I remember what it’s like to be on a job search. Early on in my career, I would scour the newspaper ads; later, I would search all of the job sites for anything that looked remotely like a place that might hire me. I would adjust my resume to try to trick employers into seeing that I was qualified for the job. I would apply for as many jobs as I could in a day, then stand by, hoping someone would think I was a fit. When someone reached out, the game was on. Could I convince them to hire me?
It took me many years of feeling inadequate to hit rock bottom. I had just lost two executive-level positions in 20 months because I had accepted roles that were not even close to fits for me. At the time, I didn’t really know what a fit was for me, because I wasn’t aware of my talents. I just figured that once I landed a job, I would scrap and scrape by until I learned what it took to be successful. This tactic worked for the first 15 or so years of my corporate career, so I figured it would always work. The problem was that even when I was successful, I never knew why. I always felt like an imposter.
In March of 2016, the bottom fell out of my life and career. My inability to understand my talents and gifts — and my lack of internal value and worth — caused me to finally run out of luck. I lost a general manager role in a small St. Louis defense company, and that began a journey of understanding myself at a deeper level than I’d ever imagined possible. I was forced to reevaluate everything in my life; I came to understand not only what went wrong, but also what had gone right so many times to make me successful for so many years until it all fell apart.
In my book, The Imposter in Charge, I detail my entire journey from feeling like an imposter in all aspects of my life to the time that enabled me to rebuild my life based on my own desires, strengths, talents, and unique perspective. I realized after my awakening that the cause of all of my pain and suffering was that I never fully understood I was the scarce, valuable asset. Instead, I viewed the jobs and positions as the valuable assets. Once I changed my outlook, my entire life changed as well.
Recognizing Your Personal Genius
There are 7.7 billion people on planet Earth, and every single one is unique. Every person has talents, strengths, and gifts they can use in their life to drive growth in their circumstances. Let’s call this our “genius.” It’s up to each of us to put ourselves in a position to best utilize our innate genius to create what we want to create.
Each of us also has skills that fall into a category we will call our “weaknesses.” It’s also up to us to ensure that we do not put ourselves in positions where our weaknesses are required to be strengths for us to be successful. By taking the spray and pray approach to job hunting and simply saying yes to the first or best offer we get, we put ourselves in a precarious position prone to failure.
Here is a term I hope you get super familiar with as you shift from seeing the opportunity as valuable to seeing yourself as valuable: “return on investment” (ROI). Executives and business owners drive their businesses based on ROI. In order to justify a $50,000 spend, the investment must return a multiple — say twice, three times, or even 10 times the investment. When you feel like you are a commodity and the position is valuable, you’ll likely not understand the return you create for the employer.
But if you flip the script, and if you know yourself deeply — including your talents, gifts, strengths, and weaknesses — you can see that you are valuable and that ROI begins with deploying your talents in a role that will allow you to return extraordinary value. I would like to suggest that when you interview with a prospective employer, instead of matching your skills to their requirements, take leadership of the conversation and express your genius. Tell them all about how you’ve maximized ROI on your genius skills in the past and how you can create value for their company with your genius.
Emphasize Your Genius on the Job Hunt
I remember when I was looking for a mill operator at one point. The team that needed the mill operator was struggling to perform as a team. I was also looking for one of the existing employees to step into a leadership role, but they all shrank from the opportunity. I interviewed a prospect named Frank. He made sure I understood that he had zero mill operation experience, but every team he’d ever worked on became a tighter unit because of his leadership, work ethic, and people skills.
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Frank had an optimism and drive about him that I loved. I told him I would find him a spot, because I hire leaders. He never tried to sell me on the fact that he could learn the mills (which he eventually did). Frank knew his genius and made sure I knew what it was, too. He wasn’t going to force himself into a position for which he wasn’t suited, but he turned every question I asked back to his leadership skills to make sure he kept the spotlight on the skill set he possessed that would be an asset to the right organization.
I brought Frank in as an assistant to the existing mill guys, and a few weeks later, he was running the production team. Frank knew he was more valuable than the position, and I would encourage you to be like Frank. Shift your perspective from trying to get a job to recognizing you are an asset to the right organization. You have more power and significance than you might realize. The right organization will be blessed to have you, and you will create powerful ROI for that organization.
When you create an ROI and truly recognize your value, you’ll realize that you’re not easily replaceable. Sure, if you accept a position that can be done by anyone without thinking, you accept a certain potential for replaceability. However, when you use your mind to solve problems with your unique genius, you cannot be easily replaced. Instead of being a set of hired hands, you’ll be a brain, and brains that create a return above what they receive cannot be easily replaced.
As a small business owner, I am constantly on the search for talent. If someone wants a job, I will not simply create a job just for the sake of hiring them — but why wouldn’t I hire someone who communicates the problems they solve and commits to a return on the investment I make in them?
Communicate your value and know that you can create ROI, and you’ll realize that you — not the company or the job — are the valuable asset. You’ll become the most sought-after investment all business owners desire: a problem-solver who intends to add to the bottom line.
Don’t be someone who views themselves as an expense and just does as they’re told. Those people are everywhere. Be different. Be you and know that you are the asset — the most valuable asset in the world.
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Mike Kitko is a United States Marine veteran and Fortune 500 executive business leader. He holds an MBA and coaching certification. He lived with imposter syndrome and alcoholism for years, partially fueled by his childhood trauma and own self-inflicted neglect. He now helps other executive business leaders avoid collapse in their personal and professional lives.