Creating a Personal Value Proposition

From Mary Crane (, who conducts our 1L Etiquette Dinners. Some revisions provided by the CSO.

Bill Barnett, an adjunct professor with the Rice Graduate School of Business, notes, “Your personal value proposition (PVP) is at the heart of your career strategy. It’s the foundation for everything in a job search and career progression—targeting potential employers, attracting the help of others, and explaining why you’re the one to pick.”  (Harvard Business Review, November 2011)

Create a Personal Value Proposition
I’m a big believer that everyone must be able to articulate his or her unique value proposition. Students seeking a first job need to be able to describe the special talents that they can bring to a workplace. Junior employees need to be able to explain to their internal and external clients why they are uniquely suited to take on a challenging assignment that may propel their career forward. Even very senior professionals can benefit by clarifying what makes them unique. As retirement age approaches, this process can serve as an important first step to exploring what a senior professional could and should do once they no longer come into the office every day.

Following is a brief summary of everything you need to know to create your own personal value proposition (PVP):

What’s a PVP?
Your PVP should include a few sentences that clearly articulate who you are and how you can solve a particular problem.

With this in mind, start by focusing on four key areas:

  1. Identify your target – Know who needs what you have to offer.
  2. Identify your strengths – Clarify the strengths that you possess, i.e. the special talents that make you unique.
  3. Relate your strengths to your target – Don’t assume that anyone else will put two-and-two together. Clearly articulate how your strengths link to your target’s needs.
  4. Provide evidence and a success story – People, including your target, will remember stories long after they’ve forgotten facts and figures. A success story that highlights one of your personal achievements serves as proof of your talents.

(Key concepts from “Build Your Personal Value Proposition,” B. Barnett, Harvard Business Review, November 2011.)

Identify your strengths
Many of the new and established professionals with whom I work have a fundamental understanding of their talents. Those same professionals, however, often struggle to articulate what makes them unique.

You can start to clarify your strengths by gathering all of the positive feedback that you have received from instructors, letters of recommendation, performance reviews, client interviews, etc. This collection of information provides important insights about why others value you and your work. It highlights the skills, talents, and personal qualities that you bring to the table that others view as noteworthy.

Once you’ve sorted through this data, take the next step of actively identifying 10 to 15 people whose opinions you respect and ask them, “What is the single greatest value that I provide?” Record their answers without editing them. Collect the responses into a single document.

Next, sort through the comments that you have received and start to identify common themes. Rank the themes in order of dominance, from strongest to weakest. You may want to reconnect with your respected contacts (the same 10 to 15 people or a new group of people) to validate your findings regarding your strengths.

I think that you will find this process to be among the most rewarding ones that you will ever undertake.

To the extent that you feel uncomfortable asking others for their input, consider using the StrengthsFinder assessment tool ( For a relatively minor investment, the StrengthsFinder Center will spit out a report describing your top five talents.

I’ve used this tool in training programs, and participants consistently tell me that the report is an amazingly accurate accounting of who they are. If you’re like my clients, you’ll find that the report’s language will be immensely helpful in articulating what makes you unique.

Use your PVP in a real conversation
If you’re in an interview situation, wait for your target to say, “Tell me something about yourself.” If you’re currently employed but looking to advance, wait for the person you are meeting with to ask, “So what’s up?” Be prepared to respond with your PVP.

So, for example, a law student who knows that her talents include setting high goals for herself, quickly achieving them, and then moving on, might respond to “Tell me about yourself” by saying: “I pride myself on my ability to set tough goals for myself and accomplish them without much assistance. As an example, during my second year of law school, I stayed on top of my classwork and simultaneously trained to run a marathon. I plan to bring that same sense of focus and hard work to your firm.”

Once you’ve developed your PVP, be aware that everything you do and say will either enhance your PVP or detract from it. Make sure that your communication, attire, demeanor, and online presence is consistent with the PVP that you create.