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Is it time to update your job application packaging?


DATE: 27 September, 2016

This year I asked the lovely folks at Firebrand Talent if I could write about broader subjects like Marketing and not just Job Hunting advice to which they very kindly agreed. But when considering what to write about first, I realised job hunting is of course a form of marketing, and it wouldn’t take much to twist the same piece of advice two ways to suit both. Genius, right?

What kind of breakfast cereal would you be?

Let’s face it, when you’re on the job hunt, you are the metaphorical packet of Corn Flakes, sitting up there on the shelf next to every other packet of Corn Flakes. Why is someone going to choose you over the packet next to you? If it’s the same brand, it’s likely to be little more than blind luck. All other things being equal – from the same place, look the same, promise the same thing – you’re going to need to cross your fingers, buy a lucky rabbit’s foot, cast a few spells and hope for the best.

It’s all about differentiation.

And I don’t care whether you’re a job hunter or a company that actually makes breakfast cereal, the theory stays true. Without a bit of differentiation you’re dead in the water and relying on little more than blind luck to become The Chosen One.

From here on, obviously it gets tricky because any specific advice about what to do next really does depend on whether you’re a job hunter or a packet of breakfast cereal. But the principles remain very much the same.

Be credible, clear and different.

  1. First, you’ve got to be credible. So your brand needs to look, sound, and feel like the real deal. You could be the best product on Earth, but deliver it in a crappy package and you’re unlikely to get past first impressions. Strike one.
  2. Next, the offer needs to be clear. I don’t really care about the details at this stage, but I do need to know what you have to offer. Make it clear. Even breakfast cereals stretch the truth to make a better first impression. That little strawberry garnish on the pack? Not in the pack. “Serving suggestion only”. But without it, the product looks as boring as it really is. So feel free to, ah, you know, stretch the truth a little. ‘Embellish’ if you will. Within reason cause no one likes BS, but present yourself, or your product, in the best possible light. How good it almost is. Or could be. As a job hunter, you may not have had a chance to prove yourself yet, so work out what your strawberry is and add that to your picture. Sometimes the core product needs a little help, so don’t be afraid to help your potential employer or customer see your potential.
  3. And finally, be different. The minute you choose to be different, you run the risk of marginalising yourself. So it’s not a strategy that’s without its dangers. The temptation is to try and be all things to all people. Big mistake. If you try and fit in everywhere, chances are you’ll fit in nowhere. Better to be disliked by a few than liked by none. Better to choose a nice, juicy, profitable niche and own it, than be in amongst the rest of the sheep hoping for the best.

You can package the same product in different ways.

There’s no unwritten law that says you have to be in the same niche forever and always. Some breakfast cereals have different varieties for different people that meet different needs. In fact, I recently saw an article where the manufacturer of a headache tablet explained that their different varieties of headache tablets – migraine, back pain etc – all had exactly the same ingredients, and the name and packaging variants was purely to help make it easier for consumers to choose a product that would help based on their specific need. Exact same product, different packaging. Seriously.

As a job hunter, feel free to have different varieties of yourself to make it easier for potential employers to feel the same way. As a product, whether that be a breakfast cereal, headache tablet, or just about anything else, feel free to market in different ways to different market segments. Maybe that includes different varieties and different packaging. Maybe not. But be focussed. And be different.

So it seems when I look at it this way, sometimes advice applies to people and products. Same principles. Same job to do. Same strategies available. Just different executions.

And as I always say: Don’t be Ordinary. Don’t Give Up.


Sputnik is an internationally awarded creative and brand consultant at Out of this World where he has worked on projects for some of the world’s biggest brands including Disney, Coca Cola, Unilever and The Simpsons. He is the author of ‘The Swashbucklers Guide to Becoming an Astronaut' and the creator of the Job Hunter's Boot Camp.