It has been a no-brainer for Marion Reinson, a marketing strategy and web development consultant, to help out friends who have lost their jobs. She figures that marketing a company and marketing a person are based on pretty much the same principles.
When you’re looking for a job, she says, “you’re the product. You’re packaging yourself for sale.” This means differentiating yourself, not by a list of the last 20 years’ worth of jobs, but by highlighting the characteristics and skills you have that a company needs.
Job candidates who are asked to interview can assume they were called for a reason, probably because of skills that are identical to those of the candidate slotted for the next interview. “If people have identical backgrounds,” says Reinson, “you have to ask what you can do to differentiate yourself.”
Reinson speaks on Saturday, May 6, at 8:30 a.m., at a meeting of the Career Networking Group at St. Paul’s Church on Nassau Street in Princeton (www.stpaulsprinceton.org).
Reinson knows as well as the next person the tried and true aphorisms about job search, but she doesn’t always agree with them. For example, take the old saw: “Don’t say too much, or you may be jeopardizing your chances.” Yes, maybe. But on the other hand, every time you interview you are in direct competition with another candidate. And what you say about yourself is likely to make the difference between being hired or not.
Reinson’s ideas for job seekers combine her instinctual understanding of people with her experience as a marketer in the business world. She says she has always been a people person, and it is not a surprise that her bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University was in psychology. “I know people. I’m a communicator,” she says. “Within a short time, I can learn from business owners what their needs are.”
Reinson is also busy with people when she’s not working, spending time with her kids and family and working in her community. “In my spare time,” she says, “I run the lacrosse organization for our town, Montgomery Township.”
Reinson’s bread and butter is helping companies market themselves. Because she finds the process to be much the same for job seekers who have to market themselves, she likes to apply what she’s learned in marketing small to medium-sized businesses to the process of looking for a job:
Tell them what you can do for them. When Reinson talks to the owners of small and mid-sized businesses she first asks: Who is your audience and what do they want to hear? “Make sure you are developing a message to engage that audience,” she advises. Businesses often don’t think about the audience because they are so concerned with selling the product, and job seekers often think about the audience because they are so eager to land a job.
Reinson recommends focusing on the qualities that a company is likely to need — what you can do for the company, not what the company can do for you — to modify a line from John F. Kennedy’s inauguration speech.
Hone in on what you’re good at. Are you a great leader? Analytical? Fantastic with research? Not so good with people, but a whiz with Excel? Many jobs also require people who are collaborators, communicators, and integrators, as well as people who can meet deadlines and attend to the budget. “These are things that shouldn’t be left unsaid,” says Reinson.
When the goal is to transfer skills to a new area, Reinson suggests using more general statements: I’m great at organizing people. Or, whatever position I have had, I have been selected to lead a team. Is that the type of person you’re looking for?
This interview style, a mix of prompting your qualities, probing for what an employer needs, and suggesting how you can fulfill them is the same style Reinson uses when meeting a potential client. “It’s like going to an interview,” she says. “If I can tell prospects what will benefit them, usually by asking a question and getting more information, I can tell them how to do something better.”
Push the added value you bring. Reinson says that IT people often keep talking about their technical skills — skills that every one of the people competing for a job has. But what they should be saying are things like: “I have technical skills, but I can talk to nontechnical people.”
Reveal a lot about yourself, but not everything. For individuals as for businesses, the “customer” may not need to know everything. Reinson likes to use a lemonade company as an example. “The customer doesn’t care if the company has acres of lemon trees if it doesn’t tell them that the lemonade will quench their thirst,” she says.
Learn about the company and the problems it needs to solve. When Reinson starts with a new client, she learns all about them: about their products and services, their customers, and their needs. Often different customers have different needs; and even if the product doesn’t change, the emphases of the company will have to vary to serve a particular client well.
Reinson gives the example of a company that installs doorways in hospitals and office buildings. “They deal with contractors, architects, and facility managers,” she says. “They all need doors, but have different problems they want the company to solve for them.” The architects are concerned with the fit — a door needs to work with their design and be done quickly. Contractors are looking for the right kind of materials. Facility managers need the company to be responsive when they have problems.
Similarly, it behooves job seekers to do the necessary research to turn up the kinds of problems the potential employer needs to solve, asking themselves: “What about my experience do I think will help this company solve these problems?”
Think about what you want to do, not what you have done. Reinson believes that people get stuck in a certain mindset once they’ve held X position in Y industry for Z years. But those telecom jobs aren’t there anymore, and people must imagine new futures.
Break down the tasks you did in telecom — or any other industry. Think about what made your work successful. Did you lead teams? Devise out-of-the-box solutions? Win grants? Boost sales? Raise a product’s image? Forget the industry, revise your resume so that it shows the characteristics you have that will benefit a company.
Be willing to take risks. Ask questions that will uncover the potential employer’s real needs. Sometimes a job seeker needs to say something like: “I have X years of experience in this — how do you think I can help your business?” She urges individuals to step out of the responsive mode and into the proactive mode. One caveat is that in a big corporation, it may actually take three rounds of interviews before reaching a person who has any idea about what the position really entails.
Don’t interview for a firm you will hate. Reinson explains that part of her job is to help her clients learn how to get the customers they want to get — and stay away from the customers they don’t want. It is important to have a system of disqualifying people, she says. They may be poor prospects for a variety of reasons: because margins are minimal, because a potential client is out of region, because a client doesn’t see the value of what the business does, or because a potential client has regulatory restrictions.
Similarly when looking for a job, not every organization is appropriate. “You need to get up and be O.K. about going to work,” she says, “but when the door keeps closing, people may accept a job they know is not the best thing.” She says she advised a friend who had just started his own business not to take clients he didn’t like, and he later thanked her for the advice, even though his first year was lean as a result.
She knows that it’s hard to turn down an offer, but urges job hunters to be alert for signs that the company’s culture is a poor fit, that the work it offers appears not to lead to higher responsibilities, or even that the commute would be a burden.
For 12 years Reinson, who is from Edison, was a partner in a boutique business management agency that saw a need, and worked at filling it. “Ten years ago I said, ‘We have to do websites; this is not going away,’” she recalls. Creating websites exposed her to all business processes, because it takes wide-ranging knowledge to build an effective website.
She has done work for the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey and is on the advisory board of the Poison Center.
Three years ago she went out on her own. It’s not by chance that her website and her consulting business are called To the Point Consulting (www.tothepointconsulting.net): “It is about defining a message and getting to the point,” she says. “Especially when you are dealing with the Web and people are making decisions in seconds about whether a company has the information they are looking for. You have to tell people what you have for them right away or it is a lost opportunity.”
Reinson’s approach to job search has worked well for people. When she spoke with someone who had been with AT&T and Lucent, and then with Global Crossing when the bottom fell out, she found out he was positioning himself as a technology professional. “He didn’t differentiate at all,” she says. “But when he started talking about himself more as a project and program manager and telling people he could work with both upper management and IT people, he got more interviews.” Finally, he landed a position in a completely different industry — shipping — doing software development.
Reinson reminds people to look in areas of growth, for example in domestic preparedness and counterterrorism, where employers will not have a whole list of people with prior experience.
Reinson cites a quote she loves, which is attributed to Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
What can you do to show you are able to adapt? Don’t be a dinosaur. Instead you may want to take your lead from the cockroach — who has made survival into a business for millennia.