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Careers Café

A product of the job search


Whether or not you read Carolyn Steele’s blog or job search guide, you probably know that comparing the job search to marketing makes for an awkward analogy. Nonetheless, most job search books and websites claim that you are a product and that you must market yourself.

Small wonder that some of us are reluctant to embrace the project of marketing ourselves: marketing often aims to persuade people to buy things they don’t need. If we’re marketing ourselves in our résumés and cover letters, not only are we accepting product status, but we’re also (presumably) taking advantage of employers.

So, how do you create useful, honest job search documents?

The first step is not thinking about what kind of product you might be, or what brand you might have. Instead, it’s asking questions that will help you meet the employer’s needs and determine whether the job meets your own. If you were hiring for the role you want, what would you look for in a candidate? How would you know when you found someone who would do an excellent job?

If you can’t answer those questions, do more research on the job, organization or field, so you can tell you whether taking this role would benefit you, the employer, and the other people you would impact if hired.

Next, get more specific. If you think you would need good communication skills, what does that mean? Will you have to present confidently to disinterested audiences? Will you need excellent listening skills, and the ability to ask probing questions? Will you need to write about complex ideas for a non-expert audience? Getting specific isn’t a matter of self-marketing; it’s a way to respect the employer’s needs and to determine whether the job you’re applying for will be meaningful to you.

Your list of necessary skills and attributes can be a touchstone for your job search documents. How have you demonstrated that you have what’s on the list? You might not have everything. That’s okay. You will have talents that don’t relate to the list. Leave them off your résumé.

Including only the data that’s important to employers shows that

  • you respect their time and
  • you understand what the job entails.

An employer might be very interested to know that you built consensus on policy issues during your committee work. The same employer may not need to know that the policy related to comprehensive exams for PhD candidates, so leave that part off.

If you’re unsure that you have relevant skills, ask yourself what you’re proud of in your academic, volunteer, and other areas of work. What problems do you solve? What would go wrong if someone less skilled set out to do the things you’ve done?

This might feel like bragging. It’s not. Just like you provide evidence of your claims in your academic work, you will provide evidence in your job search documents. Expressing your accomplishments to potential employers is a big topic – one I’ll return to in later posts.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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