Same College, Same Major, Same Grades – What Sets You Apart?
It was the spring of my senior year in college and I was jammed into a small office in the Career Services Center with fifteen of my business school peers. Graduation was around the corner, and this was the last rush to secure a job before we left. We were waiting for the coveted interview with the recruiter from Procter and Gamble, now known as P&G for a Consumer Products Marketing role. As a marketing major, I felt obligated to apply since it had the word “marketing” in the title. I really had no idea what the job was, nor did I want to move to Cincinnati, but I figured if everyone else in my class was interviewing for it, I guess I should too. We all had the exact resumes on the school-provided template and we were wearing similar grey or navy suits. At the time, I thought that should be enough preparation. I would rely on the 4 P’s of marketing from my class work and share how my academics would make me a good candidate. How did it go? Read on…
The first question asked was, “So why do you want to work in Consumer Products?” I stuttered and gave some general answer about how I use their products. I mean who doesn’t – they make soap! I fabricated another general answer about how they are a market leader. And it went on like this. I had been lazy and had not done my research, nor clearly demonstrated what skills I could bring to them.
When I had the opportunity to differentiate myself, I said the one thing that everyone else says. “I’m a hard worker and I’m responsible.” Nothing in that statement sets anyone apart.
The same challenge faces our graduates today. When you go to the same school, with similar grades and degrees, how do you set yourself apart from the rest? The most common answer I get to this is ‘personality’, and I do agree this helps distinguish candidates, but far more important is VALUE. It may seem difficult because even if you had an internship along the way, you may have just been filing papers or entering numbers into a database. It’s hard to feel like you are so unique and have much to offer…. but you do. It’s all about articulating the VALUE you can bring to a company.
Here’s a little secret about how you stand out from the crowd and how to compete :
It’s not just your skills, your grades or past experiences. It’s how you solve problems for the company you are applying for. Companies really only worry about 2 things…making money or saving money. The goal is to explain your skills, how you have demonstrated them and link them to help the company accomplish their revenue goals.
Ultimately, there are 3 ways to express your VALUE and stand out.
- Describe your skills and talents. Think about what skills you are best at and how that’s important to the job.
- Demonstrate how you can increase or improve an important metric to the company. Validate how you can help the company by focusing on what’s important to them such as time, increased output or customer service.
- Demonstrate how you can make money or save money for the company. If you show that you understand what drives their business to make money, you are more appealing to an employer.
Graduates say to me over and over that they worry they do not have the credentials to apply to a job, and worry about competing against other graduates from better schools with better grades. Employers worry about themselves and how they achieve their goals. The more you can make their life easier and help them be successful, the more they will want you…regardless of your grades or degree.
As expected, I did not get the job with Procter and Gamble. One of my friends was better prepared and articulated her value to the company. She has built a successful career there. I continued interviewing and shortly after landed a sales role with a tech company in New Jersey. I was rarely asked where I went to college or my grades. In fact, some of my most successful colleagues did not have prestigious degrees or exceptional grades. They knew how to close business and make money for the company. It was that simple… and a lesson to remember.