it comes from a professional and authentic place. Direct doesn’t land if you’re too aggressive. You have to listen both to yourself (and the emotions and insecurities that may be holding you back) and to the other party involved with equal attention.

Part of being direct is challenging yourself in the same way that you challenge others. Sure, it might feel easier to put the responsibility on your boss to figure out how to make your role more engaging, but you have to turn the lens back on yourself and ask the tough questions.

While discovering your voice may seem easier said than done, if you own your own story, trust yourself and your experience, and have the confidence to be authentically you, the direct path becomes easier to navigate.

Here are some TIPS to help you discover and hone your voice to use it effectively throughout your career:

Address the tough stuff - Part of being authentic is giving a complete picture of things. Don't shy away from talking about why you have a gap on your resume or why a major project in your last firm was considered a failure. Address it all head on, but keep it high-level, and move the conversation to the positive including what you learned from a mistake, or how you plan to overcome challenges in the future.

Ask questions - of yourself, and others. This is a crucial part of becoming a ‘me-subject-matter-expert.’ Phone a friend - If focusing inward is difficult, reach out to your friends, family or colleagues to help you reflect on makes you unique and awesome. When I was laid off, I sent a mass email out asking for suggestions of what I should do next/what people thought I was good at which went a long way to helping me navigate the rough waters of career change. Determine your value - part of knowing yourself is understanding your value. What do you bring to the table that others may not have? Conversely, what areas are not your strong suit?

Show don’t Tell - When you are talking to an interviewer or a colleague, don’t just tell them you are resilient, prove it by giving concrete examples with actual outcomes. The STAR technique is a great one to practice this (Situation, Task, Action, Result).

KYP - (know your personnel) In football, teams spend hours dissecting the upcoming opponents’ personnel, plays, patterns, strengths and weaknesses to design an effective game plan to the get the W. The point being, know what you are walking into— this will help you to craft your story effectively. Don’t Wing It - prepare for your interview or tough conversation with research, including checking out recent company news and social media channels to get a sense of company environment and culture. Speak their language - This is more reading the room and understanding who you’re speaking with than learning the intricacies of industry-specific language. Simple example - sitting down for a negotiation with your toughest client and a project meeting with your peer will require different levels of formality.

Step back to step forward - If your goal is to show up at work with confidence and authenticity, you have to be able to recognize when you need a break. Listen to that little voice inside of you and take your eyes off the screen for a coffee break, a walk at lunch, or a personal day when you need it!