If there’s one mistake job seekers and ambitious professionals make while working toward the next step in their career, this is it.

If there’s one mistake job seekers and ambitious professionals make while working toward the next step in their career, it’s positioning themselves based on where they’ve been, rather than where they want to be.

Here’s why it’s a mistake: the person you’re about to (hopefully) work with probably doesn’t give a rat’s tail about where you’ve been (unless you just won a Pulitzer). What they care about is what you’ll do for them.

Plus, focusing on where you’ve been slows your progress. Know what will help you get where you want to be, faster? What will propel you toward success? Looking ahead, rather than at the present or the past, and talking about yourself in a forward-looking way.

How to apply this strategy

Your resume: Use the top of your primary marketing document to describe yourself in terms of the step you’re about to take and how you’re positioned to take it. Because this information is at the top of your resume, it’s the first thing a hiring manager will read and maybe even the part that will stick with him. (Tip: this is a smart way to use your “summary” section.)

Your cover letter: Rather than regurgitating all of the accomplishments you’ve already spelled out on your resume, use your cover letter to explain why you’re the right choice for this company and this position. Yes, you can use past experience as supporting evidence, but be sure to translate that into future expected results rather than stopping where most applicants do—at detailing your responsibilities for your last few jobs.

Instead, focus on how what you’ve learned will help you move forward.

Your Twitter bio: Use those 160 characters to sell yourself for the job you want, not the job you already have or internships you’ve already completed. And don’t tell the world you want to be a designer or you’re an aspiring writer. Say you are a designer. You are a writer. Because you are! You design, right? You write, right?

You might not get paid for that work yet, but that doesn’t mean you don’t do it. You DO have value to provide, so don’t shy away from that.

Your introduction (a.k.a. your elevator pitch): Just like with your Twitter bio, introduce yourself by sharing your goals rather than what’s behind you. Especially if you don’t love your day job but are working hard to make a transition. If your goal is to turn your side gig into your full-time job, focus on selling that; you might not even mention your day job unless the conversation continues.

This person you just met might only remember one thing about you, and you want that to be the career you actually care about, not the one you’re trying to leave behind.

An example of how this works

Here’s a personal example of how I apply this in my own life. As a writer who has my own business, I make about three-quarters of my income by helping small businesses with blogging, social media and email marketing. But the part of my business that I’m really excited about, the part I’m working to grow, is creating and selling eguides and courses under my own brand.

Yet even though the latter accounts for only about a quarter of my income, when I meet someone for the first time and they ask me what I do, I tell them I create guides and courses that help go-getters make their own luck. That’s the direction I want to go in, so that’s what I focus on. And by focusing on that aspect of my business, I add to its momentum.

And no, this isn’t lying. I’m not suggesting you make up your qualifications, just that you change the way you talk about them. The fact is, you likely DO have some skills or experience or ideas that pertain to your next step, and by leaving that out of the conversation, you’re taking the wind out of your own sail.

Describe yourself in terms of where you’re going with your skills and passions—rather than where you’ve been—and soon other people will describe you that way, too.

Alexis Grant is managing editor of Brazen Life.


  1. Kate Vartholomaios

    This is so great! But if you’re changing industries/careers, the most likely response to interviews you’ll get is “we went with someone who had more (relevant) experience.” So how do you shake off the past and focus on where you’re going in this scenario?

    • Alexis Grant

      Good question, Kate! You’ve got to make the experience you do have *relevant* for the position. If it’s really not, then get out there and get some experience, even if it’s through volunteering. It’s great to have that work under your belt, but it’s so much about how you sell yourself.

  2. Heather Petherick Coaching

    This is article provides some great tips for anyone looking to change jobs and move their career forward: Spotlight Where You’re Going in Your Career, Not Where You’ve Been. Too often we applogize for where we’ve been (or have NOT been, as the case may be) and squander our chance to make a strong first impression. Check it out: http://blog.brazencareerist.com/2012/12/17/spotlight-where-youre-going/.

  3. Dee Relyea

    Excellent advice Alexis. I’d also add to emphasize those skills and talents that you most enjoy sharing are the ones to highlight in profiles, resumes, etc. Just because you do a task well doesn’t mean you find it satisfying in a job so why seek a new position doing the same thing?

    It’s been my experience as a career coach, that job seekers frequently get stuck in the mindset that they need to market the everything they’ve done in the past in order to qualify for the next position. If you truly want to move into a different line of work, you do need to “change the way you talk about your qualifications.,” as you put it and “focus on where you are going not where you’ve been”.

    Great article! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Sarah Sherrod

    You always have some excellent advice. I have enjoyed your free webinars and weekly news letters. I totally agree that the power of hour future lies in not only what we do but what we speak. Have a very blessed holiday season.

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  6. Elise Daly Parker

    Love this Alexis! Practical advice and a positive, powerful way to look at all aspects of our life, career and otherwise!

  7. Susan Atherton

    Excellent article, Alexis!

  8. Bhumika Bhatt

    Interesting and Useful Article For Fresh People as well as Career Oriented.

  9. Mina Grace Drake

    I agree. Great article Alexis. As someone who works with professionals in career transition I think you are right on that you don’t have to wait to be making the majority of your income from your new work to declare yourself a writer, or coach, photographer, etc. what you focus your attention on grows.

  10. Yin Liu

    Inspired article! Alexis, thank you for building my skills and confidence in pursuing the future career.

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