For the first time in 20 years, I find myself unemployed not due to my own desire. As a marketing scholar and practitioner, I thought I should explore a little. Question I have been asking myself as of late is “What the hell does marketing have to do with my job search?” “What are the commong job search myths that I’m believing?” And “can my business discipline of marketing could shed some light on my job search?” Spoiler alert: turns out it can! And even more than I anticipated.
Back when I was earning my doctorate, I had to write a paper and present on the ethical nature of marketing (I know adrenaline pinching excitement, stay with me though). I wrote the paper and presented it to my professor and class and moved right on my merry way. Until I re-read my presentation today, I hadn’t given it another thought. And I certainly didn’t view it as a resource for myself or others who have been unemployed due to COVID-19.
The Balance: Employer vs. Employee
So without getting too nerdy, I will just tell you about Shelby Hunt’s normative theory of marketing study. In its basic form, marketing is about exchange (when two or more people trade goods or services). Pure marketing seeks to balance the scale of value between the buyer and the seller.
In theory, this works…in reality, not so much. When was the last time you bought something and thought to yourself, “You know, I received the exact amount of value that I should have given what I paid for it”? That would be never, am I right? Thinking about this theory, I pictured a giant scale on my head between “buyer” and “seller”. Then I removed “buyer” and “seller” from the scales and added “employer” and “employee”.
We believe our employment relationship should be perfectly balanced. In a perfect theoretical world, this should be how it works. But this is, dare I say, never the case in real life. Someone is always receiving a little (or a lot) more than the other party in an employment situation. You are almost certainly thinking, “get to the point already,” so I will.
Like in the discipline of marketing, there are big job search myths about the employer/employee relationship. Let’s debunk them here!
Job Search Myth #1: One Size Fits All
Do you ever find yourself thinking, “I wish I could work for company X, Y or Z? If I worked there, all of my current employment problems would melt away.”? Well, I don’t believe that perfection in employment (or marketing exchange) is possible. I have to remind myself that there are no perfect jobs, at best there are near perfect employment matches.
It might be useful to compare this to a new car purchase. Is there a perfect car for everyone? I think we can agree the answer to that question is no. The same logic can be applied to the “dream job.” The lesson here is there is no universally applicable dream job, don’t trick yourself into thinking there is one. Seeming perfection can poison how we view our current work situations by comparing our current reality with a reality we haven’t actually experienced. I have to remind myself to stop comparing my job to another where I have never worked. I’ve never driven a Lamborghini, so I might not even like driving one, same goes for working at that “dream job”.
Job Search Myth #2: Job Descriptions Are 100% Accurate
Have you ever read a job description and as you read, you got more and more excited that this job just might be perfect (there’s that word again) for you? I certainly have found myself feeling that way as I navigate the tumultuous waters of COVID-19 unemployment. Again, guess what…perfection doesn’t exist. Just like none of us have consumed a fast food cheeseburger that looks the way it does on a billboard or a television ad, we will never be in a perfect work environment. Even if you are lucky enough to work somewhere you are truly fulfilled, there will always be days that just flat out suck.
You aren’t going to see “boss can be a real asshole when they are under pressure” on the job description. So, can we stop the romanticizing of the job description and company written materials already? The job description is the equivalent to the perfect cheeseburger on the sign.
My advice here is to find 3 to 5 things you have learned that make you happy at work and ask about them. Ask them to someone who works at the company you are considering. Better yet, ask about them in an interview. I know I have heard my fair share of crickets when I ask an interviewer to describe the company culture in three words.
Job Search Myth #3: Employers Give Employees More Than They Need
Ok, so this one is tricky. Some employers offer amazing perk packages with all sorts of goodies. You might see these perks and say to yourself, “Wow, this employer is really going above and beyond! They’re offering remote work, commuting reimbursement or an alcohol cart with free beverages to the employees”. What we fail to ask ourselves is, “Does that perk make a difference to me?”
This misconception ties to the “perfect” job issue we discussed earlier. I have met plenty of people that could care less about the ability to work from home or having free food at the office. Just like good marketers know only to sell people what they need and therefore feel justified in spending what the company asks, a good employer knows that different perks matter to different people. The main thing you need to answer for yourself is: what perks actually matter to you?
A helpful exercise for me is the equivalency exercise that derives from marketing research. Here, a person is given product A, and has a table of various priced products in front of them. They have to trade product A for a product on the table. This informs the company on the customer’s perceived value of product A. So, what I like to do is imagine a table of employment perks in front of me and I evaluate them each using this method. Which perk would I trade for another? This will help you figure out which perks are most valuable to you and inform your job hunt.
So there you have it, a marketer tying marketing concepts to the job search and its myths. I’d like to leave you with a mental image. You’re standing on the giant scale with the employer on the other side of the scale. You look over and see someone else on the same type of scale, with the same employer on the other side. Who is the employer likely to pick?
The more you can understand your unique strengths, the more you can match them to an employer that values them over other strengths. Debunk these job search myths and turn the scales in your favor.