A few years ago, I made a commitment to myself that I would become more intentional with my work. I wanted to create a blog, start a nonprofit, and give back to my community, but every time I tried to communicate my ideas, the words just wouldn’t come.
We’ve all heard that you should dress for the job you want, but the truth is that you have to act like the job you want, too—including talking about it to potential employers, colleagues, and clients.
Confident communication was essential to my dreams, but I was downright embarrassed to share my passions and ambitions. For a long time, I shut down and shut up.
For many people, career clarity isn’t the struggle—instead, it’s the inability to communicate effectively that trips us up. Read on for tips on how to feel more confident and prepared to share your passions with the world.
First, make sure you really understand what you do well—and why you do it
When it comes to your work, you are the creator. Even if you work for someone else, the skills you bring to the table are yours and yours alone. If you don’t understand your own passion and experience, no one else will, either! If you struggle to talk about yourself, it’s time to get exceptionally clear on exactly what you want to do and why it’s important.
For example, if you have a passion for improving nonprofit culture, be ready to communicate why this is valuable and how you plan to use your unique skill set to do it.
This could sound like, “I’m passionate about improving nonprofit culture because I once fell victim to burnout in a job I really cared about. I used to believe that if you weren’t exhausted, you weren’t doing it right, and that expectation harms not only the work that we do, but nonprofit culture as a whole. I’m excellent at getting buy-in from my colleagues, and I want to use my background in employee retention to work with nonprofit leaders on how we can shift our culture so we can make an even bigger impact.”
Next, shift your mindset about expertise
One of the biggest barriers to confident communication is a perceived lack of experience that might not be realistic. When I worked as a recruiter, I noticed a huge difference in the way men and women read job descriptions. Men tend to look at a job post and think, “Hmm … I have two years of experience and they are asking for five, but you know what? I’m pretty good at my job, and I’m pretty good at learning new things. Let’s give it a try.”
Women in the same situation have a tendency to skip past the jobs they don’t feel 100% qualified for in favor of a job posting where they can check all the boxes—even if they are way more qualified than they believe.
Regardless of your gender, feeling like you’re not qualified is a major barrier to being able to talk about your passions. If you struggle to feel like a qualified expert in your arena, it’s time to redefine what expert means.
Age, education, and experience certainly help perceptions of expertise, but they don’t guarantee that you’re good at something. Expertise is what happens when you care about something enough to commit to practicing it and continuing to hone your craft. If you’re passionate about making a difference, don’t let a lack of experience hold you back from sharing—in fact, the more you communicate, the more opportunities you’ll have to refine your ideas and build your expertise.
Finally, compile an “Arsenal of Awesomeness”
An “Arsenal of Awesomeness” is simply social proof that gives you confidence and helps others see how great you are. It’s a combination of stories, talking points, and documents in your proverbial back pocket that you can rely on when you feel tongue-tied in an interview or networking situation, even if your path isn’t traditional.
Your “Arsenal of Awesomeness” is made up of two main things:
- Evidence: The evidence piece should contain a great cover letter, a resume you’re proud of, social media profiles that convey your personal brand, and maybe even a portfolio that displays some of your best work.
- Stories: The story part of your “Arsenal of Awesomeness” is simple. Take a few minutes to write down three go-to stories about why your passion is important to you or how you’ve solved a problem with your unique skill set in the past.
Let’s break down what makes a great story.
If you are seeking to move into the nonprofit sector to transform the way food policy works, think about your own experiences with food. What stands out? What turning points can you identify? How has your experience with food policy shaped you, and what’s your contribution to the conversation?
You may find your story by recalling the time you learned something new or had an experience that shifted your paradigm around an issue, like this:
“As a kid, I always ate school lunches and our class looked forward to pizza day like it was the best day of the year! Back then, I never gave much thought to whether the food was healthy, but now that I’m a parent it’s important to me that kids have access to healthy meals. My experiences with my daughter’s school lunches have shaped the way I think about food, and it has given me my first experience in researching the way food policies work in our state. Now, I want to join an organization where I can use my research background to contribute to the health of our schools and communities."
Or perhaps you'll want to think back to a time where you used your strengths to solve a problem. Tell the story of how you made an important change or contributed to your team in a positive way.
“When I first joined my organization, our record-keeping system was nonexistent. One day, one of our biggest clients asked my boss to pull an old document for her and we couldn’t find it anywhere. Organization is one of my biggest strengths, so I spent the next week in the file room, cleaning out old paperwork and setting up systems to get us on track. I found the document our client needed, and we all breathed a sigh of relief!”
Having these stories on hand will instantly improve your confidence because you won’t have to think of something on the spot.
Confident communication is not only possible, it’s necessary for connecting with your potential employers, teammates, and communities. With a little practice and preparation, you’ll be sharing your voice in no time!
About the Author | Amy Everhart is a coach and a mentor for women who want to change the world. She helps creative, passionate people start businesses and find careers that make a difference, and she does it all through a feminist, activist-y lens.