By Barbara Poole
Here we are in January. It is traditionally the time of year when bookstores display huge stacks of books on weight loss. In a “what’s up with that deal?”, cookbooks are selling like hotcakes at this time of year as well. What is happening here is that two ends of the spectrum are going on at the same time, and one end can very well cancel out advances made at the other end.
In a similar fashion, the traditional push at the New Year is to satisfy career goals. There are lots of great books and materials to help in the search process. But, much like the Dr. Doolittle character called Pushmi-Pullyu we’re experiencing an employment paradox. It is a moment in time when millions of lofty career aspirations are being cancelled out, since industries are drying up faster than someone can post their resume online. What does all this mean to you?
Searching for a career in the same way that conventional wisdom dictated even a year ago doesn’t cut it anymore.
Financial services, auto manufacturing, real estate construction are just a few of the victims of the economic collapse. What will you do if your industry dries up? Many workers are returning to school as a way to mark time while searching for their next position. Still others are lost in a downward spiral of staring at the online boards in the vain hope of finding employment in the same old way, hoping against hope that buried deep in the listings they will find a spot that suits them perfectly.
Who succeeds in this new employment economy? People who understand product marketing, and learn to position themselves as a desirable commodity in the new world of work. Here are five tips for making product marketing work for you:
1. Understand your current industry.
To completely evaluate your industry means researching not only news stories, business web sites, and seeking out the words of experts. It also requires you to know about pay scales for positions comparable to yours, as well as geographical regions the industry gravitates to, and projected economic factors that could slow or propel the industry forward. You can also do some Informational Interviewing. Talk with people in new industries as well as your own to get their views on who’s hiring, who’s firing, and the employment picture going forward.
2. Figure out the themes in specific positions within industry sectors.
For example, if you are studying health care institutions, you will hear lots of talk about satisfaction scores, and the competition for patients’ voluntary admissions to obtain procedures. It becomes obvious that high levels of customer service are going to be necessary to lead healthcare into the next decade. Start-ups? Lots of quick decision making. Manufacturing? Leaner business processes and green energy efficiency. You get the picture.
3. Evaluate where you stand.
This is usually where the getting stuck part happens: OK you say, that’s very interesting, but I don’t have any experience in any of these things. But, dear Employaid Member, odds are you do, in some shape or form. This is the time to grab a coffee and tally up your significant career achievements. Next to each accomplishment, list out the reasons why you were successful. Was it great skills, a super mentor, a supportive team, technical ability, and so forth. Look at each situation in the way a hiring manager would be reviewing your resume: from the outside in. Now compare where you stand against the trends you’ve gathered in your own industry analysis. The skills you “own” make up your personal portfolio. These are your golden tickets, yours to leverage outside of your current industry. In areas where you know you need to get stronger, begin an all out campaign to acquire the skills you need in the shortest amount of time. (Subscribe to industry journals, read at least one major news source daily. Enroll in a fast track certificate program. Join a professional trade association. These are but a few ways to gather the knowledge that you need.) Why the rush? Savvy marketers know that audiences are fickle, and the darling of one moment may be yesterday’s news. While you are off marking time in school, the world can turn upside down, and you’re back to square one. Yes, college without a doubt provides a platform for success. However, in the new economy, speed to market is key.
Success in the New World of Work comes to those who can most quickly migrate their skills to new industries.
4. Package yourself for success.
When I talk with people, I often ask the question, “If you were a box of Cheerios, how would you market yourself?” That’s a tough one for many to answer. It requires a person to go beyond what they need in a position to think about what an employer needs to hear to get to the next step: your particular brand coming off the shelf and into the cart. The process gets a little trickier when applying for jobs in different industries. What will you highlight for a position with a start-up, vs. a position with an established health care provider? What will you feature on the front of the package for each variation in position or industry? It is the same reason there are Honey Nut Cheerios, Whole Grain Cheerios, and so on. Variations on a theme are called line extensions by marketers. It is all about taking the same product and changing it slightly to attract a different consumer. How many line extensions can you create for your next position? How easily will you be able to repackage yourself for your next move?
5. Never stop marketing yourself.
Once upon a time, life was very predictable. Get to work at 9:00 AM. Punch the clock. Head to the cube. Take a break at 10:30. Get the direct deposit. Take a week’s vacation in June, when the kids are out of school. For those who remember Bob Dylan’s words in the song, “The Times They are a Changin.” Legacy companies who offered the veil of security are becoming extinct. Company loyalty in the way our parents understood it to be is a thing of the past. The skills you’ve acquired in your current search are ones that need to stay in play on a continuous basis. Much like the “Ready Go!” bag developed by Homeland Security, developing a Ready Go! Career Strategy is essential for success. One thing is for sure, is the fact that careers as we have come to know them have forever changed. The average life span of employment is now 2.5 years. Odds are you’ll be migrating to a brave new world before you know it.