have been blogging about about the qualifications of advanced degree holders and how they should be approaching a job search. However, job rejection is commonplace and it can be a very frustrating experience. We seem to be doing all the right things. We choose the job we want. We create a list of companies we want to work for. We tailor our resumes to each job opening. We network online and offline, but still no results. So, what is the problem?
I believe that finding a job is a matter of the unique positioning of skills, and proper addressing of weaknesses. We usually think about how we have the skills required for the job but not why a company should pick us vs another candidate. We focus on why they should hire us but not as much on why they shouldn’t. In short, we look at the job search from our perspectives while we should be thinking about the employer’s perspectives.
Structured thinking from another person’s perspective is something that copywriters do very well. They write sales letters that resonate very well with customers and sell. In a way, crafting a good job application is very similar to the process of writing a good sales letter. If you can clearly show how you can solve a problem for an employer and demonstrate that you are the best person to do it, you get the job. So let’s see what top-notch copywriters can teach us about job search.
Target Audience: If you want to sell something, it is extremely important to know who the customer is. Only then, you can successfully market and sell your product. In the same fashion, if you want to sell yourself or skills, you should know who will be buying it. Ask yourself what job you are looking for? Who can offer you that kind of job? Research your desired job, its responsibilities, requirements and make a list of 20 or so companies you want to work for. This allows you focus and the ability to target your message and positioning. I have explained the overview of this process in another post.
Problem: Problems are what create jobs! Companies hire people to solve problems. You need to understand what a company’s problems are before you apply for an opening. Research the company and read up on their progress. Use your contacts in the company to understand as much as you can about the problems they are facing. If you can show a company that you can solve a problem they are struggling with, you’ve got yourself a job. So don’t skip this step and research the company.
Find as much information as you can. See how their problems are related to the opening you are targeting. Your application should illustrate your understanding of their pain. People want to remove their pain, even more than they want pleasure. Pain is the best motivator. Use this knowledge to your advantage. This will get you the employer’s attention instantly. Bring their problems to the fore and you will notice a marked change in the attention factor!
Solution: Demonstrating your understanding of the problem gets you the attention of the employer. This is a very important first step but it does not automatically translate into your getting the job. You need to convince the employer that you are “the solution” to their problem. This requires a careful positioning of yourself as the perfect solution while addressing the employer’s possible objections. You need to think about this from the employer’s perspective.
Positioning: The research you have done about the company’s problem comes handy in your positioning. You know their pain point. Ask yourself, If I were having this problem what exactly would I be looking for? What is the perfect solution to this problem? How can someone is this position contribute to solving the problem? What skills does she/he need to have to be able to do this job? What experiences strengthens a candidate’s claim that they can solve the problem? etc.
I would even go further with the research and try to find other companies in the same industry or even other industries that have faced the same problem. Find out how they have solved this problem. Equip your positioning with the knowledge of the ways to solve the problem. This information will also be extremely useful during your interview.
Unique selling proposition: Now that you are done with the proper positioning, ask yourself, why am I “the” solution? Why should that company hire me but not the next person? What is my unique selling proposition or in other words, what makes me stand out from other job seekers? If others can claim the same things I have, maybe my unique selling point is not so unique after all. Go back to the drawing board and start again until you find something unique about you that employers care about.
There is one awesome way to address this. Your research on the company’s problem and possible solutions can be golden in making you stand out from the crowd. If you can offer a well-crafted solution to employer’s problem, you immediately stand out. Do the research and prepare a project that highlights your solution. A lot of people won’t put the time into doing a project before getting hired. However, this can be one of the best investments in your job search as it can make you stand out from people with even more experience and qualifications. Even if that company doesn’t pay attention to your project, you can still publish it online (e.g. on Linkedin) and this will score you a lot of karma points with other employers. It further demonstrates your expertise for doing the job and is unique to you. It’s just the perfect way to show hiring managers that you are the best candidate.
Biggest Objections: This is the second step of your positioning. Don’t skip this or you will find yourself applying to jobs without success while seemingly doing everything right. Immediately after considering all the reasons for hiring you, people think about all the reasons they shouldn’t hire you. Your job is to relieve the hiring manager. Don’t wait for a prompt. Don’t try to hide the weaknesses. Bring them up and squash them. If you lack experience, you need to address it. If you can’t justify it strongly enough, think about compensating for it by doing relevant projects or even volunteer work.
Risk Reversal: If the above-mentioned process doesn’t differentiate you enough, there is still one thing you can do to significantly improve the employer response rate, i.e. risk reversal. Find the risk that stops the employer from hiring you and reverse it. If the employer is not taking risks in hiring you, they are much less picky about it and you don’t have to be dramatically different. One way of doing this is volunteer work or internships. But you should have a strategy and make it clear that you will not work for free indefinitely.
Case Study Strategy: One strategy that makes it worth doing even unpaid work for a pre-defined amount of time, is the case study strategy. This is specially useful if you don’t have experience in a specific job. Your volunteer work has to have a specific timeline to prevent abuse from employers. Structure your experience into a case study that can provide proof for your job search. A case study is a fantastic way to ensure future employers about your related experience and can clearly show how you can add value to a company. It can further give you contacts and recommendations. A case study must include the problem you solved, the target company, address the biggest objections of future employers (e.g. experience) and demonstrate the results you achieved for the employer mentioned in the case study.
At this point you might be thinking that this is a lot of work. While I agree that you might need to work hard, I see this as investing in myself. If you are an advanced degree holder, you have been investing in yourself for quite some time during your education. Don’t stop now. This should be the last step in this stage of your personal investment. Think about it as another semester of hard work after grad school. The difference is that it pays handsomely if you do it right. You’ll get the job you want and it saves you a lot of frustration in assuming no progress with your job search.