Each of us has something unique, something that only we can provide, and which makes us attractive candidates to work in the employ of others. Much like a business providing a product or service to its customers, we all provide a marketable good. Also much like a business, value is created when we provide it well. But just what is this value built around?

Although we are often measured by the deliverable work we have completed, I suggest that the retained value is not built around the delivered work, but rather the ability to deliver.

The environment in which we do our work has a broad impact on the quality of work that will be delivered. An organization might have the best gear to help you better do your job or perhaps its managers are skilled leaders and can coach you to be more successful in a specific role or vertical. Then again, these features might not be there and an employee will work longer or more taxing hours for the same deliverable success. This reason alone highlights how important flexibility is. A more skilled person will be more valuable because they can deliver results in both environments, although the results themselves might not be the best measure of their value.

When someone graduates from college, they typically start to put together a résumé as the next step in their career. On paper, the measure of their value might at first appear to be the courses covered and the knowledge learned. Although a recent graduate might still remember much of the curriculum for their area of study, I propose that the real created value is the ability to problem solve within a certain area.

Perhaps I am biased as a student of Political Science and Philosophy who is now working in Marketing and leading a Business Development unit. My value was built around problem solving, critical thinking and persistence. Although the texts of Hobbes, Locke, and Roussseau might fade in my memory over time, my ability to process their work, draw real-world connections and express critical reactions still serves me today.

Much like a company whose unique value proposition is contained not by the goods it produces but by its ability to produce, a person’s professional value is similarly contained within their ability. Although a paper resumé creates a false sense of being measured by lists of experiences and proficiencies, much more realistic is the value measured by potential to succeed.

Whether you are evaluating a job applicant or applying for a new role yourself, understanding this distinction will help the right talent flourish in the right role. An inventory of experiences does nothing for a business. What these experiences do is to display how the more critical inventory of skills was put to use in the past. In a world of finite resources, converting inventory into value is at the core of what we do every day.