Remember the Pepsi
Challenge? Take a group of punters, two cans of cola, cover up the
labels, and get them to taste. Pepsi always wins; more people like the taste
of Pepsi than Coke.
But walk into a supermarket and something weird happens. Coke outsells Pepsi.
For quite a lot of us, the rational bit of our brain, which tells us Pepsi
is nicer, gets overridden. An irrational, emotional bit, the bit that likes
the sexy shape of the old Coke bottle, or that would like to teach the world
to sing, takes control, and we buy Coke.
That’s the power of a brand, and people have them just like companies. And
recruiting someone is like walking down that supermarket aisle. Loads of
people apply, with roughly the same experience, skills and qualifications.
Rationally, there’s not much to choose between them – candidates are a
hundred cans of cola on a shelf. So how do employers pick who to interview?
They pick irrationally. Emotionally. On the basis of what they pick up about
your personal brand. And most of that will come from the way you write your
CV and cover letter. Not just getting your apostrophes in the right place
(though that’s a good start), but your ‘tone of voice’.
So for any decent job, an identikit CV means death. Start with ‘I am a
hard-working team player …’ and, even if it’s true, you’ll sink back into
the vat of candidate cola that’s slopping around. And avoid buzzwords. If
you trained a load of people, say that; don’t say you ‘upskilled a
functional unit of direct reports’.
If I’m the employer, wading through them, I want someone who makes me take
notice. Who sounds funny. Or brave. Or good company. Or caring. Someone who
takes the risk of standing out from the crowd. If your hobby is the
conservation of rare toads, drop that in. If you think the way your industry
works is completely unsustainable, say so. Anything that will intrigue your
reader into conversation will pay dividends. Because the aim of most job
applications isn’t to get you a job, it’s to get an interview. Once you’re
in the room you can show what a hard-working team player you are. By then
you’ve got me hooked.
That’s why, for many big brands and smaller companies, how you reply to a job
advert is the first filter.
They might have spent thousands on a recruitment campaign.
So if you don’t pick up on the tone of that ad, and send a generic CV, like
most people do, it says you probably won’t pick up on the culture if you end
up working there. It says you’re the wrong person.
You must put a bit more of yourself into your writing. Decide if you want to
sound like a Coke, or a supermarket’s own brand.
If it’s the right place, and the right job for you, it will work.
And then you won’t kick yourself for being like Pepsi – competent, but
Neil Taylor is creative director of brand language consultancy The Writer
(thewriter.com) and author of Brilliant Business Writing.