Crafting Your Story in a “Check-Box” World

In a previous post I disclosed my personal career challenge of not being able to check a box that appropriately fits who I am and what I have to offer. This is very frustrating in a world that really seems to LIKE boxes! Knowing this, we need to be sure to CHECK the boxes when trying to communicate our value.

I have always had this problem, but it became most apparent when I tried to transition from sales to accounting. For example, in 2003 I went to an event, hosted by one of the Big 4 accounting firms, promoting woman and their careers.

At the event I mingled around the room meeting several great women throughout the day. I was coming to the point in my career change where I almost had enough credits in accounting to sit for the CPA exam. My next step was to find a way to get the hours of experience I needed in order to get certified, preferably at a public accounting firm. One woman I met that day worked for the Big 4 firm hosting the event. As I spoke to her, I went into my pitch about why I was moving into accounting and what I had to offer. The pitch probably went something like this:

“My name is Valerie Gonyea and I am currently getting my Master’s Degree in Accounting from Golden Gate University. I intend to sit for the CPA exam as soon as I have enough credits to do so. I am excited about going into accounting because I believe the relationship skills that I have built through my 10 year sales career will serve me well in my new career. It is my understanding that the combination of accounting and sales skills is unique and I believe that this competitive advantage will allow me to progress very far in my new career.”

She looked at me like I had 3 heads and said: “Well, I suppose you could go into auditing”

Now you have to understand that in public accounting there are two primary focus areas; audit and tax. BUT there are also several supplementary areas, for which I believe I might have been better suited, such as consulting, litigation support and risk management. But in her mind, she could only see me in the “auditing” box. She was a true check-box thinker.

I think that was the day I realized that I was in for an uphill battle in accounting. It seemed as though the industry was never really going to “get” me. The "competitive advantage" piece of my pitch came from my background in sales, to me it made perfect sense. But I wasn't talking to sales people, I was talking to people in accounting.

So what to do? The first thing I did was to stop using the "competitive advantage" angle and started presenting myself from the firm's point of view.

My pitch changed to something like:

“My name is Valerie Gonyea and I am currently getting my Master’s Degree in Accounting from Golden Gate University. I intend to sit for the CPA exam as soon as I have enough credits, so that I can then enter public accounting. The prospect of going into public accounting is exciting to me (don’t choke) because I know that relationships with clients are really important. Having spent 10 years in sales, I believe that a firm would appreciate my ability to communicate effectively with clients. I feel that I would be an asset to the firm as a result of my client relationship skills.”

Same basic pitch, but different.

I did eventually get into public accounting. I did my time..I got my audit hours....I got certified and.....I got OUT.

So for those of us who don't "fit" in boxes, but who need to get into a box for one reason or another, be sure to consider your audience. If your audience is comprised of check-box listeners (and you are very safe to assume this in general) then make sure you check the boxes! Don’t go off on a tangent to try to convince them of your special, unique talents….at least not right off the bat.

And, if by chance you happen to encounter a non check-box thinker, consider yourself very fortunate.

This content was previously published on

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