my last case assignment in marketing at Krannert, I was
asked to develop a strategic plan to market myself. The
challenge seemed simple and straightforward, but I had
no printed case material to study, nor any stated objectives
or parameters. In a lot of ways, it was a profound assignment,
and one I took much too lightly.
I look back now with the benefit of 30-plus years in
marketing management and consulting, it's painfully obvious
to me that I, like most
of my fellow students,
was falling into a common trap - beginning to implement
an ill-defined plan with no strategic underpinning
and a fuzzy set of objectives. Without tables and graphs
of sales, market share, and profit data to analyze, and
having no prior experience with such an open-ended and
unstructured case study, most of us were at a loss. Yet
ironically, the subject of the assignment is probably
the most important career-related issue most people will
people don't even recognize that marketing and marketing
strategy are central to planning their career paths.
Improper planning can lead to dissatisfaction and high
turnover rates. Consider the following data from the
most recent Statistical Abstract of the United States:
than 27% of the workers in our country have been
with their current employers for fewer than
average worker in the United States today changes
employers once every three to four years - and that
tenure is decreasing every year. (If the current
trend continues, the figure will drop to less than
36 months by the time this year's freshman class
if some people have been with the same employer for 10
or more years, they are outnumbered considerably by those
on the other side of the mean, who've been at their workplace
for just a year or two. These basic facts reflect some
fundamental changes in our society and have a number
of implications regarding the way we make career decisions
and evaluate job options.
sociological changes include the evolution of a range
of individual needs and values over time, the considerable
shift of a global marketplace environment from a manufacturing
orientation to a service-based economy, and the rapid
development and commercialization of new technology.
values and cultures are changing, too. A new spirit
of entrepreneurship has created a demand for new skills
and new kinds of expertise faster than our education
system can adapt and turn out qualified workers to
meet the demand.
fascinating how these changes have affected the way
individuals market themselves to their next employer.
They behave more as though they're selling a consumable
product - like soap, or toothpaste, or breakfast cereal
- rather than a long-term, durable, high-value item
- themselves. Most people change employers more often
than they change cars. Every few years, they have to
mount a new marketing campaign.
the most important phase of the marketing effort -
the planning phase, when the person determines the
strategy that will guide everything else - almost always
occurs when he or she is out of work, dissatisfied
with current circumstances, or preoccupied with something
else. It's a wonder that anyone has found a career
that suits him, fulfills his need for self-actualization,
and gives him the psychological (and financial) rewards
that motivate him to put in a full workweek, month-in
ensure that you are following the right strategic approach,
you must be aware of the planning process from beginning
to end. Basically, it consists of three fundamental
marketing steps: Understand your customers; understand
your product (you); and position yourself properly.
you have to understand your customers, the base of
potential employers who could utilize your services.
Go beyond the annual report or the company Web site.
Talk to customers, suppliers, former employees, even
competitors. "Mystery shop" for the company's
products or services as though you were considering
a purchase. Ask people what they know about the company,
what image they have of the company as an employer,
a supplier, or a customer. This process will take several
weeks at least, and possibly months. Dig deeply, because
what you learn will form the basis for your decision.
And it will form the basis for your marketing campaign,
if a company is the right target for your efforts.
you need to understand the product - you - in the same
way that your target audience will perceive it. You'll
need to carefully and accurately position yourself
so you'll have an honest and positive "brand image" that
customers, i.e., potential employers, will notice and
value, and that's in sync with their needs and values.
This doesn't mean you'll reinvent yourself for each
company you're considering. You have to be yourself
and be honest about your background. It does mean that
you need to be careful to select prospective employers
who appreciate, value, and reward the same things you're
able to deliver. It makes no sense at all to try to
fit a square peg (you, your skill set, and interests)
in a round hole (an employer's culture and immediate
you know yourself and your audience, you can communicate
the positioning - your "brand image" - in
a memorable and persuasive way. Demonstrate the key
benefits you'll bring to the employer. Show a sample
of what the company will get if they hire you.
beauty of identifying the right target audience and
positioning yourself properly is that the marketing
plan is clear from the beginning. Your cover letter,
resume, interview preparation, and everything you do
to land the job are consistent with and supportive
of the positioning, which is in turn based upon the
solid foundation of your strengths. Therefore, you
don't have to try to be someone you're really not in
order to please your customer.
positioning gives you the opportunity to give your
prospective employer a "trial size" sample
of how you think and how you'll perform as an employee.
Do some original research before the interview and
bring some value to the employer's business before
you're actually hired.
a friend was preparing to interview for a sales job
with a regional food-products manufacturer, she actually
visited a dozen supermarkets and conducted a mini-survey
of in-store conditions for their product and that of
their major competition. She reported observations
about the packaging, amount of space allotted to each
item, retail pricing, condition of the merchandise,
comments from store personnel, and point-of-sale merchandising
materials. She even noted interesting promotions and
packaging innovations from other product categories
and made a few recommendations about how the company
could improve its presence (and sales) in supermarkets.
did get the job and is now a vice president with that
company, heading up the sales and marketing functions.
She demonstrated very dramatically who she is, what
she could do for the company, and how committed she
was to going beyond the conventional "call of
marketing plan starts with these basics - understanding
the customer (or target audience), understanding the
product and its "fit" with market needs,
and effectively and consistently communicating and
demonstrating a well-thought-out positioning. It's
no different if you're selling consumer packaged goods,
high-tech business-to-business applications, services,
political candidates - or yourself. The fundamentals
of good marketing don't change.
only wish I'd fully appreciated all of this when I
worked on that Krannert marketing case assignment years
ago and began my own career.
Share your thoughts on career
planning, submit an anecdote or two on how your career
has developed, or offer advice to others embarking on a
career by e-mailing Melanie Hahn, editor, at email@example.com Your
submission may be considered for publication in a future
issue. Krannert Magazine also welcomes suggestions for
future alumni guest columns.