This post is about beginning to differentiate. It is also a critical first step as part of your planning process before launching into the jobs market. It is about increasing your chances of being noticed and will inform the way you present yourself later in interview. This is about finding what drives you and later focusing this into stories you will tell based on your research of the Hiring Company & Hiring Manager.
The Online Job Application Environment
First, a few words on the Job Market in general, as it is good to know what you are about to encounter. This section is not here to depress you, instead to impress upon you the need to think differently. To apply a sales mentality to your job process. Remember, this is about knowing your customer (the hiring company), your product (you) and finding your passion (your drive to provide a winning solution i.e. again, you).
The Internet & Recruitment
Consider the number of channels and the reach of online job postings;
- The Hiring Company Website Careers Section
- Social Networks – Linkedin, Facebook
- Jobs Boards – Monster, Indeed, and many others
- Industry specific websites – eFinancial Careers, and others
- Recruiter Websites – Robert Walters, Hays, Randstad, etc etc
- Membership Websites – RegionUp, etc
Of course this is just covering the outside applicants. Most companies, especially MNCs will be internally posting vacancies as well.
The internet has been both a boon and a curse for the recruitment industry. On the one hand as a candidate you will be able to source job opportunities easily and through multiple channels. On the other hand the recruitment industry has changed to the extent that the internet has if anything fostered a much more transactional selection process. There are of course exceptions and you will meet great recruiters on the way, who will advise and support you in your search, but assume these are the exception and not the rule.
The External Recruiter
(i.e. not onsite or employed with the hiring company)
Rare are the days when a recruiter will meet you in an attempt to better know you as a screened potential candidate for the companies they work with. Rather, they are now working on a handful of specific roles with a focus on candidates they perceive will have the highest chance of being selected, based on discussion with the hiring manager and the internal HR function of the represented company.
External recruitment is also a highly managed sales function which means that recruiters will have learned to focus only where their efforts are most likely to receive reward. This is increasingly so as most companies will no longer offer exclusive recruitment rights for roles unless the role is highly specialised in nature where a recruiter can offer access to an exclusive talent network. This means that regular repeatable jobs such as Java Engineers are more favoured than a so called “Purple Squirrel” roles, (a role which is so over specified by the hiring company that discovering the right candidate is like hunting for a needle in a haystack). With demands on regular deal flow and sales targets, the external recruiter is now more likely to specialise in roles where there is some volume in the market. The emphasis on the recruiter is less about meeting candidates and more about securing job flow and trying to secure positions to work on for companies. The battle between HR and the external recruiter about ‘who owns the candidate’ if the same applicant pops up in both databases is now a bane of the external recruiter’s professional life.
Simply put, a hiring company can save on external recruiter fees by self advertising and administering roles. Also to be frank a recruitment company is only ever as good as the recruiter companies work with. It is hard for these companies to really differentiate from one another in terms of their services and so a hiring company will diversify their hiring efforts if they are engaging external recruitment. It is often said it is a candidate driven market but that means for you the applicant that you will face a great deal of competition for any advertised role. The point is if a company is working with external recruiters it is likely they are spreading the love amongst a number of agencies. With less of the pie the individual external recruiter focus is enviably going to go where deal flow is highest.
The Internal Recruiter
(i.e. Onsite or employed by the Hiring Company – most likely an HR generalist)
Hiring Companies are arguably less dependent on external recruiters these days, even though internal recruitment functions, unless outsourced, are usually part of a generalist HR function that has it’s focuses across the entire business needs of HR. Internal HR are often more transactional than external recruiters. This is a very general comment but in the majority of cases an internal HR function is a generalist function, which means that recruitment is just one of many functions they perform. They just do not have the time or necessarily the focus to effectively screen and search for candidates.
Focus and the Modern Day Recruiter
It is all about focus. The modern recruiter will have access to their candidate database, the pool of fresh candidates derived from a job advert and in some cases from modern mass candidate profiling centres, who will produce lists of prospective candidates to a brief and in some cases screen these too. That’s a lot of CVs to sift through. It is the same for the internal company recruiter. They will not therefore be looking in fine detail, they want to grasp the essence of you and your experience quickly to qualify you in or out for the next phase of screening. So it is vital you develop immediately an attitude of differentiation. Do not assume that your profile will be diligently read through or understood. You have to grab attention and stand out.
The Perfect Candidate
Increasingly in this digital and competitive world there is a belief or rather a demand from Hiring Managers that they can find the perfect ‘plug & play’ candidates. This is partly again due to the internet but also the pressures of business and business targets. There is no longer the luxury for most roles of bringing in a candidate who can be developed into their role, unless this role is itself a junior position where allowances will be made. That said, look at how many junior roles these days ask for relevant experience. Increasingly, the hiring manager or business wants someone who can “hit the ground running” with immediate business impact. Bear this in mind.
What does this translate to? Tighter hiring briefs, for example I want to see candidates from my top 5 competitors. This immediately defocuses candidates with real potential, not only to do the job but to be successful, simply because they may not have a company on their CV or because skills and experiences within an industry are missed or misunderstood on a CV. It is also about quickly shifting through those mountains of CVs. You have to stand out.
Starting to stand out against your competition
So as established, you are likely to be up against hundreds of other CVs for any widely posted or advertised role. However, few will actively seek or know to differentiate. This is where you can gain an advantage.
Look at company sales presentations. Ask the top four companies in any industry to come and present to you. I would put money on the fact that you will see four very similar presentations; talking about the companies, their services and scope, their credentials and experience, all within their own corporate language.
Few will tailor their presentation to you based upon prior research. I guarantee hardly any will have tailored their language and approach to yours. How many will have spent the time to try to understand your needs prior to the meeting. How many again will have undertaken any Social Selling prior to meeting you in an attempt to learn more or show initiative, indeed to stand out from the pack.
It is the same with CVs. One after another you will see the same things. Here is one of your first chances therefore to differentiate when applying to a job posting which contains very little information about the hiring company or hiring manager. You have to do something at this stage in your CV and Cover Letter to raise yourself above the pack.
You will only have a handful of opportunities to lift your profile and yourself above the crowd. You have to be able to recognise and deliver in these moments. Remember, this is no guarantee of success for all the reasons noted above, but if you do you will raise your chances I promise you.
Taking every opportunity to Differentiate
So how to begin to differentiate? For this I suggest a change of mindset and language in how you approach your CV and how you think and speak about yourself.
If you are not familiar with Simon Sinek the visionary and motivational speaker, you should uncover his “Start With Why” process which explains why some leaders or companies are so inspirational compaired with others. Here is a link to his TED talk on starting with Why and his “Golden Circle” model, I suggest you check it out;
The point is that most people will talk about themselves in the context of ‘WHAT’ they do and ‘HOW’ they do these things, rarely ‘WHY’. Think about that for a moment and then think about that in the context of your CV and job application. Does your CV currently read like a list to you?
A list is factual, functional, lifeless. A list is WHAT. If your CV does read like this now it is an indication that you are also currently thinking in terms of WHAT you have done in the past. WHAT and HOW carry no emotion, no passion, no sense of how you would be within a role.
Someone who communicates in terms of WHY they are in a role or function, immediately conveys someone who does more than just their job. The reader of this CV will be drawn in, because to have a WHY is to have a deeper connection to your role or function, precisely because you have clearly thought about it. You have connected to those elements that touch you personally enough to have developed a philosophy, indeed a passion for what you do. For Hiring Managers, passion and initiative are like gold dust. They set you apart.
Not only that, we all prefer to meet with interesting people right? Look from the interviewer’s perspective; someone who has articulated themselves from a WHY perspective should indicate an enjoyable conversation is there to be had with that candidate. Sure there are plenty who can do the job, but how many live it and will take it with minimum management to the next level? Break your skills or previous job functions into their component parts and find what sparks of creativity you can and then begin to build on these.
This is a vital process because your application is needed to screen you for interview. Most interviews, (though not all!), will be centered on your work experience building up to a discussion of your suitability for the role you are interviewing for. Which candidate is most likely to win? One who only presents their roles or one who also speaks to their motivations and passions, learnings and achievements. I suspect the latter, as this profile will be immediately more engaging and will demonstrate the creativity of the writer.
This process will also transform your performance at interview and most likely at work as well. You should find it easier to speak about yourself and your experiences because now your speaking will be transformed with a sense of dynamism because you will speak with excitement and animation. By injecting your thoughts on what a function is all about or how you would execute a role or when you took something or someone to the next level, you are already beyond a formal job interview and now into a passionate conversation about something you believe in. Having stories to fall back on in the interview will also help you manage your nerves.
So having found your WHYs, you have another way of differentiating by effectively showing how you might execute the role you are applying for through your passion and ‘philosophy’. This is a powerful way of getting the recruiter or hiring manager to represent you or visualise how you would be in the job respectively. Already you will have lifted yourself above the pack.
Find your WHYs
So let’s revisit the list of the previous blog and focus now on your WHYS.
What has been your journey so far?
- What is your WHY?
- Your mission statement or philosophy. A paragraph or short set of bullets that best describes you. Think in terms of an elevator pitch, what would you say that passionately conveyed an essence of yourself if you had no more than a minute with someone you were keen to impress.
- What do you care about passionately, what are you best at, what got you into your current industry?
- Storytelling is the essence of sales. You are here to promote yourself. The best presenters, salespeople and speakers are able to convey their concepts through storytelling – what are your stories? WHY are these important?
- Why did you get into your field? By chance or design? If chance did you learn to love it?
- When did the lightbulb turn on for you? Has it always been there? why? if it came later, at what moment did you reflect you had become expert in what you do? If you are new to work or aiming for a dream role, what motivates you and how do you see the role you are going for?
- What have you learned that you would pass onto others?
- What would you say to your younger self? How have you helped developed those around you? How would you, if given the chance, manage a task or function and why?
- It’s good to speak about mistakes, after all there is no better way to learn. Remember there is no shame in failures, why did you fail? What did you learn and how have you effected change? How does this relate to the role you are going for?
- What do you dislike?
- Identifying dislikes can help you identify your strengths and passions.
- What have you accomplished?
- No better way to demonstrate capability than through your successes in similar or previous roles and functions. These could be stories from other fields, experiences or life in general, as long as they have some baring or insight in terms of your capability to do and grow in the role you are applying for.
- What is your work Philosophy
- What makes for a successful person in your function?
- What has your experience taught you about your role, how you might manage others, what processes work and why?
- Who has had an influence on you and why? Professionally or personally. Who are your role models and why?
Making your WHYs work for you
Get comfortable with thinking and talking about yourself in positive terms. If this is not within your nature, focus on the story telling when you think about good things or achievements you have experienced in your career or life. Have an armoury of stories you can use within your CV, Cover Letter and later interviews. Be authentic, be human, be relevant to the type of role or function you are applying to. Remember this is about showing something of what makes you tick, what motivates and excites you. It is also an insight to your likely execution of the role as well as an insight to your other qualities as a person. Ask your fiends or partner to help you or to help hone and focus your initial thoughts if you become stuck or want to find better ways to express your points. You can role-play these in a safe environment which will make the whole process seem more natural. Also revisit and revise those initial descriptions and bullet points until they are precise and snappy.
Spend some time to write these thoughts down and to revise your CV with these principles in mind. Do write down your bullet points which pull out 5 or 6 statements which best describe you and your highest work or life achievements in the context of the type of role you will be applying for. You will sharpen and change these over time and for each application, but get them down in a word document you can access and use as the basis for your future applications. Not only will this save you time later on, but it will give you a resource you can fine tune and develop which will allow these points to become even more on point and powerful. Like cooking a sauce you will reduce the ingredients to amplify their impact and meaning.
Congratulations! You are on the way to developing a great CV and summary information to help you with focused emails and cover letters. There are many great resources online for those wanting some guidance on writing a winning CV, as such I will probably not focus on this topic unless asked, save to say, keep your points short and punchy, to the point. Maximise your language and use powerful assertive phrases. Think about the elevator scenario, you have to grab the reader quickly and assume they are scanning, so focus on your opening statement about yourself and put some love into your bullet points, as it is these that will likely win you the interview.
Until next time; Be strong, be positive. This circumstance is not you and it won’t define you.
“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you” – Oprah Winfrey