What’s USP, Doc?

Looking for a new job? Resumes, letters, cold-calls, and conversations are essentially marketing communications about you as a product, aimed at employers as a target market. All the usual marketing principles apply.

In my opinion, this is the most important one: Identify your USP.

A USP is a Unique Selling Proposition, i.e., what makes you different from everyone else. Forget what you have done or what people tell you you’re good at. The best way to find your USP is to find out what you love to do, and then find out who will pay you to do it. This is similar to figuring out a product USP and finding the best target market for it.

If you find yourself competing with hundreds of job applicants for the same job slot, you donÕt have a USP. You have a commodity; easily replaced and low-priced.

If, like most people, you are not sure what you’d love to do, then check out one of the many career-counseling, life-coaching, or therapy services. When I Googled “career counseling Madison Wisconsin,” I got 125,000 possible links in 22 seconds, with enough local map locations to go up to the letter “J.”

What you love to do is rarely obvious and takes some work and investment to ferret out. But EVERYONE has something they love more than anyone else, and more often than not it is something they are good at because they love it.

What you love to do may even be something you take for granted. For example, when I was 28 years old, my resume looked like spaghetti. I had done all sorts of goofy, unrelated jobs (from driving a dump truck to painting fire hydrants to looking like revolutionary war soldiers for the Bicentennial). It finally occurred to me to ask myself what I would love to do. So I quit my job just ahead of getting fired and invested my last few dollars in career counseling.

Career tests revealed that I loved writing, which was very shocking to me. “So what?” I thought. “Everyone writes.” Ah, but not everyone loves to write. Even more shocking to me was that there were actual jobs where people got paid real money to write and think up ideas. I had never met a writer. Where I came from, people were mechanics or auto workers or deadbeats.

One year later, using informational interviews to focus my objective, I set this goal: to be a copywriter on the Shell Oil Account in Houston at Ogilvy & Mather advertising. People told me I was crazy because there was a recession, I had never had a writing job or taken a writing course. I had never worked in an ad agency, and I was trying to get in at an age when most people were getting out.

Nevertheless, I got that job over more experienced candidates. When I asked the creative director why, he said, “It’s clear you didn’t just want a job. You wanted this job.”

The tests I took were correct. My love of writing carried me through the tough parts of the job and quickly up the ladder. I’ve since written hundreds of ads and commercials, two books on marketing, and right now, this column. It’s been a blast.

Like sex, job-hunting is best when done with others. I strongly recommend the job-search group suggested in Barbara Sher’s classic, Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want.

Marketing tip: Having an event? Remember these five elements for the invitation:

  1. Request for Attendance: (“You are cordially invited to…”)
  2. Event: (the Third Annual Cozy Awards)
  3. Featuring: (featuring the improv comedy of Dour Dames.)
  4. Date/Time/Place: (Feb. 25, 2010, 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Terrace Theatre).

A handwritten invitation will pull more response than a postcard addressed to a business organization, especially if it is a signed personal invitation. However, that’s often impractical for trade shows, etc.

A good rule of thumb is to send an invitation three times (but don’t resend for folks who have already signed up).