In my last "Tooling Up" column, I described a number of rules that apply to both professional corporate marketers and job seekers. These rules derive from one of my favorite books, Selling the Invisible by Harry Beckwith, which lists hundreds of "immutable laws" that marketing types should heed as they launch new products or services into the market. While reading these, I noted the parallels between Beckwith's material and the pointers that technical types need to successfully "market" themselves into a job in industry. As I said in Part One, it doesn't matter whether you are selling widgets or interviewing for a job, you are affected by the same ground rules.
Inspired by Beckwith's materials, I've developed them further to show how they apply to the technical professional.
Don't Strive Only for Perfection--Sometimes Very Good Is Best
I'm a perfectionist, and I've always worn that label as a badge of honor. I recall how much sweat I put into my first personal marketing materials when I was leaving college. My first resume took weeks of fine-tuning to complete, and when I finally mailed out 300 copies of what I was positive was the best resume ever written, it felt like a huge load had been lifted from me. But guess what: The darn thing only garnered two postcards in response!
In Selling the Invisible, Beckwith describes an important marketing rule that will make the perfectionist cringe. Quite simply, the author's belief is that "very good" is often better than "best." Here's how he prioritizes his marketing plans:
1) Very Good
3) The Best
4) Not Good
5) Truly Awful
Can it be true that a "very good" marketing plan is better for your job search than "the best" plan? Trust me on this one. ... The most significant reason for creating a job search plan is to get a job, and the "very good" plan that can be developed and executed in a few weeks is far better than the "best" plan, which might take months to implement. As Beckwith observes, the path to perfection often leads to procrastination. And in the job search business, getting there first has some merit.
Failure Feels Miserable But It Is a Crucial Element of Success
No fear is more widespread among professionals than the fear of failure. As a career counselor, I talk to individuals at all levels in organizations about what has made them successful and what has interfered with their careers. Time and again I hear that fear of failure holds people back. But I also hear that overcoming that fear can propel the top people forward.
Remember: The world championship baseball team has to win only 57% of its games; Thomas Edison "failed" in thousands of experiments to find the filament that would properly illuminate his first electric light bulb. Let's face it ... failure is a part of succeeding, and if you are regularly shooting down your ideas because you are worried that they may fail, you are only costing yourself wins.
Every goal, even getting a job, is a numbers game. Telephone interviewees sometimes "fail" as many as five or six times before one of these first-pass interviews leads to the opportunity for a face-to-face meeting. Job seekers who get the best jobs generally go on three or four of these face-to-face interviews before an offer is extended--the rest of the offers go to other applicants. Yes, people are failing in order to move ahead!
So, the next time you get an idea about a new way to do some networking, don't shoot it down. It may succeed or it may fail, but either way you are one step closer to your goal.
First Impressions Are Critical ... But so Are Last Impressions
People tend to remember the first and last of a series. Ask someone to remember a series of numbers, for example, and they'll likely recall the first one and the last one but forget some of the intervening digits. As an executive recruiter, I always try to get my candidates into one of those slots on interview day--either the first one in or the last one out the door.
Product marketers recognize this principal; you can tell by the kinds of advertisements that go into the inside cover and the back of a magazine. They pay premium prices for that special exposure! When it comes to interviewing, however, I'd pay an even larger premium to be assured the last position. ... The last person in for an interview is always remembered more clearly by the company's hiring managers. The other candidates often tend to be compared to this last interviewee, who has a definite edge if he or she did their job and presented well.
If you can pull it off, give yourself the opportunity to make a great last impression.
Have a Healthy Distrust for Anything That You Are Confident About
One of the biggest mistakes that you can make in a job search is to blindly follow the "sacred rules" that others have laid down ahead of you. For example, although "human resources people are a waste of time," and "a two-page resume is best for an industry job," may sometimes be correct, is it worth staking your success on these rules?
I remember an important presentation that my recruiting firm was asked to give at a major chemical company that was preparing to enter the biotech arena. Three VPs were seated across from me at a big conference table, and the human resources manager was to my left. Throughout my pitch I spoke almost exclusively to the three VPs because I had convinced myself that the HR person was not going to be a part of the decision-making process. Sadly, when I got the call that we were not selected as the front-runner, it was from the HR manager, who told me that she didn't feel comfortable with the personal chemistry.
In his book, Beckwith points to studies that determine people are actually correct only 85% of the time when they say they are absolutely 100% certain of the answer. That missing 15% is a big enough window to think about the next time you're getting ready to say that you are absolutely certain of your answer. As Beckwith puts it: "The bumper stickers are right. ... Question authority, even your own."
Show Your Warts
Admitting you have weaknesses is a terrific way to land a job. That's right. ... Showing a few warts isn't always a bad idea. In fact, it can make you appear to be a real, honest person.
When Cleveland State University researchers came up with two fictional job candidates, both with identical credentials, they set up a very important but subtle distinction between the two of them. One candidate had a perfect reference letter. The other had the same shining reference but with an additional comment included: "Sometimes, John can be difficult to get along with."
Who did employers most want to interview? Good old John, despite his occasional interpersonal challenges. The conclusion was that the "wart" made the entire letter believable, and John was then seen as a real person. This is something to think about the next time you pressure your colleague into writing only raves in her reference letter!
Focus, When Combined With Passion, Wins the Day
Companies have found for years that the key to market success is a fanatical focus on just one thing. Consumers tend to remember companies who are specialized, and whose niche provides them with a unique edge in the market. Selling the Invisible uses Domino's Pizza as an example of this. When people think of fast, reliable delivery of pizza, they think of Domino's. Tom Monaghan, Domino's founder, describes the firm's early success as deriving from "a fanatical focus on doing one thing well."
So, when you are headed into an interview, you should remember the secret of a fanatical focus. Show your passion, and combine it with a presentation that identifies all the problem solving and creativity that you can bring to the job as a result. While companies talk about the need for generalists, when it comes right down to it they get all worked up over candidates who can also deliver a fanatical focus.
My last two columns have shown you 12 critical rules of marketing, as elaborated in one of the most important books written on this subject. And although I wouldn't urge you to rush right out and buy Selling the Invisible (it is indeed focused on the corporate marketer), the points that I've made here ought to be valuable reminders that whenever you enter the job market, you are entering into a selling process.
So, the old expression "job shopping" isn't really correct, is it? When you are "shopping" you have an entirely different attitude than when you are in the selling mode. If you are shopping for a job instead of properly marketing yourself into a job, you need to switch gears or you may be shopping for a long, long time.
Look for more from the marketing front in future columns!