Picture this. You meet someone new. “What do you do?” she asks.
“I’m an architect,” you say.
“Oh, really?” she answers. “Have you designed any buildings I’ve seen?”
“Possibly,” you reply. “We did the new student center at the university…”
“Oh wow,” she says. “That’s a beautiful building…”
Without trying — without blowing your own horn — you’ve made a great impression.
Now picture this. You meet someone new. “What do you do?” he asks.
“I’m a passionate, innovative, dynamic provider of architectural services with a collaborative approach to creating and delivering outstanding world-class client and user experiences.”
All righty then.
Do you describe yourself differently – on your website, promotional materials, or especially on social media – than you do in person? Do you use cheesy clichés and overblown superlatives and breathless adjectives?
Do you write things about yourself you would never have the nerve to actually say?
Here are some words that are great when other people use them to describe you – but you should never use to describe yourself:
1. “Innovative.” Most companies claim to be innovative. Most people claim to be innovative. Most are, however, not. (I’m definitely not.) That’s okay, because innovation isn’t a requirement for success.
If you are innovative, don’t say it. Prove it. Describe the products you’ve developed. Describe the processes you’ve modified.
Give us something real so your innovation is unspoken but evident… which is always the best kind of innovative to be.
2. “World-class.” Usain Bolt: world-class sprinter, Olympic medals to prove it. Lionel Messi: world-class soccer (I know, football) player, four Ballon d’Or trophies to prove it.
But what is a world-class professional or company? Who defines world-class? In your case, probably just you.
3. “Authority.” Like Margaret Thatcher said, “Power is like being a lady; if you have to say you are, you aren’t.” Show your expertise instead.
“Presented at TEDxEast ” or “Predicted 50 out of 50 states in 2012 election” (Hi Nate!) indicates a level of authority. Unless you can prove it, “social media marketing authority” might simply mean you spend way too much time worrying about your Klout score.
4. “Results oriented.” Really? Some people actually focus on doing what they are paid to do? We had no idea.
5. “Global provider.” The majority of businesses can sell goods or services worldwide; the ones that can’t are fairly obvious.
Only use “global provider” if that capability is not assumed or obvious; otherwise you just sound like a small company trying to appear big.
6. “Motivated.” Check out Chris Rock’s response (not safe for work or the politically correct) to people who say they take care of their kids. Then substitute words like “motivated.”
Never take credit for things you are supposed to do – or supposed to be.
7. “Creative.” See particular words often enough and they no longer make an impact. “Creative” is one of them. (Use finding “creative” references in random LinkedIn profiles as a drinking game and everyone will lose — or win, depending on your perspective.)
“Creative” is just one example. Others include extensive, effective, proven, influential, team player… some of those terms may truly describe you, but since they are also being used to describe everyone they’ve lost their impact.
8. “Dynamic.” If you are “vigorously active and forceful,” um, stay away.
9. “Guru.” People who try to be clever for the sake of being clever are anything but. (Like in #8.) Don’t be a self-proclaimed ninja, sage, connoisseur, guerilla, wonk, egghead… it’s awesome when your customers affectionately describe you that way.
Refer to yourself that way and it’s obvious you’re trying way too hard to impress other people – or yourself.
10. “Curator.” Museums have curators. Libraries have curators. Tweeting links to stuff you find interesting doesn’t make you a curator… or an authority or a guru.
11. “Passionate.” I know many people disagree, but if you say you’re incredibly passionate about, oh, incorporating elegant design aesthetics into everyday objects, to me you sound over the top.
The same is true if you’re passionate about developing long-term customer solutions. Try the words focus, concentration, or specialization instead.
Or try “love,” as in, “I love incorporating an elegant design aesthetic in everyday objects.” For whatever reason, that works for me. Passion doesn’t. (But maybe that’s just me.)
12. “Unique.” Fingerprints are unique. Snowflakes are unique. You are unique – but your business probably isn’t. That’s fine, because customers don’t care about unique; they care about “better.”
Show you’re better than the competition and in the minds of your customers you will be unique.
13. “Incredibly…” Check out some random bios and you’ll find plenty of further-modified descriptors: “Incredibly passionate,” “profoundly insightful,” “extremely captivating…” isn’t it enough to be insightful or captivating? Do you have to be profoundly insightful?
If you must use over-the-top adjectives, spare us the further modification. Trust that we already get it.
14. “Serial entrepreneur.” A few people start multiple, successful, long-term businesses. They are successful serial entrepreneurs.
The rest of us start one business that fails or does okay, try something else, try something else, and keep on rinsing and repeating until we find a formula that works. Those people are entrepreneurs. Be proud if you’re “just” an entrepreneur. You should be.
15. “Strategist.” I sometimes help manufacturing plants improve productivity and quality. There are strategies I use to identify areas for improvement but I’m in no way a strategist. Strategists look at the present, envision something new, and develop approaches to make their vision a reality.
I don’t create something new; I apply my experience and a few proven methodologies to make improvements.
Very few people are strategists. Most “strategists” are actually coaches, specialists, or consultants who use what they know to help others. 99% of the time that’s what customers need – they don’t need or even want a strategist.
16. “Collaborative.” You won’t just decide what’s right for me and force me to buy it?
If your process is designed to take my input and feedback, tell me how that works. Describe the process. Don’t claim we’ll work together — describe how we’ll work together.
That’s my list — clearly subjective and definitely open to criticism.
So, more importantly, what do you think? What would you add or remove from my list?
The way we describe ourselves is critical to making a good first impression, so let others benefit from your perspective in the comments below.
More from my Inc. columns:
(photo courtesy flickr user Shawn Econo)