“Can you take a look at my resume?”
As a career coach, 99% of the time, the very first request my eager job-seeking clients have is… conducting a resume review.
Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to improve one’s resume in theory. I always ask my standard follow-up question and get a predictable response.
“Have you already thought about how you’re positioning yourself?”
80% of the time, in response, I get a “huh?” accompanied by a certifiably confused expression on my prospective client’s face. Like I’m some weirdo who just tried to share a career framework sourced from my buddy Andrew who still lives in his parents’ basement.
The other 20% of the time, I get a trailing, “Yeah I kinda thought about it once… back in college…”
For the remainder of these 30-minute consultations, I launch into my passionate TED talk about how the job search is, in reality, a marketing exercise in disguise. Clearly this is not the best use of our precious time together.
To save future clients from my antics, I’ve decided to write more Job Search articles, starting off with this one about positioning. My hope is that these articles will serve as more useful resources than my soapboxing.
Dear readers — if there’s one thing you take away from this article, it’s this: Think strategically about how you’re crafting the impression you make on employers BEFORE you write your resume. (and Linkedin!)
Tell stories about how you’re solving their problems — NOT just listing out your accomplishments.
Sounds simple, but you’d be surprised by how deceivingly easy it is to reverse the order and meanwhile get stuck in Resume Updating Hell.
In your job search, the first step is to have a clear understanding of where you are and where you want to go. Then use the 4P’s to craft a positioning strategy, or how you’re going to present yourself as a desirable product that solves a problem for employers.
Stay Tuned! This article is the first part of a Job Search series that I’ll steadily publish over the next 2-3 months.
Origins of the 4P’s (The Model That Immigrated From Marketing Land)
At this very moment, my friends in business school are debating the merits and drawbacks of the 4P’s in their Introduction to Marketing courses.
The 4P’s of marketing (known as the “marketing mix”) are the following characteristics:
- Product: Refers to an item that satisfies the consumer’s needs or wants
- Promotion: Refers to marketing communications
- Place: Refers to providing customer access
- Price: Refers to the amount a customer pays for a product
Positioning, in this marketing context, is a set of decision-making strategies a firm uses to successfully bring their product to the target market.
That’s really all we need to know about the theory to start using it.
Easy, isn’t it?
Now let’s talk about how you can apply the framework to your own job search process.
Ways to Apply the 4P’s to Your Job Search
The job search is akin to marketing a product — where you’re the product. And instead of solving the customer’s problems, you’re solving the employer’s problems.
Step 1: Clarify Your Career Map
Before you think about positioning, make sure you can answer the following questions:
- Where have I been, and where am I now?
- Where do I want to go with my career?
Without knowing where you are and where you want to go, it’s impossible to chart a clear path forward. A job-seeker whose destination is unknown — or worse, constantly shifting — is lost, by definition.
Employers can smell an adrift job-seeker from miles away. A few of the telltale signs: the hesitation in one’s voice when answering the “tell me about yourself” question, vague and mysterious stories, and keeping one’s options open… to just about everything.
On the other hand, when one speaks lucidly about their whereabouts, destination, and the path connecting the two, it commands respect. It becomes more obvious to employers why you’re a match made in heaven.
STEP 2: Expand On Your “How” and “Why” (Using the 4P’s of Positioning)
Below you’ll find typical questions associated with the 4P’s of marketing, reframed for the context of the job search journey. If you can answer all of these questions in persuasive detail, you’re going to be in great shape:
1. Product (Yes, That’s You)
- Unique Selling Proposition: A trim 15-20 word sentence that summarizes the value you can bring to employers. How do you differentiate from all the other candidates vying for this particular position?
- Employer/Customer Needs: Employers are hiring for this position because they need someone to fill a gap, given their current resourcing. What are their needs? What gaps are they’re looking to fill?
- Market Research: What is the typical profile of other candidates searching for this position? What are their strengths, weaknesses, experiences? How are they communicating their value to employers?
- Superpowers (Competitive Advantages): Employers hire based on your strengths and gifts, not because of your weaknesses. What are the superpowers that you bring to the table, that other candidates do not?
- Packaging: How do you package yourself and your credentials in a convincing, understandable way for employers?
- Communication Strategy: How are you intentionally communicating your value to the employer in your outreach? Job search documents? Interviews?
- Job Search Documents: What tools and documents are you using to convey your value?
- Distribution Channels: There are many options such as Linkedin, online job sites, direct resume drop, cold calling, networking, recruiters, alumni offices/groups. Which channels are you using? How strong is your network? Can you make it even stronger?
- Compensation Package: What is the price that the employer is willing to pay for the value you bring to the table?
- Negotiation Strategy: How do you ask for what you want (and what you feel like you deserve?)
There you go! To bring these ideas to life, I’ll also walk through how to think about each question using a hypothetical client.
Example: Marketer Breaking Into Product Management
One common transition that I see tech clients trying to make is switching from a business-oriented role (e.g. marketing, analytics, or consulting) to their first product management position.
Let’s imagine a hypothetical client, who is a marketing generalist with 2-3 years of experience working at fast-growing startups. In her next step, she wants to do product management at a larger software company.
We can help her navigate to her destination using the 4P’s framework:
Unique Selling Proposition. How do you differentiate from all the other candidates vying for this particular position?
One way our client can sell herself is as a customer-centric product manager who specializes in growth, revenue models, and data analytics. She can position herself as a strong hire for a company to solve the problem of growing and monetizing a product.
Why is this effective? Most product teams look for PMs with strong customer empathy. The right sub-set of product teams will also need talent with a knack for growing the business. By targeting companies with this need, she can sell her analytical marketing skillset as strengths instead of getting bogged down by conversations about what she lacks (technical skills, product-building experience, etc.).
Employer Needs. What are their needs? What gaps are they’re looking to fill?
Not every company is looking for a business-minded PM. For example, SaaS startups with a fast-growing business are going to value this client’s skill set more than early-stage consumer startups who are still building their first product. They haven’t encountered the problem of growing their product yet.
Our client would benefit from doing a broad search for characteristics of companies that commonly demand her skillset. Relevant factors might include stage of company, type of industry, existing make-up of the product team, types of problems the team faces, etc. Some of this information won’t be available online, so networking with other PMs would be useful.
Market Research. What is the typical profile of other candidates searching for this position?
Our client’s biggest competition is likely from PMs with a few years of experience under their belt. With that said, just because they have more depth in product skills, it doesn’t mean that our client can’t stand out.
For example, if all the other candidates are from a traditional software product management background and haven’t managed a business before, her growth skillset would be a strong differentiating factor for her.
Superpowers. What are the superpowers that you bring to the table, that other candidates do not?
For our client, knowing her strengths and how she can connect them with employer needs is a critical piece of the puzzle. For example, her strengths could be:
- Growth skillset
- Analytical horsepower
While branding is a valuable marketing skill, it’s not going to be what a PM hiring manager needs. The first two superpowers are more useful for our client to emphasize in her interviews.
Pro-tip: I always tell clients to think of 3 takeaways they want their interviewers to walk away with, then pick their stories to showcase these 3 takeaways. Picking a superpower as a takeaway is a fantastic idea.
Packaging. How do you package yourself and your credentials in a convincing, understandable way for employers?
It’s important for our client to have a razor-sharp message about the value she can provide a hiring team, instead of something generic.
If she was a senior leader applying for a VP of Product role, perhaps talking broadly about her experiences would help her stand out amongst a crowded field of specialists. But from what I’ve seen, having a more targeted value proposition works better for breaking into the field.
Communication Strategies. How are you intentionally communicating your value to the employer in your outreach? Job search documents? Interviews?
One powerful storytelling technique is showing a different angle of the value you bring in each story. For example, giving two unique examples of your analytical skills can provide a more layered understanding of your superpower than telling the same story twice.
Our client can make a much stronger impression than other candidates if she tells a variety of stories that paint a cohesive, nuanced portrait of what she brings to the table.
Distribution Channels. Which channels are you using?
Like in marketing, different distribution channels have varying levels of effectiveness based on the candidate’s personality, resources, and job search skills. That said, in my observations, reaching out to others in your target position is the best way to learn about the role and get connected to opportunities.
Since our client is breaking into PM for the first time, resume drop likely won’t be an effective channel for her. Hiring managers may too easily discount her lack of relevant experience on paper.
What I’d recommend for her to do is reach out to at least 5 PMs each week for tea/coffee chats. Getting face-to-face conversations and personal referrals would give her the best shot of bypassing the resume drop gauntlet.
Compensation Package. What is the price that the employer is willing to pay for the value you bring to the table?
Having a clear understanding of what the market is offering before starting the job search is critical. I’d ask our client to research compensation for junior product managers (0-1 years of experience) in her geography and industry.
By doing the upfront research, she’ll know how to discern her compensation package, whether it’s a top-of-the-market or a low-ball offer.
Negotiation Strategy. How do you ask for what you want (and what you feel like you deserve?)
To negotiate, she’ll still need leverage. If she has counter-offers on the table, then we can work together on crafting her language so that she comes from a position of strength (which stems from a willingness to walk away!) instead of weakness during negotiations, which increases her chances of landing a better offer.
To summarize, the 4P’s influence just about every part of the job search journey from initial outreach to negotiating your offer.
While no strategy can guarantee a dream job falling in your lap, the 4P’s does everything short of guaranteeing success. I’ve found it to be the most highly leveraged exercise you can do to optimize your impression on employers at each step of the way.
Don’t start your next job search without it in your toolbox.
Thanks for reading this article!
Comment below with which question(s) you found to be the most useful in your job search. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Also if you enjoyed this resource, download the accompanying 4P’s worksheet: