NetWords Interview

If you never thought of yourself as a marketable product, think again. Effective marketing may be the key to your next great career move. Michael A. Goodman is a marketing management consultant who has successfully tackled tough strategic issues for some of the largest and best-known companies in the world. Now he has taken the same approach used by leading consulting firms with their corporate clients and applied the principles to one of the most important marketing challenges any of us will ever face -- marketing yourself to your next employer.

The details are in his new book, “The Potato Chip Difference: How to apply leading edge marketing strategies to landing the job you want.”

Read on to find out what Goodman had to say in a recent interview with NetWords about applying marketing principles to your job search.

ExecuNet: Most people don’t think of marketing and career development to be related. What do the two have to do with each other?

Goodman: When you think about careers and career development, we all perform a service for our employers or clients. That service is our product, and we market it, or sell it, to our employers. The employers are our customers, and they pay for the services we provide. They have the option of buying what they need from someone else, or even doing without it -- in which case we'll find ourselves out of a job.  So it seems that "career development" is really just a euphemism for effectively marketing yourself to your desired employer.  I'd say that career development and marketing are almost one in the same.

ExecuNet: What are some laws lessons in marketing that also apply to job search.

There are a few important marketing lessons that apply to the job search. The first is recognizing that all good marketing campaigns begin with a well-thought-out strategy. And all products and services need to have a clearly articulated positioning, so that people understand what they -- or you -- are really all about. A good positioning tells the target audience -- your employer -- why he or she benefits from having you on the case instead of someone else.

Of course, to market effectively, you have to really understand your customer's needs, values, beliefs, and biases.  And that means you need to do some kind of market research. That's another marketing lesson that applies to the job search. You need to understand a prospective employer even better than most of the current employees.

After that, I am convinced that each element of the traditional marketing mix -- product, price, promotion, packaging, communication, etc. -- has a direct parallel in a job search situation. And your strategy in each of these elements is driven by the positioning and the overall strategy you plan to follow.

ExecuNet: Should executives come up with a marketing plan for their job search, just as if they were a product?

Goodman: Well, I can't really tell people what they should or shouldn't do.  I would say that if they first deal with the strategy, then develop a marketing plan based on the strategy, they'll almost certainly get the job they want faster, easier, and with less emotional stress than if they follow some of the traditional approaches.

Sending out hundreds of resumes, calling every head-hunter in the phone book, answering ads from the local newspaper, and calling people to tell them you're out of work and looking for a job has never been a very effective or efficient process. I would submit that taking a more strategic approach makes a lot more sense.

Most executives would never consider running their businesses without a strategic plan. Why would they then consider a marketing project as important as a job search to somehow not need one?

Remember the great line from "Alice in Wonderland" when Alice asks the Cheshire Cat which path to take?  The Cat asks Alice, "Where do you want to go?" And Alice responds, "I really don't know. I just want to get out of here. "Well, then," says the Cheshire Cat, "any road will do."

It's the same with a job search. If you don't know what your objectives and strategies are, then it doesn't matter what you do. But if you have a goal, and develop a strategy and a plan, you can focus your efforts and have a much better chance of accomplishing your ultimate objective.

Think of your marketing plan as being the road map you’ll use to help you reach a predetermined destination. And recognize how much easier the trip will be if you navigate using the map, as opposed to randomly deciding which way to turn every time you come to an intersection. Your strategy, to continue the metaphor, is the route you plan to follow, perhaps highlighted on your map, based on a whole range of considerations and decisions that you make up-front.

ExecuNet: Is that the same thing as creating a brand for yourself?

Goodman: Not exactly. A brand is a promise. It's a promise that you'll deliver certain benefits consistently and reliably. If you don't keep your promise, you'll have a very weak brand. If your promised benefits are important, and you deliver on them consistently, then you'll have a strong brand.

The important thing to remember is that your brand is the promise that the customer received. It's in the customer's mind, not yours. If a prospective employer thinks he or she has been promised a world-class chief financial officer and you're anything less than that, your brand image is going to be devalued considerably. You didn't keep the promise that the other person accepted.

What that means is (a) you have to know who you are and what you can and can't deliver, (b) you have to understand what's on the customer's priority list in terms of what they're seeking, (c) you have to accurately communicate your positioning, or brand image, in a way that makes it clear you understand their needs, and (d) you have to deliver -- or even over-deliver -- on the expectation you've set in your customer's mind.

That's not a strategy. It's a marketing truth. And it applies 100% in a job-search situation.

ExecuNet: How do you go about creating your marketing plan? How important is research?

Goodman: The most successful marketing plans are invariably the ones that strike a nerve for the target audience -- your prospective employer, in this case. The more you know about the employer's critical business issues, the kinds of things the employer values, the culture, their image among customers and suppliers, and their expectations of key employees, the more prepared you'll be to create and launch a successful marketing plan.

Customer research is at the very heart of a good marketing plan -- whether for a product, a service, or Product You. And research for your job search is something you can't sub-contract or outsource. You have to do it yourself. You're the one who has to know the answers and be prepared to deliver what the employer wants.

How you do that depends on the company, the industry, your own resources and resourcefulness, and how seriously you take the assignment. I know people who have put in 3 or 4 weeks of intensive research, interviewed more than a dozen "experts," checked out another dozen websites, visited suppliers and customers, talked with employees or former employees (and even competitors), been to the library and poured through reference books, and even prepared a presentation of ideas for a prospective employer -- all before the first interview. 

If you think that's extreme, I would tell you that I don't know anyone who has made that kind of effort who didn't get an offer from the target company. You can decide how important research is, but I'd say it's at the very heart of a good marketing strategy. How can you possibly hit the bull's-eye in a targeted marketing effort without first looking at the target?

ExecuNet: What does all this have to do with potatoes anyhow?

Goodman: The title of the book -- The Potato Chip Difference -- is explained in some detail in the book, of course. The short answer is that you need to differentiate yourself from other job applicants in a meaningful and memorable way, just as a branded potato chip, like Lay's brand potato chips, needs to differentiate itself from other brands, or from commodity potatoes.

You need to create a marketable difference for yourself, so that you don't look like just another potato in a bin filled with potatoes. Instead you want to be a leading brand of value-added potatoes -- like Lay's potato chips -- and convince your target employer that you deliver a benefit they really want -- "... so thin, so light, so crisp, so delicious that nobody can eat just one."

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Last updated: Monday, November 03, 2008