If you were the head of a small medical supply company and needed a full-time bookkeeper/junior accountant, which of the following candidates would interest you more: a community college business graduate who worked for five years performing a variety of accounting jobs at a museum, or a graduate of the same school who handled the books of a computer software company, also for five years?
Assuming both candidates had similar skills and were equally pleasant, I bet you would choose the second candidate. Why? Because a numbers person at a computer software company seems stronger and more competent than the museum counterpart. S/he has the “Wow” factor.
Of course, the reality may be miles from the perception. The museum accountant may have done the work of three people and been the brains behind a new computer system that saved $50,000. The computer software accountant could be a total goof-off who hung onto his job because his boss likes to play basketball with him. Unfortunately, however, we work in a world of stereotypes. Employees of museums and other “do-good,” “high-class” non-profits often are characterized as lazy intellectuals who don’t know the real meaning of work, while employees of young, growing companies are perceived to be go-getters – even those who are duds.
The point is to use the employer’s stereotyping tendencies to your advantage when possible, or at least know that the bias exists and work around it. For example, an executive recruiter who once had a fascinating civilian job in the military – choosing the movies played at army bases – found it difficult to get a private sector job.
“Everyone assumed I loved bureaucracy and that I couldn’t make a decision,” she said. “No matter how much I tried to explain that my job was more like being a booking agent than a staff sergeant, no one believed me.”
She decided she needed a transition job that would help erase the armed forces “stigma.” After highlighting an earlier public relations job, she landed a sales position at a public relations service company where her military experience was effectively ignored.
Another example: A retail furniture salesman had spent most of his career selling popularly priced furniture, but was turned down for a job at a mid-level department store because the human resources department said his experience was too down-market for their clientèle. Instead, based on his actual sales performance, he got a job at a small, very high-priced store. While that business was not especially well managed (nor as personally lucrative nor as classy as its image), he stuck with it for about two years until he saw an ad from the department store seeking a furniture salesman. This time, they were so impressed by his experience they hired him immediately!
The moral: sometime during your career, early on if possible, try to get a job with a company that has a famous name, is in a “hot” industry or is perceived as glamorous. If reality doesn’t cooperate, try to make whatever jobs you’ve had sound as prestigious and as trendy as possible so that the human resources gatekeepers, who won’t understand your true accomplishments, can say, “Wow.”
(C) Copyright 2002 Evan Cooper. Syndicated by Paradigm News, Inc.