Guest Blog: Distinguishing Your Brand

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As a candidate in a competitive job market, it is critical to distinguish your brand from that of your competition.

I've known many managers and executives who cringe at the word, "marketing." You have to get past this, and be a strong, passionate advocate for your personal brand and how it is positioned in the market. For each person you meet with, it is critical to understand what their needs are and how they expect the position you are interviewing for to address those needs.

As I have been on both sides of the interview table this year, I wanted to share a few areas where I have seen candidates rise or fall.

Job Description

Early in my career, I thought job descriptions were carefully thought out and clearly reflected the needs of the company. My last employer started moving toward utilizing a standard job description for a given position title. These standardized descriptions generally scratched only the surface of the hiring manager's needs.

In my current job search, I had a company rewrite the job description midway through the interview process. I had never heard of companies using the interview process almost as an informational interview to assess their own needs. But in talking with friends, it sounds like this isn't as uncommon as I thought.

So, how do you rise above this challenge? I think it is critical to clarify your understanding of the requirements, goals and expectations for the position early in the interview - and with each interviewer. Otherwise, you run a strong risk of trying to "sell" attributes and accomplishments that the interviewer really doesn't care about, while the employer is left with an unmet need.

Tailoring Your Pitch

As a candidate, I always ask the recruiter, HR official or hiring manger for a list of the people I will meet. It is really rare that I haven't been able to find background information on someone on Google or LinkedIn. The more you know about who you are meeting with, the more you can tailor your marketing pitch to their needs. My experience is that a "one size fits all" pitch results in very few job offers.

Understanding someone's background also helps you know what sorts of questions to ask. Having background information on your interviewers gives you the opportunity to distinguish yourself and your questions from those of the competition.

Hiring Manager versus 'Influencers'

It seems that many companies like to hire based on consensus. You'll have multiple rounds of interviews and meet with a wide variety of decision makers and influencers. Each interviewer will seek to figure out, "Do we like you?" and, "Will you fit in here?" Personality is a critical part of an interviewer's assessment - a vital fact that many candidates seem to forget.

As a hiring manager, I short-listed candidates based on skills and then assessed personality and fit with both the team and the overall organization. I also had candidates meet with colleagues including direct management, peers and others. Although I was the sole decision maker, I had to consider whether it was worth using any political capital if one of those influencers actively disliked a candidate.

Meanwhile, I myself played the role of "influencer" in hiring decisions made by certain colleagues. In those instances, I was predominately interested in personality - whether a candidate is the sort of person I want to work with. This can be an awkward position for the candidate, because the influencer generally has no accountability for the hire but can derail the hiring process.

Influencers tend to ask basic, HR-type questions. Believe it or not, many candidates flounder on questions like, "Why are you leaving your last employer?", "What do you know about the company?" and "Why do you want to work here?" I've have been shocked to hear senior level candidates give answers like, "My current boss is a terrible person," or reveal they know nothing about the company other than it is close to their home.

So, at a minimum, go through the company's Web site and understand its structure, products, competitors and challenges. Prepare at least three minutes of talking points and focused questions as a means to open up dialogue and build rapport with the interviewer.

Rob Gordon (a pseudonym) is a senior professional who has held management roles in product development, business management and technology.

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