How Do You Market When the Product is You?

My 22-year-old son is graduating from college as a Mechanical Engineering major this May, into one of the wickedest job markets in the history of the country. He looked over at me this morning as he was skimming through yet more online listings, and said, “Mom, I just saw a news story that said even highly qualified professionals are having  problems finding jobs. How am I supposed to compete?”

I listened to him, thinking of all he has to offer, and I realized – Darlin’, this isn’t a job-hunting issue. Down at the root, this is a marketing issue – branding, packaging, and promoting!

Now, I know that there are people who see everything in terms of their profession, and marketers are certainly no exception. But most people will agree with me that a resume, at its core, is a marketing document designed to sell a job-seeker’s skills, education, and experience to the most compatible employer.

But these days, it goes much deeper than that: whether you’re a job-hunter seeking career openings or an entrepreneur seeking clients, it’s foolish to simply send out marketing documents – whether they’re resumes or sales brochures – and wait for the offers to come flooding in. It takes one-on-one networking, expo-attending, cold-calling, and in the last few years,  social media marketing.

And in the end, whether you’re a job-seeker or entrepreneur, whether you’re on the hunt for a career or a client, the deciding factor isn’t your skills, experience, products or services. These are all important, no question – but in the end you’re selling a product called you: that indefinable combination of mission, vision, character, values, attention, confidence, and way of relating to others.

So the next question is – how do you package the product called you?

Simply, by showing up. Not as a characterless assortment of skills, accomplishments, etc., but as a complete person…not just aiming for any job or client that will have you, but for the right job(s) or client(s) – the ones that fit your mission and goals in life. Sure, there may be plenty of people with X educational level and Y skill set and Z experience – but there is no one who has your unique approach and viewpoint. Those are the factors that make competition a non-issue.

Thanks to today’s social media marketing technology,  you have more tools for showing up than ever before. So far beyond physically attending events, you can set up a Facebook business page, a LinkedIn account, you can interact with prospective clients and/or employers in forums and online groups, and you can blog and tweet commentary on your reading, your projects, or thoughts on news in your chosen industry.

But what’s the goal in all this? Simple: to give prospective employers and/or clients an idea of who you are – knowledgeable and self-motivated, a continual learner and/or expert in your field,  with particular areas of strength and informed opinions. You create a brand of you: what do you value, what do you believe, what world issues move you? How do you want to make a difference?

In a tight job market, it’s tempting to portray yourself as a one-size-fits-all generic anonymous cog to (supposedly) fit into the maximum number of settings. And sure, if you want to be treated as an anonymous cog by an employer/client that values anonymous cogs, sure, you can present yourself that way. But when you present yourself as a uniquely caring, skilled, and knowledgeable individual – an extra-ordinary person – you will draw the attention of companies who are searching for extraordinary employees.

The choice is yours – what sort of product are you?

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