Continuously in mentor journey I meet a lot of people who are in transition either to the next stage of their career or preparing to get into a different job. I have recently interacted with three where I found they faced a common problem and had to answer a fundamental question: “what is it that I am capable of?” But what I have found missing is the second part to that question that I think is even more revealing: “who is likely to value what I can bring”.


The difficult thing with being in transition is that you need to convince others you are capable of this new step. In functional organisations, if this means taking a promotion within the same function, then it tends to be easier if you have been “selected” as either a top-performer or part of a talent pool. The limiting factor though in this case being that you can only really be considered within the functional framework that the superiors have defined for you, which may also be limited by what tends to be their narrow view of capability.


It becomes more complex if one decides to either take a job outside the previous functional lines, or even in a different organisation or industry where it may both be a different technical area or even a different level. How does your previous functional experience show your credibility for this?


I have my own personal experience with this, having transitioned industries twice in my career, and changed functional groups within organisations as part of my growth. How do you even begin to do this in a way that does not lead you to take backward steps since the new people may be telling you that you need to “learn” first? How do you find the kind of opportunities that will play to your strength, and for which you will be valued?


Since a résumé or CV is the tool most used to identify who we are and what we can do to the outside world, I asked my mentees to think very critical how they project what they are capable of or competent in when they write it. The question I ask is whether they expect the CV to speak for them, or they speak for themselves through a package, of which a CV is but a part. And I ask them to look at a package as broader than what you could write in a CV.


In the complex world we are in, we are finding that tasks increasingly need people who can think and solve interrelated problems than perform straight-line functions. In this instance, a list of functional tasks on a CV will serve to only illustrate the work that one has done. Sadly, a lot of us assume the reader can then get a sense of the actual capability of the person. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth.





Packaging involves the painful process of asking the difficult questions of one’s potential value. I link this to a comprehensive understanding of one’s competency. Competency can get be proven through experience, which should not be limited only to that which one gains through a job function.


Let me make an example with myself in this instance and the lens that I adopt. I trained and worked as a Civil Engineer, and spent time also in economic development through working industrial development. Layered with experience is a career in a financial services organisation that has given me an understanding of both the process of the flow of money as well as the key issues involved in the financing of projects. Outside of work, I am involved in a lot of economic policy formulation work, which gives me interesting perspectives of how issues of development and financing interface with the economy. It would thus be foolhardy of me, for instance, if I only defined myself around my job function, when my overall competency includes this external work and networks through my non-job activities. I must package myself around this overall, this combination of experience and networks, and ensure it is projected in the way I act, solve problems and pursue business opportunities.


What makes this difficult for many of us is that we tend not to spend time thinking about ourselves that way, and allow modesty to interfere with an honest assessment of what it is that we have done and achieved. This is further compounded by the narrow focus of recruiters, who even in this complex world tend to have a very narrow defining of the competencies required for what they are recruiting for. But their narrow focus should not be a reason to understate one’s competence and limit the scoped of opportunities.


The first article that I read that gave me a hint of this was one focused on the value of competence for corporations. Written by C.K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel and published in the Harvard Business Review © in May-June 1990, the article entitled The Core Competence of the Corporation is one of the most cited HBR articles ever published, and highlights the importance of companies knowing what is it that they have in terms of capability rather than just what they functionally do or produce. Imagine if all of us spent time thinking about ourselves that way! We would not only have a better appreciation of what we are worth, but also a much wider view of the potential opportunities that may be available to us.


Packaging themselves and what they offer as value is what I advised my mentees to focus on doing as they seek new opportunities.



Article written by Khwezi Tiya

Article was first published here:



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