This article recently appeared in Harvard Business Review – Ascend (https://hbr.org/2021/03/how-to-market-yourself-as-a-job-candidate)
Stuck in a job you don’t like? Most candidates scramble to get hired without spending a lot of time thinking about what will really make them happy. Like a good go-to-market strategy for a product or solution, there is a lot that goes into defining, building, and executing a plan to find your dream job.
- Every marketing campaign starts with a clear objective, and when you’re looking for a job, this means understanding what your ideal role looks like.
- Once you know what kind of a job you see yourself doing, reach out to a mentor, a career counselor, friends, family members, or friends of friends — anyone who may be in role similar the one you are seeking.
- Next, do a SWOT analysis to understand what might differentiate you from your competitors and where you need to work to build your skills.
- Apply a personal branding strategy to show recruiters what you stand for, what your values are, and what you bring to the table. And lastly, set goals for yourself and tweak your plan as needed.
Do you hate your job? Maybe you accepted a role only to find it was nothing like you’d envisioned it would be when you started six months ago. Or worse, you took a job that you didn’t want out of sheer panic.
I don’t blame you. Unemployment is stressful, and right now, the need to get paid is very real for many people. It is this mindset that leaves most candidates scrambling to get hired without spending a lot of time thinking about what will really make them happy.
There is a better way to go about your job search, one that will save you time, years even, stuck in a soul-sucking role at a company you don’t care about or believe in. To find a job that aligns with your values and goals, a job that you may actually enjoy, you need a roadmap — or what I call a “marketing campaign” for your career.
Think of it this way: When an organization is launching a new product or service, they begin by creating a marketing plan. A marketing plan outlines, step by step, the actions and promotional activities a company will take to deliver that product or service to its target audience, as well as the results they hope to achieve as a result of their efforts.
If you think of your job search as a marketing plan with yourself as the product and the hiring manager as your target audience, you will approach the application process in a more organized way and be less likely to take your successes (and failures) personally. As a result, you will be a more resilient and persistent candidate — and the more persistent you are, the more likely you are to land the role you want.
In the following sections, I’ll break down each step of a traditional marketing campaign and explain how you can apply it to your job search.
Set an Objective
Every marketing campaign starts with a clear objective. When you’re looking for a job, this means understanding what your ideal role looks like. There are many factors to consider before you begin your search.
Work-life balance: Do you see yourself working a traditional 9-to-5 job, or would you like to be more in control of your schedule and have flexible hours? Is 100% remote your (new) thing? Or would you prefer to go to an office a few days a week?
Work orientation: Do you enjoy working alone or collaborating with people? How often do you want to interact with your manager or teammates? Would you like to remain an individual contributor? Be your own boss? Or is your goal to eventually manage and lead others?
Skills and experience: Are there things you’re good at, enjoy doing, or want to do as a part of your role? Are there skills you feel confident you can learn on the fly? Do you have a hobby that has the potential to be a full-time job?
Culture: Is it important that you work at an organization whose product, mission, and values you are passionate about? Or would you rather choose a big paycheck over a big purpose?
Keep in mind that you will spend the majority of your waking hours at work (90,000 to be exact), so think hard about your answers to these questions — but not too hard. Your goals, just like you, will change over time. So give yourself some grace here, and reassess what you want as often as feels natural.
When you put your answers together, you’ll arrive at the objective that feels good to you at this point in your life. For example, “I would enjoy working at a company that has a flexible work policy. I would prefer to work on a small team and do something that involves content creation at an organization whose mission I’m passionate about — ideally a nonprofit in the environmental sector.”
As you begin your job search, you can now weigh whether each decision you make brings you closer to or farther from your current objective.
Do Market Research
Before releasing a product, marketing teams “test the waters” by doing a little market research. This kind of research involves examining the viability of a product — usually by testing it out with a group of people representative of their target audience — and soliciting opinions and feedback from that group.
Some questions that market research aims to answer are: Is there a need for this product? Will there be takers? What’s lacking?
Take the same approach with your job search. Once you know what kind of a job you see yourself doing, reach out to a mentor, career counselor, friends, family members, or friends of friends — anyone who may be in a role similar the one you’re seeking. Talk to them to gain a solid understanding of what their day to day is like, as well as which skills you need to learn and which jobs you should be applying for.
When speaking with these people, you can say something like: “With the experience and expertise I have, would you hire me for the [name of position] role? Why, or why not? And if not, what would you say I’d be better suited for?” If possible, talk to multiple people in multiple companies to get a good perspective of how roles compare across organizations and industries.
These conversations will help you figure out which jobs you will enjoy versus those that seem like a good fit in theory, but in reality, will make you miserable. Their feedback will also help you understand how to strengthen your profile for the role you want and identify skill gaps before you apply.
You may receive contradictory advice from different people. That’s normal. If you are seeking feedback from people you trust, share what you’ve heard and ask for clarification.
Do a SWOT Analysis
After some research is conducted, most marketing teams perform a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The analysis itself helps teams understand what might differentiate their product from its competition, as well as which resources they have available to set their product apart and what roadblocks they may come up against in the process.
Identifying these four elements in the context of your job search will similarly help you take advantage of your opportunities and protect yourself from competitors and threats.
Think of strengths and weakness as elements that are specific to you and what you have control over — like having exceptional coding skills (strength), or poor communication skills (weakness). These are things you can showcase or work to improve over time. Think of opportunities and threats as external, or the elements that lie outside of your control — like another candidates’ experience. These are things you can’t change but can strategically work around.
To begin your self-SWOT analysis, ask, “When matched up against my ideal role, what knowledge gaps or weaknesses do I see?” For instance, maybe numbers aren’t your thing, but you need to understand data to do a job well. Or maybe you’re not the best public speaker, but you need great presentation skills to land your dream job.
Knowing this, are there opportunities for you to find a role at a different company with the skills you do have (your strengths) or to develop new competencies to get the job you want?
Finally, start to anticipate your threats. A threat might be a hypercompetitive field or a lack of advanced skills or experience that other candidates have. You need to know what these are when you’re applying to roles so you can prepare to explain and speak directly to them should you be called in for an interview.
Here is an example of questions to ask yourself when working out your SWOT.
This analysis can help inform your next steps, including decisions around who to network with, which courses to take, or which advanced degree to pursue if necessary. After completing it, you will be clear-eyed about what you need, what you have, and what you lack and should build on.
Build Your Brand
Once the SWOT is done, a marketing team knows what it will take for them to succeed. At this point, they use that knowledge to build a strategy around how to best connect with their target audience. This is done by developing a kind of “persona” for their brand, one that represents its purpose, mission, and values, and that tells a story that their target audience will identify with and connect to. You might recognize a few big name examples: Nike’s “Just do it” campaigns, Apple’s “Think different” slogan, Facebook’s infamous “Move fast and break things” attitude, and of course Tony the Tiger shouting the timeless catchphrase for Frosted Flakes: “They’re greatttt!”
These characters, visuals, and words are the driving factors behind how a brand represents itself to the public, and they are designed specifically to build trust and loyalty with certain demographics.
You, too, can apply a personal branding strategy to your job search by showing people what you stand for, what your values are, and what your “product” is (i.e. what you as a potential employee bring to the table). A lot of interviewing has to do with culture fit and personality. If you can help a hiring manager understand what you’re all about before you even meet them, then you can focus the majority of the interview process on your achievements and what you can contribute to their team.
Before applying to the jobs on your list, write a short paragraph that describes what you’re passionate about (your values and purpose), what you’ve accomplished so far (your story), and what you bring to the table (your vision). As you write, take a look at your SWOT analysis and consider how you can amplify your strengths, address your weaknesses, and set yourself apart from anyone considered a threat. Use the research you’ve done on your target audience to inform your tone (conversational vs. academic vs. professional).
For example, let’s say you are a social media coordinator who is passionate about space travel and you want to work at SpaceX or similar companies . You might write about how you first discovered space (a grade school field trip to the Griffith Observatory), why it excites you (Asteroids are a wealth of precious materials and space mining can lessen the strain on our natural resources.), people in the industry you follow (Elon Musk, Buzz Aldrin), and based on your experience and knowledge, what role you believe social media can play in amplifying the awareness around and importance of those kinds of missions (who wants to go to Mars for vacation?).
Now that you have your story, find ways to share it. In my experience, the best strategy here is to develop some attention-grabbing content that you can post online — but not just anywhere. Think about the target companies, industries, and roles you defined in your market research. Where do people in those spaces gather and engage with one another? As a marketing executive, I know that LinkedIn is the right social platform for me to share my mission and accomplishments, but if I were an engineer, I might choose Github, or if I were a graphic designer, Behance would be a better choice.
Your content could be a thought-provoking blog post, an original work of art, or even an inspiring comment on a hot-button issue in your field.
Your goal here is to start connecting with influencers in your target roles, industry, and companies. And when I say “connect,” I don’t just mean send a random invite, but really follow and interact with these folks. In addition to your own content, leave comments on their posts, ask questions, and like and share their work. Did they just win an award for an advertisement or a research they published? Would you like to know what went on behind the scenes to get there? Send customized messages, acknowledging what you admire or hope to learn from them, and if you have an ask of them, make it specific and be sincere.
Get Ready to Launch and Measure as You Go
Just like a marketing campaign has a target launch date and projected timelines to meet certain goals, so should your job search.
It’s helpful to set milestones from the start: Who will you network with first? How many roles will you apply to? When do you want to land a job by? Give yourself daily, weekly and monthly goals, and commit to measuring your achievements to help you stay on a track. For example, you may want to increase the number of new people in your network by one a day for the next two months and set a goal of engaging with others on LinkedIn or GitHub. Or you might want to submit 10 applications a week, leading to five interviews a month.
No matter where you are in your career journey, there’s always an opportunity to launch, or re-launch, your plan. This doesn’t mean an immediate rocket ship to the C-suite. Even if that perfect job isn’t attainable at the moment — based on your skills, experience, and background — what does it look like, and what’s the journey to get there? Maybe you have a few simpler short-term dreams, and a more robust longer-term one. Or maybe you need to test out different fields before you figure out where you want to land.
Even after all of this, landing any role is partially a numbers game and a bit of luck. But if you follow this plan, you are taking steps to be more intentional with your search. And in my experience, the number of applications you send out should go down and the percentage of interviews you get for the jobs that you actually want should go up.
Like a good go-to-market strategy for a product or solution, there is a lot that goes into defining, building, and executing a plan to find your dream job. What seems like a lot of prep work, will pay off in the long run. So invest the time upfront. It will make the launch and roll out that much easier, and I believe you will be happier for it.