How to Be Relevant in a Competitive Job Market

January 17, 2012

In a job search, if you are not relevant you are obsolete.

Technology, ideas and even workers lose their relevance when they fail to provide value to the end user.

As a job seeker, you become relevant to prospective employers when you remember it’s all about them, not you. You may be proud of your degree, your experience or your community activities. Potential employers, however, will not share your enthusiasm unless they can somehow see how your credentials will make them more successful in their jobs.

Assume that a potential employer is selfish. He or she is not looking to do you a favor by rescuing you from the vast sea of unemployed swimmers. No, your next employer will only be interested in hiring you if you can contribute to his success.

Being relevant means that your resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile, interview answers and all communications focus on what you can do for THEM, not what they can do for you. Like it or not, it’s all about them, not you.

Three ways to be more relevant are:

  1. Know your brand. You must thoroughly understand yourself—the “product” you are trying to sell.
  2. Convert features into benefits. Remember, it’s all about them, so phrase everything in the context of why they should care about the information you share.
  3. Focus on your cover letter. This is your “sales brochure” where you talk to potential employers about their world, their success and how you you can help them win.
Remember, you are relevant to a potential employer only when you focus on what they need, not on what you want.


These ideas on personal branding were originally presented during two workshops I conducted for the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance. The sessions were attended by current and aspiring nonprofit leaders who came from across the nation for the annual Alliance Management/Leadership Institute, the nation’s largest leadership development and networking symposium for students, faculty and nonprofit professionals. —DH



Personal Branding — How to Stand Out in a Competitive Job Market

January 16, 2012

If you’re looking for a job, you face fierce competition. How can you stand out from the rest of the pack? What can you do? I have three words of advice. You must be:

  1. Relevant. If you’re not relevant, you are obsolete.
  2. Different. If you are not differentiated, you are not marketable.
  3. Findable. If you are not findable, you do not exist.

That was the premise of two workshops on personal branding I led this month for the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance. The sessions were mostly attended by university students who will soon be entering the turbulent job market. Hundreds of students, along with their faculty representatives, came from across the nation for the annual Alliance Management/Leadership Institute, the nation’s largest leadership development and networking symposium for students, faculty and nonprofit professionals.

Following is the structure of the workshop, and also the sequence of the upcoming blog posts where I will elaborate on my suggestions for personal branding.

1. How to Be Relevant in a Competitive Job Market

A. Know Your Brand

B. Convert Features into Benefits

C. Focus on Your Cover Letter

2. How to Differentiate Yourself in a Competitive Job Market

A. Know Your Competition

B. Create a Unique Elevator Speech

C. Blend Personal and Professional

3. How to Be Findable in a Competitive Job Market

A. Want to Be Found

B. Expand Your Digital Footprint

C. Share Your Content Online

I enjoy leading workshops and writing blog posts, not so much because of the wisdom I might impart, but rather because of the conversations that ensue. I learn from others.

Collectively we are all smarter than any of us individually, so I welcome your thoughts on any of these topics. Tell me what you think.

Are You Too Boring To Be on Facebook?

September 11, 2011

I‘m Facebook friends with a former radio journalist turned PR pro. She shares almost nothing on Facebook, saying, “I’d rather report the news than be the news.”

I don’t get it.

A relative of mine does not have a Facebook profile because, as she says, “My life is not interesting enough to share it with the rest of the world.”

You’ve got to be kidding!

I am privileged to know lots of people. They represent rich diversity of age, race, religion, politics, economic status, education and even personality. Yet, they all have one thing in common: Each has an incredibly interesting life and each has a unique story to tell.

In college I remember a guest lecturer looked across the room where a hundred or so of us had gathered. Decades later I’ve forgotten his name, but his words remain etched in my mind. He said, “The biography of every person in this room would be a best seller if written by a good writer who knows you well enough to tell your story.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Things I’ll Look for When Selecting the Next Member of My Marketing Team

March 1, 2011

Hypothetically, let’s assume I’m looking to hire a new member of my marketing team. In reality, my public relations manager will be leaving in a couple of weeks, so I actually am making plans on how I’ll fill the void created by her departure.

Wait, though, before faxing me your resume. (Do people still do that? I hope not.) I have been asked to delay recruiting until the expense budget comes into better focus. The hiring process is frozen, but while we await the spring thaw, let’s return to my hypothetical situation.

As I think about the importance of building a strong marketing team, I have already updated the job description. The social media revolution mandates new expectations that are reflected in several bullet points on the revised list of job duties. Of course, I’ll also be looking for someone who meets a minimum threshold of necessary skills, talents and experience.

Above and beyond that, though, I will almost certainly select someone who:

  1. Has an impressive digital footprint. Before calling someone in for an interview, you can bet I will Google his or her name. There are so many people looking for jobs that I cannot imagine interviewing someone who does not have an impressive amount of information readily available on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, a personal blog, an online portfolio, or some other searchable platform.
  2. Is well branded. I want to know what a person stands for, both personally and professionally. A good brand makes promises and I need to have some idea of what I can expect from anyone who expresses an interest in being part of my team.
  3. Is differentiated. Does this person stand out from the rest of the pack? Quite frankly, I won’t even notice someone who blends into the vast, beige-colored landscape populated by thousands of job seekers whose clichè-ridden resumes were shaped by the same cookie cutter. (See my previous blog post about using Facebook as a tool to differentiate yourself in a job search.)
  4. Is savvy with traditional media. The ideal person will have a good understanding of traditional media—TV, radio and newspapers. He or she will also have experience in proactively pitching good story ideas and in building strong relationships with people inside the news media.
  5. Is savvy with social media. The right person will have moved far beyond the initial process of setting up profiles on various social media platforms. He or she will have demonstrated an ability to a) listen using social media tools, b) have sustained conversations in social media and c) create content valued by others who are swimming in the deeper end of the social media pool.

Three years ago when I most recently hired someone, the criteria were somewhat different. At that time I relied heavily upon two lists. One described my expectations for individual responsibility and the other focused on team performance. Though I’ve added criteria, both lists are still relevant today. So, here’s my question:

If, hypothetically, you are looking for a marketing job, how would you measure up?

Giving Thanks for Clichés

November 22, 2010

I‘m thankful for clichés. They save me time because I can “copy and paste” them into any daily situation. They keep me from having to think deeply. They conserve creativity for some future time when I might need to be more creative.

Clichés are like an old pair of shoes. They’re comfortable, despite the obvious holes. They get me where I’m going, assuming I have a destination. They appear stylish, or at least they did years ago when they were new.

I like the way clichés cleverly coagulate the flow of communication. My favorite clichés fall into these three categories:

  1. Verbal clichés. People who speak in clichés think they are thinking outside the box. In business, clichés are like the leaves of autumn—everywhere. Even in church I’ll hear someone with the voice of angel offering up a trite prayer that sounds pious and impressive. I pray that God will find sincerity in the hearts of those who find comfort in worn-out phrases.
  2. Photo clichés. If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a thousand times. A nonprofit newsletter publishes a photo of a check presentation. A website shows photos of formally-dressed people who paused long enough at a charity event to “say cheese” in front of a camera. Facebook photo albums show groups of friends scrunched around restaurant tables, flashing plastic smiles and clutching their beverages of choice.
  3. Resume clichés. I’m beginning to think that 100% of resumes and LinkedIn profiles say exactly the same thing. If you’re planning to update yours, let me save you some time. Copy and paste this: I am a highly motivated, dynamic self-starter, results-oriented, hard-working, dedicated, team-player with excellent multi-tasking and communications skills. I have ___+ years experience in fast-paced environments. (You’re welcome.)

At the end of the day, when you boil it all down, I have never met a cliché I didn’t like. Never being content to let sleeping dogs lie, I won’t beat around the bush. Clichés sell like hotcakes. You may try to avoid them like the plague, but I think using them makes a person sound as cool as a cucumber. I get up each morning on the right side of the bed with a commitment to seize the day. Because today is the first day of the rest of my life, I will give 110%.

Have a nice day!

Quotes I Love

September 29, 2010

Quotations inspire me. They focus me. They motivate me.

I like the way an eloquent quote can elegantly reflect the light of resplendent wisdom. To me, each quotation has special value.

I collect quotes as a gem collector might gather precious stones. Like gemstones, quotes were never meant to be hoarded and stored in a dark, out-of-sight vault. Rather, they are most appreciated when shared and displayed for the enrichment of all.

If you also appreciate quotes, I invite you to meander through this collection of my favorites, categorized by these topics:

  1. Being Creative
  2. Planning and Goal Setting
  3. Being a Leader
  4. Learning, Teaching and Being Well Educated
  5. Understanding Life’s Transitions
  6. Marketing Effectively
  7. Achieving Success
  8. Creating a Compelling Vision
  9. Overcoming Adversity
  10. Chuckling with Yogi

How to Succeed in the First 90 Days

April 14, 2010

I know several people who will be starting new jobs this month. As the economy improves, I’m hoping the same good fortune awaits a couple dozen of my other professional contacts who are currently between jobs.

Starting off on the right foot is essential for ongoing career success. When I began my current job in 2006, I bought and read an invaluable book called The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins. Anyone making a fresh start would be well-advised to buy his or her own copy of the book and study it.

The book lists 10 things you should accomplish during the first three months in your new job. Within the book each step is discussed in detail, but for your convenience I’ve summarized those steps here:

  1. Promote yourself. Mentally break away from the mindset of your old job and think of your new one as a promotion that will require new ways of achieving success.
  2. Accelerate your learning. The learning curve may be steep. There will be so much to learn in your new environment, so do everything you can to quickly absorb what you need to know.
  3. Match strategy to the situation. Diagnose the business situation accurately and then quickly develop a customized plan of action.
  4. Secure early wins. You need a few early successes to build credibility and to create momentum. Early on, identify ways to create value. Read the rest of this entry »

10 Tips for Interviewing Success

April 7, 2010

Last week I was invited by a colleague to participate in the final round of interviews for a key position on her team. As I talked with the five finalists, I observed certain characteristics among those who interviewed exceptionally well. Afterward I jotted down a few notes that might be helpful to others who are preparing for a job interview.

First, be aware that by the time you are scheduled for an interview you have already cleared several hurdles. Apparently you said something in your cover letter to differentiate yourself from the herd of other applicants. The content of your resume indicates that you’ve met the essential criteria listed in the job description. Without question, the person interviewing you has already Googled your name to find any additional information contained in your digital footprint.

Congratulations! You’re on base and in scoring position. You haven’t yet crossed home plate, though, so here are my coaching tips. To emerge the winner, here are several items to remember:

  1. Be yourself. If you don’t feel comfortable “in your own skin” during the interview, that might be an indication that you won’t be comfortable in the job itself.
  2. Exchange enough information so both parties can make a rational decision about whether this will be a good match. Don’t think of the interview as “selling” yourself. Think of it as a first date where you’re just talking to see if there’s potential for a long-term relationship.
  3. Tell stories. Make them interesting. Make them brief. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Not Differentiate Yourself Using Facebook?

March 31, 2010

This week a headline on CNN grabbed my attention. It read, “Young job-seekers hiding their Facebook pages.”

My first thought was, “That’s pretty stupid!”

My second thought was, “If it’s not stupid, it’s at least naive.”

If you are looking for a job, you already have strong competition from other job seekers. Therefore, you need every available tool to differentiate yourself in a crowded job market.  Facebook can be a very effective tool for branding yourself.

The CNN article began with the story of a college student who wanted “to keep his personal life (hidden) from potential employers while applying for summer internships.” I’d like to remind that young person that there is no shortage of people applying for those same internships. So, what sets him apart from all the others? How is he special? How is he differentiated?

The 2.0 world we live in requires authenticity and transparency. Those who are inexperienced in branding themselves naively believe they can present themselves in a one-dimensional way. Read the rest of this entry »

What Is 2.0? A New Era Defined

February 17, 2010

We hear a lot of people talking about the 2.0 world we live in. Marketers refer to social media tools as Web 2.0. The titles of business books increasingly contain that magical number—2.0.

But what does “2.0” mean? How are things different now than they were before? What has changed?

For starters, let’s agree that the social media revolution has created an entirely new landscape—a 2.0 world. The changes are so profound that those who do not understand it will soon find themselves on the sidelines, confused and perhaps even angry that the world has passed them by.

The social media revolution is really not that confusing. The more we understand and embrace the changes, the more powerful social media will become. Here is my brief comparison of the differences I see between a 1.0 and a 2.0 world:

Let’s look at the nuances between the two. Read the rest of this entry »

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