What's Your Line?

Many moons ago there was a television show called What’s My Line?. While long gone from the television line-up, the show’s model still serves as a lesson for people at any stage of career management and in all economic environments.

The premise of this quiz show was that a panel of famous stars would take turns posing questions to a mystery contestant in order to guess the contestant’s occupation. The longer the panelists were stumped, the larger the reward for the guest and the greater the laughter from the audience as they watched the guessers squirm.

While the stakes were low for the quiz show’s contestants, this is far from true in the real world of career management. Having people guess at what you want in your career, or projecting a trite or elusive career message carries a risk that compounds--while the odds of a successful outcome shrink. There is certainly no humor in witnessing that spectacle.

Who’s Quizzing Whom?
Seekers desperate to secure their next position often take the route of broadcasting their scripted words to anyone willing to accept their resumes, phone calls or rote elevator pitches. These words get repeated time and again as the seekers “network”, hoping that they will be recommended to a legion of others. These seekers also often ask for tips on which occupations, organizations, career arcs, etc. they should pursue.

This lack of specifics about the seekers’ preferred organizations and roles can seem quite elusive to the listener. Patient listeners may accept seekers’ resumes, while expressing regret when they cannot offer suitable “hot leads”. Listeners with an abundance of patience may choose a more productive alternative by posing What’s My Line? type of questions to the seekers, such as:

  • Which particular organizations are you pursuing?   
  • What specific role do you want to play in these organizations?  
  • What do you see as your chosen future career path?

Unfortunately, when referrers and employers feel the seekers are asking “Who do you think will want me?” questions, these sources can feel stumped and hesitant about making referrals for seekers who are so unspecific about where they would best fit. 

I say this often, but it is worth repeating: A focused and targeted career management message to a prime prospect is far more appealing and effective than a broad blast.

Flipping and Targeting the Broadcast
Wise career seekers who have defined their chosen paths are able to flip the game from: What’s My Line? to: Here’s My Line…(and here’s why I have chosen it).

This kind of focus maximizes the payoff to the seekers, both in the short term and career-long. Choosing a well-researched, clearly defined career goal that is articulated and delivered with confidence wins out every time over any mass market resume broadcast. People who know what particular roles they plan to play within particular organizations find it easier to get referred to the deals they are after, often in a most straightforward process.

Some seekers may settle for the continual process of lobbying folks to look at their resumes and play What’s My Line? with them. I think that’s a losing strategy. Career management that is focused on "Here’s my line and here’s why you need me" is a far more rewarding game plan.

“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”
--Yogi Berra