I used to think that my work experience was just a collection of my past jobs. I just assumed that my work experience was disjointed because I'd worked in a variety of different roles and industries. So I never bothered to try and connect it all together in a cohesive way.
But when I quit my full-time job a year ago to pursue entrepreneurship, I realized I could no longer define myself by my current job—I didn't have one! And my last job no longer defined me, only my former (and rather transient) self.
I had to find a way to represent myself based on seven years of (seemingly) disconnected work experience and any projects or initiatives I've been part of.
And that's when I realized: the sum is always greater than its parts.
While learning more about marketing and branding over the past year, I discovered the concept of positioning. Here's a short-form definition that helped me better understand it:
"Positioning is like context-setting for products."—April Dunford, Author of Obviously Awesome
Positioning provides customers with a frame of reference that helps them quicker and better understand how a product fits into their life. This frame of reference (or context) is often achieved by labelling products with categories and concepts that are familiar to customers.
You probably learned about schemas in psychology in high school—cognitive frameworks or concepts that act as shortcuts to understanding a large amount of information. Positioning basically leverages schemas to help customers easily understand how a product will benefit them.
But positioning isn't just for products. You can use it to better represent who you are and what your expertise is on your LinkedIn profile (or your resume and cover letter.) How you position yourself and your professional experience can drastically affect your ability to generate new opportunities.
In this article, I'm going to focus on LinkedIn because that's where I generate most of my opportunities.
When someone visits your LinkedIn profile, they don't have the time or attention span to read through every single part of your profile and then figure out how it's all connected.
That's why you have to make it really easy for them. And you can do that with the right positioning.
You may feel (as I did about my work) that your work experience is disjointed and scattered. But there are likely hidden patterns and themes you can identify. Once you've recognised these patterns and themes, you must translate them into phrases or concepts that will instantly resonate with the visitors of your LinkedIn profile.
This is best illustrated with a few examples, so I'll show you three ways I used positioning to strengthen my LinkedIn profile.
My 7-year work experience includes roles in customer service, operations, business analysis and product management—all in different industries. How could any of them possibly be related?
So I took a closer look:
The hidden pattern was that all these roles had been in startups or startup-like teams. Looking back, it was so obvious! I had 7 years' experience in startups and startup-like teams.
My work wasn't done, though. I had to ask myself what that implied and how I wanted people to interpret that information.
What I'd experienced was rapid growth within a startup or a startup-like team on more than one occasion. It taught me how to scale teams, processes and products in a startup-like environment—a pretty valuable skill, I thought.
So this is what I ended up putting right at the top of the About section of my LinkedIn profile to summarize all my work experience so far:
Most people put their current job title in their LinkedIn headline. But I couldn't do that since I'm not working in an official job right now.
I'm also not doing any consulting at the moment and none of my projects have turned into startups yet, so I was at a loss for how to represent myself.
Trying to hide the fact that I'm unemployed wasn't going to work—people would eventually figure it out from the rest of my LinkedIn profile. So instead, I addressed it head-on.
The truth was that I'd gotten my first taste of entrepreneurship while leading an innovation lab as a Product Manager. It's what led me to leave my job to become an entrepreneur.
So I decided to put "Ex-innovation lab Product Manager turned Entrepreneur, Builder, Writer & Mentor" in my LinkedIn headline. I like it because it shows what I most recently did (in absence of a current job) and some context around what led me to become an entrepreneur. It also covers the fact that I'm building my own products, I write (on my blog as well as my book The Making of Product Managers) and I mentor early venture teams.
Last year I spent three months working with two partners on a startup idea that failed. We didn't incorporate a company or build a product or anything—we simply did a lot of customer discovery and concluded the opportunity was not worth pursuing any further.
(You can read my post-mortem article on this project if you're interested.)
I initially didn't think I could put something like this on my LinkedIn profile. It wasn't an official job, just a project that hadn't turned into a startup. But it bothered me that I couldn't account for the valuable work I did during those three months on my LinkedIn profile.
I started paying closer attention to what people listed in the Experience section of their LinkedIn profiles. It turned out that people were listing all kinds of things—Amazon Seller, Blogger, TikTik Content Creator, Founder of a failed startup, Contributing Writer, etc.
There were clearly no rules and I concluded that I was free to represent whatever experience I thought was relevant on my LinkedIn profile. So I ended up listing the project in the Experience section of my LinkedIn profile.
I put "Startup Idea" as the title, used the description to explain that it was an exploration project and clearly stated that I had invalidated the startup idea. I also provided a link to my post-mortem article on this project on my website so people could read about that experience.
Since making all these changes over the past six months, I've managed to generate a significant number of opportunities.
Had I hidden my last project in the dark and treated it like a failure that had no value, I wouldn't have gotten credit for it. Instead, I positioned it as either a win or a possible stepping stone to a later breakthrough in a new venture. And that's how others may see it in return.
These three changes to my profile combined with posting regularly on LinkedIn has grown my LinkedIn network twofold. This opens me up to even more opportunities in the future.
Any marketer will tell you that positioning is not once and done. They will revisit their positioning from time to time to make sure it still resonates with customers.
Positioning your LinkedIn profile is no different.
As you gain further work experience, complete more projects and get involved in new initiatives, keep revisiting your LinkedIn profile. Always be on the lookout for ways to better connect everything together and position your experience and expertise in a way that helps you win.
There are multiple sides to every story—make sure you tell your side with full force.