Good news! There’s an opening for your dream job at a top company. Sobering reality: There are sure to be dozens of other candidates with similar qualifications — and maybe more experience — going for the same role. How can you stand out and land an interview? By demonstrating you have great ideas that could positively impact your potential employer. And one way to do that is by creating a value validation project (VVP).

A value validation project is a deliverable you create that can help you communicate to a hiring manager how you could specifically provide value to an organization if you were hired. (Blogger and career coach Austin Belcak is credited with coining the term value validation project.)

Examples of value validation projects range from surveying a cross-section of the company’s customers and presenting the findings in a slide deck to redesigning an app’s user interface to make it faster and more intuitive. So, just like a trailer creates excitement for a forthcoming movie, your value validation project gives a potential employer a sneak peek into what you would bring to the table.

Why use a Value Validation Project?

You may be wondering why you need a Value Validation Project, sometimes abbreviated as VVP, on top of the tried-and-tested methods of resumes and cover letters. After all, it’s extra work for you that no one has asked for. But think of it this way:

  • In reality, it’s a small investment. A few hours of unpaid work could unlock the door to a rewarding, long-term career.
  • You’re showing the company what they’re getting if they invest in you. Many hiring managers are risk-averse by nature and aware of the high costs of a bad hire. A strong value validation project  builds confidence in the manager’s mind that you will deliver on the promise of your resume.

Some may wonder how a value validation project is different than an interview assignment. The latter is a practical task set by a hiring manager in addition to a traditional interview to learn more about a candidate’s skills and work ethic and evaluate how their abilities align with the job requirements.

On the other hand, a value validation project is your work from start to finish — concept, research, content and deliverable.

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How to craft a Value Validation Project

Now that you know why a value validation project can be a job seeker’s secret weapon, how do you create one to help you land the job you want? Here are the main steps.

1. Research your prospective employer

Identify challenges, issues and new initiatives to build your project around. Potential sources include:

  • The company’s website. The newsroom section of the site can yield a wealth of information. Research the company’s business plan and new initiatives, such as expansion into new markets or sustainability projects.
  • Earnings calls and financial publications. If you’re applying to a public company, industry analysts can provide good insights into the organization’s most pressing challenges and opportunities.
  • Customers. The honest feedback you’ll get will help you to identify common user issues.
  • Current employees. These days, many employees talk shop and engage with their peers on social media channels like Twitter and LinkedIn. Look there for clues about the company’s present challenges and any new projects in the works from people discussing the company you’re targeting.

New to building a LinkedIn profile or just want to make your current profile better? Get tips in this post.

2. Find your areas of opportunity

Based on what you learn from your research, list problems you could help solve or opportunities you could help capitalize on, choosing one that highlights your particular skills that could be applied to the role you’re seeking.

Say you know the company is looking to expand. If you’re going for a marketing role, do a competitor analysis and add some suggestions on how the company could get more visibility. If you’re shooting for a sales position, come up with tailored pitches for the new target market.

3. Showcase your findings

Choose the most engaging way to present your project. A slide deck is usually the best medium, although a short video or an eye-catching website might work if you’re applying for a creative position. You need to convince the recruiter from the get-go that you’re the perfect fit for the job, so be concise, or they’ll lose interest.

Tips for developing a standout value validation project

Keep these pointers in mind as you create your VVP:

  • Don’t try to solve all the company’s problems. You’re a candidate, not a consultant, so don’t deliver a business plan or a broad-scale strategy. Better to identify a single pain point and describe how you would approach it. If you leave the hiring manager wanting to hear more, mission accomplished, you’ve won yourself an interview.
  • Understand what your target company is going to find valuable. This is where your research comes in. Remember that you want to produce work that’s of genuine value to the company rather than a solution in search of a problem.
  • Workshop your ideas. Get as much input from friends and contacts both in and outside of your area of professional expertise. Sometimes the best suggestions come from someone not in your field.
  • Use the job description to build your project. Use keywords from the job posting to show that you’ve understood what the role entails. For example, if the company is looking to “expand digital channels,” use that wording rather than the more generic “increase digital engagement.”

Value validation projects are a great way to get noticed by recruiters and hiring managers, who can get bored screening impressive but similarly worded resumes and cover letters. Creating a value validation project will take time and effort — but the payoff could be landing that position you’ve got your heart set on.