Unique…but not too unique

The subject of reading in my Professional Development course this week was “Being Generic — and Not — in the Right Way”. It described the struggle that most potential employees feel between standing out from the rest of the pack, yet not standing out in such a way that you’re seen as ridiculous. The subjectivity of the hiring process is evident in today’s professional world. Ilana Gershon said in her book Down and Out in the New Economy about concise answers in job interviews, “conciseness can be interpreted as indicating something fundamental about someone’s personality, but what that fundamental thing might be can differ from person to person or workplace to workplace” (Gershon, 83). She described an example where someone giving concise answers in a job interview could be construed by some hiring managers as a bad candidate, but others could interpret them as a good candidate, based on what they want to hear.

In college, we are fed communication strategies:

  • Make eye contact, but not too much eye contact
  • Firm handshake, but not too firm
  • Short answers, but not too short
  • Answers that are specific, yet general
  • A unique resume, but not too unique

And that’s the issue. The professional world isn’t objective, it’s subjective. Getting a job is based on how someone interprets your relevant accomplishments. Would some of the ideas proposed in this article really work in the professional world? They might impress some potential employers, but they are even more likely to make some employers instantly throw your resume away, depending on the hiring manager’s personal preferences.

Source: http://static5.uk.businessinsider.com/image/5671a634dd089530058b4894-1600-2263/darth%20vader%20resume.jpg

This link for 5 Creative Ideas To Make Your Job Application Stand Out suggests showcasing your personal interests and non-work related activities as well as adding personality and flavor. Gershon describes an admittedly farfetched example of a hiring manager reading a resume that had “May the force be with you”. Gershon went on to say, “I expected her to use this as an example of how a job seeker had torpedoed an application. But she said she laughed when she saw the resume, and explained that going through resumes was a boring enough task, and this at least made her sit up and pay more attention to the resume” (Gershon, 84). While putting “may the force be with you” on a resume is quite a risk, smaller personal design changes or additions can get a resume thrown out instantly.

This same thing happens in interviews as well. The following link for Tips for Answering Job Interview Questions provides the same generic advice that every other interview tip web page and seminar does. Things like take your time, but don’t ramble. Share accomplishments, but be direct and again, don't ramble. It’s all about doing the right things, but not doing them too much. Even simply googling “interview tips” brings up a plethora of images, all essentially saying different versions of the same thing.

Source: Google.com

This is a difficult line to walk as an emerging professional in the Communications field. Some people want you to be a person first and foremost and others want you to be a business machine. In my naiveté, I’ve decided that I want to work for a company or organization that wants me to be myself first and foremost (or at least until I need a steady income). And it’s this personality that I hold so dear which separates me from other people. I am able to demonstrate my love for what I do and what is important to me better than most people I believe. But it’s not always good to be different. I follow all of the conventions I’ve been told when it comes to formatting my professional life. I’m too afraid to, like Gershon said, lose out on an opportunity because I was trying to be unique. For me, the interview room is where I show what makes me special.

My biggest professional strength is in-person communication and my biggest professional weakness is having relevant experience. And that weakness is what can prevent someone like me from getting an interview. Gershon said that, “the resume is supposed to compile evidence, often statistical, of ways in whih the job candidate has solved similar problems in the past” (Gershon, 88). Unfortunately, I have very little ‘evidence’, because I have very limited experience.

I combat this through a cover letter and recommendations that explain a reason for my lack of experience and accentuating my ability to learn quickly. Gershon describes this by saying “evaluating how well someone has done their job in the past is a far cry from evaluating how well they do the task of writing the resumes, cover letters, and application forms that people have to fill out in order to be hired” (Gershon, 87) and that’s where my recommendations allow me to show how successful I’ve been at my previous positions.

Communications is about relevancy and professionalism, two things that can often conflict when trying to be innovative as a potential hire. Striking a balance between the two is difficult and something I still am not completely sure how I will handle. But eventually, I will.