Recruiting for marketing, I’ve come to realize that people who know how to market products and services well sometimes don’t know how to market themselves. If we look at your job search as a marketing campaign aimed at a target customer (the hiring company), you are the product (you could argue that you are the packaging and your work is the product, but I feel the packaging is the product too…so go along with me here). And what you do and say suggests a lot about the value of that product to the potential employer. Ultimately, you are your own brand and you need to think about messaging your value proposition to your customer.
In order to understand your value proposition, you may need to do some customer research. Simply, you should look at your performance reviews and talk to the people who have worked with you in the past, including customers. Get a good sense of what past managers and co-workers think about you. I know. I hate this kind of self-evaluation too. But if you want to create a brand based on true value, you need to do this.
Next, you need to look at how these competencies and talents add value. Let’s think of this as identifying your target market. Are there companies, groups, roles, people that value what you have to offer? If you aren’t matching your talents to companies that value them, you could be marketing to the wrong customer. Look at job descriptions on corporate career sites. Look at how these companies market to their customers. Look at their mission statements. It’s not hard to see what companies value.
Once you have your target market identified, focus on creating a value proposition. What unique qualities do you bring to the table and how could these companies leverage your skills? For example, if your strength is understanding technology customers in the enterprise space and you know this because your past managers have noticed it and you get excellent customer feedback and your peers come to you to get insight on this customer segment, you should be looking at companies that value customer insight. These could be companies that excel at customer insight or companies that have a need for people to come in and improve how that company communicates with customers (outbound) and understands customers (inbound). The place where your skills meet their needs and values is your value proposition.
It would be easy to put together a nice cover letter and resume focused on your value proposition to your target customer, but there are other things that you have to think of. When I started in recruiting, a resume, cover letter and references were often all a recruiter had to go on (initially at least) when determining whether they would speak with a candidate. The internet has changed this drastically in a couple ways. First, the digital resume has had an impact. With a few mouse clicks, a candidate can send their resume to a large number of companies and recruiters. Recruiting became a volume game and in order to survive, recruiters had to become picky about who they would spend their time with. With hundreds or thousands of resumes coming in for each position, the content of the resume became increasingly important. Candidates needed to create differentiators that ensured that they got the phone call from the recruiter versus some other applicant.
Second, the internet created an environment where all candidates are potentially more visible…especially the good ones. And because of this it’s become important to ensure that your image on the web is consistent with your value proposition. If it’s not, there’s a good chance that the recruiter will find out. For example, if you are positioning yourself as an evangelist of technology and you send your resume to a recruiter, that recruiter is going to google you. If they are not finding you out there, your value as an evangelist is going to go down. If you are visible in the industry, this absolutely works to your benefit. Two people that can tell you this works are Chris Sells and Robert Scoble. I doubt that either of these gentlemen was hired to Microsoft because they submitted a pretty resume. They understood their value to corporations, developed deep expertise in the industry and then created visibility by writing books, blogging and speaking at conferences. Basically this is the difference between saying what you do and actually doing it. We all can’t be like Chris and Robert, so many will have to rely on a resume to make the introduction, but don’t underestimate the value of a strong presence on the web. If you are an expert at something, you should be speaking or writing about it and other people need to see you as an expert. If you are a “strategic” decision maker at your company, a recruiter should be able to google your name and your company name and find references to your impact on your company and the industry (quotes, etc.). Chances are, if you post pictures of your last beer-fest or your dog dressed up as famous celebrities on your blog, the recruiter will find those also. The message here isn’t “don’t have fun”. Just make sure that when recruiters are googling you, they are finding your speech on emerging technology markets along with fun stuff. And that you understand how all of these images of you online impact your brand.
Finally, I think it’s important to think about all of your interactions with a company and recruiter and consider whether you are using these interactions to strengthen your brand position relative to other candidates. Some things that you do, or don’t do, really impact how recruiters think about your work as a product.
So if you are positioning yourself as someone who has deep customer insight, and in your job search the recruiter is your customer, you should be spending time thinking about how to approach the recruiter. Follow instructions on job postings and really listen to when the recruiter responds. One of the best things a candidate ever did with me in this regard was ask me how much contact from him was too much and how I would like to hear from him. Aside from his excellent functional skills (which I found out about during a phone interview), I immediately became an advocate for that candidate because he was truly focused on me as his customer. And because his expertise was in product strategy and customer insight is especially valuable in that type of role here at Microsoft, his approach to me as a recruiter strengthened his brand. Although I didn’t have a position for him right then (which is why he wanted to stay in touch), I marketed this candidate around to my fellow recruiters and he is now coming in to interview with another group.
On the flip side, I’ve had interactions with candidates that have weakened their brand in my mind. More than once I have had candidates apply for strategic positions here and then, in the course of conversation mention that they will take “any job at Microsoft” because the really, really, really want to work here. Really??? Any job? This really doesn’t make me feel like this candidate is selective in their career decisions (Microsoft? Yes! Any job? No!). Nor that they are in demand in the marketplace. I would rather hear that the candidate is looking for a position that will help them enter new markets, build their skills in X area, and that they would love to work for Microsoft in the right position.
With technology as a job search enabler, it’s easy to act without thinking about the impact on your brand. But it’s worth your time to consider how you brand yourself in the job market today, whether or not you are actively looking. Brand impressions last. And the work you do today could result in opportunities for you down the road.