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It's really helpful to see yourself through the eyes of other people.

In marketing, we often do this with structured consumer research conducted by independent professionals who can maintain a clinical detachment while probing the psyche of a target audience. We want to know how customers and potential customers feel when they think about our product, what benefits and attributes they ascribe to it, how it compares to others they might see as competitive, and so on.

We can use the information that we gather from such research to improve our offering—either the product itself (to better deliver on consumer needs and expectations) or the supporting marketing package (more informative advertising, better in-store visibility, alternate pricing approaches, improved customer service and so on.)

It's too bad there isn't an easy way to do that when the product being marketed is you, and the target audience is the all-important prospective employer for whom you're just dying to work.

Perhaps there is a way to get at some of the attributes that others ascribe to you. And the approach isn't that different from what professional marketers do all the time.

They try first to understand not the product, but the customer. In your case, if you can get inside the mind of your prospective employers, you might be able to figure out what image of yourself you need to project. And you'd be able to anticipate their likely reaction to it.

If you could do that, you might be able to adjust your own behavior just enough to lead with the information about yourself that would be most meaningful to the prospective employer. And that might just tip the hiring scales in your favor.

Alternatively, you might learn that the company isn't a good fit for your own skills and style, and that it might not be the right place for you. After all, not every company is right for every individual.

An interesting example is the case of a very thoughtful and insightful brand manager who was considering a job with a small, family-owned manufacturing business. He felt that he could bring a lot of value to the company because he had industry experience and understood marketing in a way that had for years eluded the company's management.

He approached every marketing challenge as a kind of experiment, considering alternatives, weighing the pros and cons and always starting with a well-reasoned strategy.

The metaphor he had in his mind was that he would be a porpoise in the sea of sharks and minnows. He took the job, eager to apply his own “magic” to the company's seeming lack of marketing direction.

His basic assessment proved right. He was able to bring a level of professionalism to the company's marketing effort. He was able to instill a strategic underpinning to the business. And he was able to make a real contribution to the business by applying his marketing know-how to a business that had been mostly run by the seat of the patriarch's pants and a preoccupation with the operations side of the business.

What he missed, though, was the cultural expectation on the part of the company's owners and senior management that everyone was either a shark or a minnow—predator or prey. The company didn't know what to do with a thoughtful, strategically oriented porpoise!

He didn't steamroller other people, and he stood his ground to keep from being steamrollered himself. He didn't fit with anyone's expectations, and he was fired within a year!

As he told me about his experience (while looking for the next job), he quickly acknowledged that the signs were all there in the beginning when he was first being recruited. He was so fixated on getting the job—which he needed desperately—that he never considered how he would be perceived by the people running the company. He was more focused on his own strengths, style, skills and experience, and on what he could do for the company.

He's older and wiser now. Next time, he'll probably do more market research on his target audience—not just to see how he can position himself to be most appealing to them, but more so to be sure that he understands how they think, what they value and how they are likely to react to his own management style.

He's beginning to apply his strategic marketing orientation to the most important marketing project of all—that of landing the job that is really right for him.

Continue reading "A Porpoise in a Sea of Sharks and Minnows" ... Read the full article

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image of Michael Goodman

Michael A. Goodman is a marketing/management consultant and author of the book The Potato Chip Difference: How to apply leading edge marketing strategies to landing the job you want. For more information, visit