How to Differentiate Yourself in a Competitive Job Market

January 23, 2012

In a job search, if you are not differentiated you are not marketable.

A few years ago I was hiring for an open position on my marketing and communications team. Although I was bombarded with 200 applications, I personally considered the merits of every single candidate.

Very quickly, though, my eyes glazed over. Everyone looked alike. They all seemed to be saying the same thing. They even used the same clichés to describe themselves. Everyone claims to be:

  •  Creative.
  •  An excellent communicator.
  •  A problem solver.
  •  Highly motivated.
  •  Results oriented.
  •  Hard working.

Everyone, it seemed, described himself or herself in the exact same way. Had I changed the names at the top of each resume, it wouldn’t have mattered. Quite frankly, I felt as if I’d walked into a Baskin-Robbins store where the only flavor was vanilla. Everyone, it seemed, had bought the same book on writing cover letters and they even selected the same buzz phrases to use.

A prospective employer has no reason to hire you if you can’t differentiate yourself in a job search. Three ways to be different and stand out from the rest of the pack are:

  1. Know your competition. It goes without saying, but you will never differentiate yourself from others unless you know who they are.
  2. Create a unique elevator pitch. In 30 seconds, you must be able to describe yourself to a prospective employer so he or she takes an interest and wants to learn more about you.
  3. Blend your personal and professional lives. An effective brand is never one dimensional. You are a unique and multifaceted person, and your brand is a rich combination of a) who you are professionally, b) who you are personally and c) what you think and how you see the world around you.


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



To Be Relevant, Focus on Your Cover Letter

January 20, 2012

A resume is probably the most overrated tool in a job search. Yet it is the thing most people obsess on.

Here’s the harsh reality:  your resume by itself will not get you a job. In fact, it probably will not even land you a job interview.

Think of your resume as a reference manual and your cover letter as a sales brochure. The owner’s manual in the glove box of a new car won’t sell the car. Likewise your resume won’t effectively sell you.

A reference manual contains the features, or the basic facts describing a product. Your resume is your reference manual which contains the facts of your brand—where you have worked, the job titles you’ve held, the education or training you’ve received and other such items.

Your cover letter, on the other hand, is the sales brochure written to capture the interest of a hiring manager. Properly written, your cover letter will make your resume relevant to the specific needs of a prospective employer.

Your cover letter should talk about the benefits you offer, not your features. A one-page letter should paint a picture that helps a potential employer visualize the benefits of having you as part of the team.

You’ve probably obsessed long enough on your resume. It’s time to create a compelling cover letter that will really sell the brand hidden beneath the features listed on your resume.


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

To Be Relevant, Convert Features into Benefits

January 19, 2012

Good sales people know the difference between features and benefits. Knowing the difference often separates those who make the sale from those who concede defeat to a competitor.

Likewise, effective job seekers know the difference. Sadly, though, most people looking for a job focus only on their features when they should be talking about the benefits they offer.

So what’s the crucial difference?

  1. Features Tell. Features are the plain facts, the list of items on your resume that describe you. Features are bits of basic information about who you are—your previous job titles, the responsibilities you carried and the education or training you received.
  2. Benefits Sell. Benefits are features that have been converted into relevant information. They describe why a feature is important.

To convert a feature into a benefit, begin by asking So what? For each feature, ask: So what? Why is this information important? How is it relevant? Why should anyone care about that?

Converting a feature into a benefit can seem overwhelming, but it’s simply reframing a conversation so you are talking from the perspective of an employer.

Never throw out a feature and then leave it to a prospective employer to make the right assumptions about why it is important. You must describe how the feature will actually benefit him or her. As you’re talking about benefits, you’re actually making promises. In effect, you are telling a prospective employer, “Here what I can do for you.” That gets attention.

Think about how you are selling yourself. Do you consciously convert features into benefits?

While your resume probably focuses more on features, your cover letter provides an opportunity to bring to life the benefits of your personal brand.


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

Career Transition, Blog Posts and a Presidential Hug

July 7, 2011

Three months ago I learned that my job at the American Red Cross would likely be eliminated.

Nationally, the Red Cross has been undergoing a massive, top-to-bottom reorganization that will affect every person affiliated with the organization. The restructuring will reduce expenses and increase revenues, all with a focus on keeping the mission relevant in a rapidly-changing environment. To their credit, our national leaders have openly shared the unfolding changes via e-mails, online videos and frequent conference calls.

Anticipating that my position would be among those eliminated by the end of the summer, I shared the discomforting news with my wife and family. Then, with the clock ticking towards the start of a new fiscal year, I launched an under-the-radar job search. I first revised my resume and LinkedIn profile. With the full understanding and support of my boss, I shifted my networking into a higher gear and sent e-mails to a couple dozen strategically-placed contacts. I was encouraged by their immediate offers to help.

Prior to launching the public phase of my job search, I developed personal business cards, a career-highlights brochure and an assortment of collateral materials to use when the appropriate time came. 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 »

Effectively Selling Yourself in a Job Search

December 15, 2009

Good sales people know the difference between features and benefits. Often that makes the difference between making a sale or conceding defeat to a competitor.

Likewise, effective job seekers must also know the difference. That knowledge often determines who gets an interview and ultimately who snags the job offer.

Sadly, most job seekers focus only on features when they should be talking about benefits. So what’s the crucial difference?

Features Tell. Features are facts, the list of items on your resume that describe you. They provide basic information — Who you are. Where you’ve worked. Dates you were there. Job titles. Accomplishments. Education. Community involvement.

Benefits Sell. Benefits convert features into relevant information. Benefits describe the value that a potential employer might find in one of your features. A hiring manager is always asking questions such as — So what? How is this relevant? Why should I care? What can you do for me?

Features and benefits are both important. To be effective, though, you must lead with benefits and then follow up with features. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hidden Value of Job Hunting During the Holidays

December 10, 2009

It’s tough looking for a job in December. I’ve been there, and I know it’s not fun being in a job search during the holidays.

Right now, I personally know at least three dozen people who are between jobs. Though they’ve remained positive during these stressful times, it’s very easy to become overwhelmed with fear and negativity. Few employers are hiring in December. The economy is still bad and who knows what the future holds. On top of that, personal finances are likely strained during this season of materialism and consumerism.

On the other side of the coin, though, the holiday season can actually be a deeply meaningful time for job hunting. Done rightly, December can be a time of renewal and rejuvenation as you anticipate all the good things awaiting you in the coming new year.

Here’s my advice to anyone feeling trapped in a holiday job search:

  1. Spend quality time with family and friends. A stressful career transition can refocus you on life’s true priorities—family and friends. Surround yourself with people who truly care about you and your well-being. Let them know how important they are to you.
  2. Reconnect with your existing network. Update your professional contacts on the progress (or lack of) you are making. Remind them what you’re looking for. Suggest simple ways they can help. Look for ways to express gratitude for things they have already done.
  3. Make new friends. The holidays are a good time to network and meet new people at parties, religious services or other social events.
  4. Rethink your strategy. From time to time, we all need to think about what we’re doing and why. For me, nothing works quite like sitting alone in a coffee shop. I can clear the clutter in my mind, filter out distractions and experience a surge of creativity. The change of venue gives me a fresh perspective. Read the rest of this entry »

Three Things to Ask for When Networking

October 27, 2009

When looking for a job, you’ll find most people want to help you. They just don’t know how. It’s your job to tell them what you need.

In planning for an upcoming networking meeting, here’s an idea:  Have objectives! In other words, go into the meeting knowing what you want to get out of it. It’s not very difficult if you hang your requests on these three pegs:

  1. Feedback. Get the other person’s input on your resume, cover letter and job search strategies. Seek feedback on market conditions and other areas where the person has expertise or knowledge.
  2. Names. Ask for names of other individuals who might be helpful in your job search. Perhaps the other person will offer to introduce you to the new contact. Such introductions are especially beneficial. If you are going to contact the person directly, make sure you have permission prior to using someone’s names as a door-opener when introducing yourself.
  3. Follow-up. Ask the person if you can stay in touch. Who could deny such a request? Then, by all means, find ways to follow up. I’m dumbfounded by the number of people who look at a networking meeting as a one-time interaction rather than the beginning of professional relationship. You can stay connected via LinkedIn, e-mail, a handwritten thank you note, an in-person follow-up meeting or some other method of keeping the person updated on your status.

Look for ways to give something back. Any good relationship is always interactive and ongoing. Those who only take and never give back will never be successful networkers.

Those who view networking as a short-term means for getting a job will find the experience shallow and burdensome. However, those who see networking as a way of life—a way of staying connected with the world—will be rewarded in unexpected and inmeasurable ways.

Who Are You?

September 15, 2009

—Defining who you are during a job search

Flying back from Phoenix, I was troubled because I hadn’t been “on my game” in a big job interview.

A major HMO was trying to recruit me for a senior executive position. On the surface, it seemed like the ideal job. The salary was excellent. The title would have looked very impressive on a business card. The responsibilities would have expanded my professional portfolio. I even liked the people I met with. So why didn’t I feel better about the trip? Where was the disconnect?

I searched for answers, and as I got quiet with myself, the reality became obvious:  I had no passion for that job. My heart wasn’t in it because the job responsibilities did not represent who I am!

At my core I’m a marketing professional. I love marketing. My degree, my experience and my heart are all anchored in marketing.

So what was I doing in Phoenix? Well, earlier versions of my resume were misleading. Don’t get me wrong—I hadn’t lied or deceived anyone. The problem was that my resume was too accurate and factual. It led people to make wrong assumptions about who I was. You see, my resume accurately listed the departments for which I had been responsible—marketing, planning, business development, physician services, medical staff recruitment, real estate (as in medical office buildings) and managed care.

Some of those areas—like managed care—were very hot items in the health care industry so recruiters were very attracted to those elements in my portfolio. I suddenly realized that my resume was so accurate that it was actually misleading. It failed to position me for who I am and who I wanted to be. I rewrote it to focus on my core passion—marketing. In the list of responsibilities, I refrained from using the term “managed care” and instead talked about how my portfolio had included building strategic alliances with business partners.

I honed my resume, cover letter and key messages to focus primarily on marketing. I then developed a professional profile (and an elevator speech) that met these criteria: Read the rest of this entry »

My Personal Marketing Plan

September 8, 2009

You will never marketing anything more important than yourself.” My university professor paused for effect as he scanned the small group of us who were working on our master’s degree in marketing.

His comments caught me off guard. Quite frankly, I thought I already knew marketing, yet I’d never considered applying marketing principles to myself as if I were a product. My professor’s wisdom echoed in my mind, and through the years I grew to appreciate his sage advice even more.

Fifteen years later I stood before my own class of university students. With graduation approaching, these young people would soon be marketing themselves in a competitive job market, so I talked with them about applying marketing principles to their own job searches. I designed a tool for them to use in conducting a marketing audit on themselves. (This was a take-home assignment to be completed over spring break—the spiteful revenge of an instructor who noted that too many students skipped class on mardi gras to attend a sorority party.)

Later, when I lost my job as a marketing professional, I reached into my marketing toolbox, found that homework assignment and used it to develop a personal marketing plan for my own job search.

Read the rest of this entry »

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