Want a Great Job? Think Like a Box of Tide

by Pam Lassiter

After an outplacement seminar I hosted, a man approached me with a story. The new drug his company was working on didn't make it through the third phase of clinical trials, so he and his colleagues were looking for their next jobs. Though he and his colleagues all had PhDs, they were surprised by finding themselves out of work. And they were not at all used to taking initiative to find jobs.

Image courtesy of Austin Kirk
Photo courtesy of Austin Kirk

"The most striking line in the whole day," he said, "was when you told us that we are like boxes of Tide on the shelf. It shocked me at the time, but now I get your point. It's not about me."

I have worked with executives changing jobs for decades, and the sincere claims that everyone makes are all true and heartfelt: "I'm good at strategy. I like running teams. I have excellent communication skills." To an employer, however, these sound like the claims on the boxes of laundry detergent. Every box of every brand is saying, "New! Improved! Whiter." How are you different?

It's not about you!

This may sound like a showstopper. But this works—not thinking about yourself totally changes the game and the outcomes. Instead of talking about yourself...change the conversation to reults, i.e. profitability for the company you are interviewing with. This is simple product marketing—you are talking about how to deliver future benefits for them, not pushing your own skills. Employers become interested in you quickly because they can't afford not to be.

Think about yourself as a product. Then answer these three questions. Your answers will change how you think about yourself and the results you get in your job search.

  1. Who's my market?

    Vendors, competitors, and customers of your current and former companies are markets who will immediately value you. This is where to start networking and looking for referrals. Put these companies on a target list for networking. For example, if you're a financial analyst in a consumer goods company, the vendors that sell to your company (packaging companies, perhaps?) and some of their customers (drug store chains?) will be much more interested in conversations about cost reductions than in simply screening one more applicant for a job.

  2. How do I identify their needs and how to make them profitable?

    If you're going after your current industry, it's pretty easy. You're already there. What keeps your own CEO up at night? What keeps all of the competition up at night? Bingo. You know their needs and are familiar with how to create your message. Taking it to the next step and understanding how you can increase their profitability will take some guessing about the future, but you can do this. Successful leaders do this all the time. You want a career in a new industry? Without market research, you're like Tom Brady trying to play soccer. You clearly have talent, but won't get drafted for the major leagues in soccer without some changes. Read the journals of the new industry you are targeting, join their professional associations and go to meetings, follow their blogs, talk to friends who work in it. Before long, they will be scouting you.

  3. How do I get them to pick me?

    Change your vocabulary to change your results. To be plucked from the virtual shelf, especially when you're changing industries, use the vocabulary of your future. Job postings are a rich source of good vocabulary words if you are unfamiliar with the language of the industries you are targeting. Write your resume using this new vocabulary. One of my clients has two resumes: one positions her perfectly to be on the board of a public company and one positions her to lead an Internet venture. Both are based on her experience and are honest and ethical, but the key messages are 30% different. You can repackage yourself using the vocabulary of each market you are selling to and still be totally accurate.

With this new focus, you demo one product feature that is always successful: you can talk in the language of your target market about their clients and their profitability. You are the new, improved, differentiated box of detergent, the product they just have to have.