“Today, it’s not simply who you know or even what you know. It’s what you know and who knows you know it.”
More prescient words were never spoken, given today’s fiercely competitive employment landscape. Who said it: Socrates, Einstein, Peter Drucker? Good guesses. It was actually Paul Marchildon, circa 1984. In the 1950s and 1960s, nepotism and cronyism ensured you could snag a job with your brother-in-law or ride the coattails of whomever you sucked up to enough. Today, that behaviour is largely limited to Mad Men episodes, while you’re stuck with your merit, personality, and networking skills. How can you use them to rise above the competition?
Forget the Rules: Why Should Employers Hire You?
If you’re in the job market today, you’re probably not getting great intel. Institutions love to tell candidates the “rules” of job searches: one-page resumes, please. No photos. Bullet points. Lose the personality. For my part, I don’t care if your resume is 30 pages long as long as it is 30 pages of great content. Show employers what you know in a way that appeals to them.
I coached a young woman recently who wanted to enter the PR business. Just out of university, she was having a hard time breaking through the clutter. I asked her, “Have you ever considered writing a press release about yourself?” A resume is fine; it’s completely standard. Which means it sits in a pile with a thousand other variations on standard. The press release was brilliant, irreverent and engaging; it demonstrated her ability, as well as her creativity. She broke through and got the job.
Sometimes, you have to stray from the norm – because you aren’t the norm, right? There’s a reason prospective employers should choose you. So, show them what it is. Identify your “USP,” or unique selling proposition: How do you stand out? You never sell a product by showing that it’s just like every other product. Today, you’re the “product.” You’re the brand, and you need to sell “you”, and how you’re different.
Living Your Personal Brand
You have to know what your personal brand is, and live it consistently throughout the whole hiring ordeal … uh, I mean, experience. In other words, be yourself, and be your best self. Taking it one step further, ask: “How will my brand interact with, and contribute to, the company brand?”
Early in my career, I was a marketing manager for Club Med. There was a young woman who wanted – badly – to work there. We didn’t have a job opening, but she didn’t let that stop her. She’d send her resume, follow up, and make calls for months. She never let go. If she were this motivated to score the job, imagine how engaged she’d be if she got it!
When I was given a budget to hire an assistant, guess who I called? The way she approached the situation – wanting a job where none existed and remaining completely undeterred – made up my mind. I was convinced her personal brand, which exuded passion, persistence, creativity, fearlessness, and an inability to take “No” personally, would add value to Club Med. And it did.
Be “On” Throughout the Process
Employers evaluate you at every step of the process. You did a great job with your resume? Fine – but do you fall down with a lack of follow-up? If I’m hiring a salesperson, for instance, does this indicate that you’re good at the lead-up, but can’t close the deal? ABC, right? Always Be Closing – as important tip for job candidates as it is for salespeople.
As a marketing agency, whenever we were bidding on business, it wasn’t just the proposal and the live presentation in the boardroom that won the day. It was the three weeks leading up to it. Who asked the most intelligent questions? Who was the most fun on the phone with the client? Who kept promises and met deadlines?
Likewise, as a candidate, everything you do and say is an indication of what you’ll be like to work with. So, if you were late to an interview, if you were curt with the receptionist, if you let your competitors ask all the good questions, that all stands out with prospective employers. You need to be great, and you need to be consistent with your personal brand, from beginning to end.
It’s what you know, and who knows you know it. It’s getting potential employers to know you know that’s the trick. Living your brand throughout the process, highlighting your USP, and, if necessary, doggedly pursuing an opportunity you know is right for you when mere mortals would’ve given up – that’s how you stand out. Brothers-in-law and brown-nosers need not apply.