Finding the spotlight in a flash mob of anxious job-seekers

Differentiation is the name of the game in a job market with too few jobs, according to Ron Culp, a long-time practitioner.

Differentiation is the name of the game in a job market with too few jobs, according to Ron Culp, a long-time practitioner who is now director of the MA Program in Public Relations and Advertising at DePaul University in Chicago. In a speech last week at Northern Illinois University, Culp described the current market as a “flash mob of job-seekers” that suddenly appears wherever an internship or entry-level job opening in PR is announced. 

One entry-level opening at Ketchum's Chicago office, for example, drew 667 applicants, Culp noted. Many firms that offered internships this summer drew hundreds of applicants, including more than 800 students who applied for six internships at GolinHarris in Chicago. 

Understanding and embracing “differentiation” is crucial to gaining a job and getting ahead. It's also at the heart of capitalism. Marketers offer products and services for sale in the marketplace. Successful offerings attract more marketers. As competition stiffens, product or service differentiation becomes increasingly important. Marketers focus more and more on making products or brands stand out as a provider of unique value to customers vis a vis their competitors. The same thing is true in the job market where candidates sell themselves.   

So college students need to plan early to differentiate themselves. They need to use their years to gain education and skills and also to create a distinctive footprint or set of experiences that can translate into landing a job. It starts with a blank résumé and considering how to populate it with distinctive elements.

Here are a few résumé-boosters that will help: a second language, international travel or education, three or more quality internships, communication-related work experience, engagement in campus and community activities, strategic understanding of social media as well as tactical skills, and a creative project of some kind, e.g., production of a video or capturing an event in photography or set of essays. 

In short, résumés need to be planned rather than being just recordings of accomplishments after the fact. This will help spotlight any individual in the flash mob job market. 

Bruce Berger, Ph.D. is Reese Phifer Professor of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Alabama and a member of the board of The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. Previously he was VP of PR at Whirlpool. His column focuses on PR students, young professionals, and education. He can be reached at berger@apr.ua.edu.

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