How did this happen? You’re sitting there in a cubicle, watching the clock, waiting to get away from the misery. Everyone said you were going to be a star. Here you are, cranking out drivel. You’re not taking it lying down. You’ve got applications out to the best companies — the ones where you’ve dreamed of working since college. No luck yet, and frankly, you’re getting a little sick of them ignoring you. What’s up with that? You’re good. They should see that and at least acknowledge your existence.
Let’s say you are good. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe they need better than good.
Rather than be demoralized or insulted, why not figure out if good isn’t good enough? Here are a few simple questions to answer to help you determine what you can do to get on your dream company’s “yes” list.
1. Are you one of the top ten job applicants? Great companies are inundated with applications, whether there is an open position or not. The sheer quantity makes the likelihood of standing out difficult — unless you are the cream of the crop. Let’s say there are two hundred applicants for a position (this is not unrealistic). A great company is going to quickly screen and cull all but five percent of the job applicants. If you’re not in the top ten, you’re not in the game. It is common for those not deemed qualified to never hear back about their application. The top reason for rejection is the quality of one's examples of work. That brings us to the next question.
2. Have you had a brutally honest critique of the quality of your portfolio? Many applicants know their work isn’t as good as where they hope to work. After all, that’s why they want to work there. They rationalize that the company will hire them based on the potential they see in the work. This mindset is delusional. The company needs someone that makes them better, not someone they can make better. Change your fortune by upgrading your work. This process of growth begins with receiving an objective, critical review of your portfolio by someone who will be honest rather than spare your feelings. Get that type of critique and more than likely it will affirm what you already know about your work. Once you know the problems areas of your effort, answer the next question.
3. Are you willing to customize your portfolio to increase your appeal? Not only does the quality of your work bear importance, but also the right work to appeal to your dream company is also equally important. As stated earlier, the company is looking for someone that will make them better. If your portfolio includes work that the company can imagine you doing for them, you’ve made the first step in being a top candidate. Make them wish they had done something you did and they will want to hire you. How you offer that level of innovation requires an answer to our final question.
4. Is there a skill you need to invest in acquiring to help you improve your work? Not knowing what you don’t know is a sure way to keep your career on a lower rung. When you get that brutally honest critique for your work, ask them to include criticism of all aspects of innovation to the quality of craft. The higher the quality of your craft, the closer you come to that top five percent. For entry-level applicants, proficiency skills are of particular importance. Companies don’t have time to train. Those job candidates who demonstrate a need for less training head of the list. At great companies the quality of your ideas is king. But craft will make you very tough to beat for the job.
If you aren’t willing to invest in your career, no one else will, either. You can have the job you’re meant to have. Find out what’s stopping you. Fix the problem, and you’ll get the chance to be the best you can be.
Bart Cleveland spent over 30 years helping grow brands like Coca-Cola, The Ritz-Carlton, and CNN. Now, he guides creative professionals to plan and execute successful careers through his business, Job Propulsion Lab℠. He also helps both agencies and marketers nurture customers into advocates through a relationship development program he calls, ACES℠.
Bart launched Ad Age’s most popular blog, Small Agency Diary. He is also a contributing author of the book, The Get A Job Workshop, How To Find Your Way To A Creative Career In Advertising.
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