Strive for best fit, not “best job”

I’m not sure what gives me my affinity for advertisements, but I’ve had a long history of paying more attention to the ads than the show I’m watching or the magazine I’m reading. Indeed, I often find myself randomly quoting taglines and slogans, showing off either my excellent memory or my excessive lameness.

One company with an interesting history of advertising campaigns is IBM, and of late its advertisements have focused on innovation, showing how IBM products can help its clients move from “thinking about innovation” to actually innovating. But one tagline they’ve used has been stuck in my head for a long time now: “What makes you special?”

I don’t think this slogan has actually endeared IBM to me, as I haven’t really associated it with the company. Rather, I’ve been reflecting on it in a more direct, self-contained way: What actually does make me special?

With the career fair happening at the Campus Recreation Center this coming Monday and Tuesday, many of the students on campus are probably asking themselves the same question. They are fluffing themselves up, putting on their best suits, brushing up on the skills they haven’t practiced for four years and refreshing their resumes all in an effort to sell themselves to the highest bidder.

The issue, though, is that regardless of what you may be doing, there are probably several thousand students doing the exact same thing. And when each of us walks up to a recruiter to deliver our 30-second spiel, what will make us stick out in that person’s mind?

I had the pleasure to be a volunteer at the resume blitz this week, and I heard the company representatives there constantly giving similar advice: focus on your strengths and what really makes you stand out.

But at an institution like Tech, where everyone is in some sense above average, that’s an unexpectedly tough proposition.

What really separates the person who supposedly stands out for being the Vice President of Member Recruitment at their sorority and who studied abroad in France from the person who was president of the India Club and did an LBAT in Japan?

The resumes of Tech students are liberally sprinkled with high quality experiences that can make them valuable contributors to any company, and most Tech graduates manage to get a decent job. But that doesn’t reduce the pressure of the competition for the top positions, whether in pay or prestige.

For better or worse, that old adage to focus on what makes you stand out has become much more difficult, and more creative approaches are needed. The problem is that everyone is well aware of this fact, and finding the niche in which you just happen to be the absolute best is an ever-increasing challenge.

So what is a poor job-hunting student to do? Should we just give up our hopes and dreams of a job with Google, Goldman Sachs, NASA, Pixar or McKinsey?

I know that I, at least, would like to think that my degree and experience qualify me for something better than a job with IniTech or Umbrella Corp. But if all your efforts to stand out leave you just different, not better, maybe you—and I—still have hope.

Being head and shoulders above your peers in an area is the equivalent of a hammer for your career: You might be a square peg, but because you’re such a good square peg you’ll somehow manage to fit many a round hole.

The rest of us, on the other hand, are better off focusing on the jobs that are the perfect hexagonal, octagonal or even dodecagonal fit. After all, the aforementioned India Club president who studied abroad in Japan will certainly be a better fit in a position at a Japanese company that works with employees in India than the sorority VP.

Better still, you aren’t just more likely to get hired for a job that fits your qualifications and interests. You’re also much more likely to have a positive experience in such a role. And a more satisfied employee will perform better and will leave the company pleased as well.

At this career fair, I hope you aim beyond the antiquated goal of getting some objective “best position.”

Rather, I wish you the best of luck in finding that one best position for you.