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A Brand of Your Own

Robert Earl, director of the Office of Career Development, flashes on the screen behind him a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “We gain strength, courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face … you must do the thing you think you cannot do.” And so begins a series of workshops: “Identifying Your Target and Creating Your Marketing Campaign,” “Planning Your Job Search,” “Creating an Effective Résumé and Cover Letter,” and “Interviewing Techniques.”

As the first session on a rainy Friday morning gets underway, the room is sparsely populated, but as more alumnae trickle in, something besides bad weather may be keeping enthusiasm at bay—a sense of futility. Earl is met with stories of layoffs, of mid-career burnout, and of insecurity about reentering the working world after an extended hiatus. Everyone is having a difficult time with her job search, and most fear they will not find anything. Recessions may come and go, but for industries like publishing and finance, some jobs seem to be gone for good.

But Earl is emphatic. Fear is anathema to finding a job, “If you are fearful, it’s probably not going to happen,” he says, with an energy that’s infectious. The faithful are finding jobs in this market. But it takes work. The difference between fear and faith, he says, is having a marketing plan.

Self-marketing and personal branding are concepts that repeat throughout these workshops. Where once a great job could be found with little more than experience and a typo-free résumé, today’s competitive job search should be conducted like a targeted brand launch. “You are the product. Market yourself to the employer,” Earl says. While it may seem intimidating, a marketing plan can help you develop the habits of successful job seekers: identifying your strengths, refining your career goals, networking with a passion, and selling yourself with precision.

During the session on résumé writing, Nadine Verna, associate director of career development, says it’s important to “clarify your brand.” It starts with selfassessment. Where do you fit and what do you want to do? It’s a question some of us haven’t had to answer in a long time—if ever—but a job search presents the opportunity to reassess. Consider your personality, interests, and values; identify what you do best. What is the position you want and what will it take to get there? Are there resources available to help you? Will you need to learn new skills? Take these things into account and then get active. Write everything down and develop action steps that will move you closer to your goal.

To be sure, the idea that self assessment can help you find a dream job seems lofty, particularly in this economy. For Hilary Mitchell ’04, personal inventory led her to not only change careers but to build a dream business for herself. She credits the staff of the OCD with help in getting her started. “Throughout my life, I have found that I enjoy making a difference in people’s lives,” says Mitchell. A post-college job as a big-firm financial advisor did little to satisfy her. While she enjoyed the one-on-one time sorting out individuals’ finances, the sales-oriented side felt at odds with her better instincts. Laid off last year, Mitchell visited the OCD and found encouragement; she didn’t necessarily have to take a traditional road to success. She decided to build a business doing what she’d been doing for fun during her time spent in job limbo— cleaning out and organizing friends’ homes. Her company, Hilary Mitchell Organizational Solutions, has been growing steadily through word of mouth. “Even in this economy,” she adds.

As a business owner, Mitchell faces the same obstacles as anyone trying to sell herself to a potential employer. One trick is developing a pitch that quickly and memorably answers the question, “What do you do?” Earl calls this the 30-second commercial: a concise personal promotion spot that makes a great first impression and creates interest to learn more. For Mitchell, this comes easily: “Closets, basements, personal finances— it’s one-step shopping for organizing your entire world. It’s organizational therapy.” Earl recommends everyone create a 30-second commercial and rehearse it until it becomes second nature.

He also recommends job seeking on two fronts: the open and hidden markets. The open market includes all the typical places employers post jobs, including Internet sites like Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com; industry-niche Web sites, such as Dice.com for the tech field, or JournalismJobs.com for media; trade journals and magazines, such as Advertising Age or HR magazine; and career fairs. You can also call the OCD to get access to an eRecruiting system for companies looking to hire alumnae. All these resources can lead to great jobs, but they are no secret to your competition.

The hidden market is the place where jobs aren’t necessarily listed, where some investigation may lead you to find what others have been missing. For example, going directly to the Web sites of the companies you want to work for can sometimes point you to otherwise unadvertised job leads.

The most important part of the hidden market is word-of-mouth. “Eighty to 90 percent of the people I work with find opportunities through networking,” says Earl. If you can’t think of anyone to network with, you aren’t thinking hard enough. Everyone has an extended network—family, friends, colleagues, and members of professional associations and affinity groups (including fellow alumnae) who can be called upon for help. Anyone is fair game; sometimes it takes only a faint connection to get someone’s personal attention. Celia

Knight ’74, who is looking to move to online media after 30 years in print and book publishing, agrees. “I’m looking at networking as a big help in gaining insights,” she says. “Not all interviews are for jobs, some are informational or consultative. It may not get me a job with that organization, but it builds a relationship that may carry over into other things.” To turn an informational interview into a prospect, take a gradual approach. Start by asking for advice: “If you were me, how would you go about finding a job?” If they respond, ask for feedback on your résumé. “Now they are invested,” Earl says. That’s when you ask for specifics: “Can you refer me to the appropriate person to talk about opportunities in your organization?”

Online social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook are also part of your hidden market. A professional network used by headhunters and employers, LinkedIn offers an excellent way to leverage your professional contacts, especially if you add a résumé or references to your profile. Facebook is a more personal site, but allows you to reach out casually to your extended network during a job search. But be careful not to arm potential employers with too much personal data before meeting you. (Earl freely admits to Googling potential hires and browsing through whatever he can find.) Don’t add pictures or personal data to a LinkedIn profile, and block your Facebook profile so only your accepted network can view it.

While networking is important, your cover letter and résumé still do most of the talking. Unfortunately, there is no set template for what makes a great résumé. Should you format with bullets or paragraphs? Do you include graduation dates, computer skills, or personal interests? “You’ll get a lot of feedback over time,” says Verna, but much of it is subjective. Most important is that the document be concise, easy to read, with a crisp appearance. (Spring for the nice paper when sending a hard copy.)

Like great marketing material, all effective résumés promote their subjects. Yours should highlight your strengths in a quantitative, rather than functional way: Focus on accomplishments instead of job descriptions or daily responsibilities. Detail some of your most interesting projects. Verna suggests using the acronym PAR as a reminder: Problems/challenges you faced, Actions you took, Results you produced.

Periodically scan your résumé and do what Verna calls the “so what?” test. You want only the most relevant information, things that will grab an employer’s attention. For undergraduates or recent graduates, stating your career objective at the top isn’t necessary. Any objective at such an early stage is likely to be too generic to be relevant. For someone with an established career path, an objective should not only include the type of position you seek but also your potential to excel.

Beverly Pelzner ’74 is facing a common problem among female job seekers: the résumé gap. She wonders how to explain the 17 years she has spent away from the working world raising two children. The best strategy is to reframe your résumé: Don’t ignore the issue but don’t address it either. List experience in terms of functions rather than in chronological order and include any relevant experience you can. Kalban, for example, should note experience gained during her years volunteering for a city agency. Anything gleaned from the computer classes taken to strengthen her skills should also be included.

Professional and industry organization memberships can indicate a current knowledge of a field. Do not include household duties and family-related achievements. As hard as it is to run a household, the working world does not consider those skills to be transferable.

If your résumé talks about accomplishments, your cover letter should go even further, offering specifics about why you should be in the position you seek. Be proactive in your cover letter, says Earl. For example, in the bottom paragraph of the letter, instead of the standard “If you are interested, please contact me at…” put the ball in your court: “I will call you the week of X to schedule an interview.”

Even if you aren’t interested in the position, every interview can help strengthen your confidence and prepare you for the right opportunity when it comes along. Use your marketing skills to focus on your accomplishments and what you have to offer. “Women tend to interview as facilitators, men interview as visionaries,” says Earl. Your goal is to adopt that visionary style. Tell the employer not just why you are interested in the position but what you could do in the first 30 days if they hire you. Don’t be afraid to brag.

Most importantly, says Earl, if you want the job, ask for it. “You can say ‘I’m available to start X date, does that work or would the following week be better?’” Don’t worry if this results in laughter. “They’ll talk about you at happy hour or at the water cooler, but the next day they will remember you.” Ask anyone in marketing, that’s the kind of impact that counts.

-by Melissa Phipps, illustration by Daniel Horowitz