The U.S. economy is just barely recovering and the labor market is still highly competitive. While job growth substantially accelerated and now exceeds 200,000 per month, it is still a long road to full recovery. Two economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City concluded recently that at the current rate of progress, the U.S. labor market wouldn’t get back to normal until the summer of 2015. Goldman Sachs economists, who were analyzing the same data, even reported that pre-2008 conditions might not arrive until early 2017.
This means that you want to do what is possible to stand out in a sea of job applicants. In a recent article for Harvard Business Review, Neil Bearden, an Associate Professor of Decision Science at INSEAD, cites German psychologist Hedwig von Restorff who discovered that things that stand out are remembered more easily than regular things. Bearden provides the following example: apple, truck, necklace, tomato, glass, dog, rock, umbrella, butter, spoon, Lady Gaga, pillow, pencil, chocolate, desk, banana, bug, soup, milk, tie. Clearly, the atypical term “Lady Gaga” stands out and is more likely to be remembered than “glass,” for example.
This so-called Restorff Effect can certainly be applied to the hiring process. Once a company announces the opening for a job position, dozens (and sometimes hundreds, depending on the field and the position) of applications pour in. Eventually, a subset of applicants will be invited for a job interview. In some cases, there might even be a second interview round when the applicant pool is outstanding. After that, a group in the company usually decides whom they wish to hire. Even though concrete facts like CVs or test scores play a big role, these conversations unsurprisingly often revolve around specific characteristics people remember about the applicants.
Interviewers might refer to “the guy who spent his childhood in Indonesia and speaks fluent Indonesian,” “the woman who is a hobby calligrapher “ or “the guy who made Seinfeld references all the time.” “In a crowded field — and it feels right now that most fields are crowded — the most disadvantaged people to be in this situation are those ‘other guys,’ the ones who cannot be recalled vividly,” Bearden states. This is especially true for a competitive and growing industry like public relations. Moreover, (aspiring) professionals in these fields often have similar CVs, including similar schools/programs, similar internships, and similar proficiencies.
For instance, whereas job prospects for public relations professionals are improving as companies start to fare better economically and grow more confident about their budgets, they are still cautious about hiring too fast, according to Don Spetner, executive vice president of corporate affairs at Korn/Ferry International. However, the demand for candidates is rising, particularly for those who have a special focus. Health care public relations continues to be a growing specialty area in the United States, specifically in the biotech, pharmaceuticals and medical technology sectors. Many companies are also looking for social media specialists who are knowledgeable across a wide range of skills and ever-evolving online platforms. International public relations experience, such as event planning for a foreign or global non-profit organization, is also a big advantage. A certain specialty, especially an unusual one, will give your application an edge.
If you made it to a hiring meeting, you can improve your chances through distinguishing yourself by underlining specific skills you have acquired, valuable contributions you made in previous positions or innovative ideas you might have for the future. Yet, don’t try to be perfect Mr. McHire-Me like so many others. Rather, think about what makes you atypical. It doesn’t have to be something outrageous, just something that sets you apart from the others. Ask yourself if you will be remembered and how you will be remembered. Did you out yourself as a huge Game of Thrones fan? Did you flaunt some intricate nail art? Did you name a professional skateboarder as an inspiration?
Each of us has an odd side. Don’t be afraid to show it when you are job-hunting. At least it will help you being remembered. Daring to be odd will help you stand out from a crowd of people who are too scared to come across as “strange.”
Sandra Mills is a career freelance writer based out of Los Angeles. She majored in English at CSULB and has a passion for helping people advance their careers and live healthier lives. She enjoys living a healthy lifestyle; whether it’s hiking, running, or walking her dog.