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Claim your best freelancing and consulting qualifications

Remember back in fourth grade when the way to campaign for class treasurer was to say that if you won, the treasury would have more money in it?

In retrospect, how cute . . .

Over time we realized that the treasurer may pay bills promptly and maintain accurate, up-to-date records, but the treasurer plays a minor to non-existent role in adding funds to the bank account. Fund-raising is more likely the responsibility of the president or a fund-raising officer, not the treasurer.

That’s a problem I see today both in the marketing done by freelance and consulting professionals and in the resumes of job hunters: they try to claim achievements that are not theirs to claim.

As an example, I’ll share my own experience as a financial writer, which includes writing newsletters and annual reports for mutual funds and similar investment products.

The truth of the matter is that my writing, while necessary from both a marketing and a regulatory angle, had almost no impact on financial results or on sales.

My job was to meet tight writing deadlines by writing—and revising—copy that met legal requirements that it not be “promissory” and that won the approval and sign-off of the company president and others in the approval process.

In practice, this meant that if marketing copy was too persuasive, it would be heavily revised by compliance personnel. It also meant that large amounts of time were spent explaining these restrictions to my writing clients in the sales function who wanted letters and other copy written that would explain features and benefits in their promissory (impermissible) words.

Also in practice, a large part of my time was spent chasing down the one or two numbers or other facts needed to complete a publication or getting a single individual’s signoff.

Since I was lower on the pecking order than most of the other people involved and since clarifying a single point could be a very complex process involved multiple viewpoints from multiple departments, most of my time was spent on something other than literally writing.

I was excellent at my job because I did my best to manage the approval process in a way that recognized the political realities of the workplace while attempting to meet deadlines.

Had I boasted that I increased sales or achieved some other measureable result, my claims would be suspect to anyone who understands the work.

So back to this issue of how to write professional websites and resumes when the constraints of reality prevent us from composing juicy achievements that will seal the deal.

This is a difficult challenge to deal with because the books don’t really address it. Much of the writing on how to describe your career gives examples from sales. That’s because sales success is easy to quantify. Also, it’s often a competitive function so that sales representatives or regions are ranked, another measure of achievement.

I think the solution is to address the experts in our industry from whom we are trying to obtain an assignment or a job rather than writing what “sounds good” to non-experts who are not in the know.

In the area of marketing communications, for instance, it may mean name-dropping about a client or a product or a press release placement. It may mean a description of the project that suggests scope.

The solution is not to claim accomplishments that are out of touch with reality.


Originally posted 8-29-11

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