Recently, the Nigerian newspapers and blogs carried the story of a young Ph.D. student who took to the streets of Port Harcourt with a placard outlining her academic achievements in an attempt to beg for a job as a lecturer in a university, or any other tertiary institution (Footnote A).
This act was perceived as a novel “idea,” at least in Nigeria, and as such it received media attention and was immediately replicated by numerous people across the Nation.
In fact, one lucky copycat was able to gain the attention of the Vice President Of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, as well as Tony Elumelu, the billionaire benefactor of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program. She held meetings with both men, but as of June 20th, nothing has come of this publicity (Footnote B).
So, if the copycat got a meeting with such prominent people, then whatever happened to the “pioneer” of this new trend you ask? Well, upon seeing the media frenzy and attention given to the copycat, our pioneer became outraged. She was so incensed that she did not get the same level of recognition from the VP and Mr. Tony E, despite being the “first to do it.”
And of course, as some of us are guilty of doing, she laid the blame on her lack of fame on the ever-present doorstep of tribalism. Yes, she complained that it was because of some “tribal bias” that she was not picked to meet with Tony E, and the VP (Footnote C).
I empathize with the young lady concerning her current predicament. Being jobless can be frustrating when you’re able and willing to work, but can’t get a job due to external factors beyond your control. In such cases, it is incumbent on the job seeker to take drastic actions required to turn around a desperate situation.
However, looking at the issue from an objective point of view there are many parts of her pitch lacked the sophistication I would expect from a doctoral candidate. Here are some of the critical issues I’ve identified in her pitch, and my suggestions for addressing them. I hope these tips will help others in the same situation who are looking to stand out in their job search.
Lack Of Clarity
Her placard was a hodgepodge, shotgun approach to achieving her goal. It was not clear, succinct and to the point. It just stated a few facts and features.
Yes, having degrees are nice, but there are millions of people with the same credentials. Why should anyone pick her and not some other person? She should have done a better job being concise about her background and highlighted the keywords that are immediately recognizable to professionals in the industry.
She should have approached this like a sniper trying to take out a target from over 1000 yards with only one shot. The information should have focused on a particular job that matched her current skills and abilities.
Lack Of Specificity
Ok, she wants a teaching job, but does she have teaching experience? What has she done to prove she has the temperament, poise, and skill required of a teacher. What exactly does she want to teach? Where has she lectured in the past? You see, her open-ended request raises more questions than answers.
Lack Of Track Record
A quick look for her on LinkedIn shows that she has not registered on the social network of choice for professionals. How would anyone verify her ability? More importantly, how would anyone be able to see her track record of excellence if they come across the article that featured her in the future?
In this day and age, she should have tried several things to position herself online as a preeminent Ph.D. student in the psychology department. For example, she could have documented a history of her organizing free public lectures on mental health. Perhaps she could have directed us to her psychology blog, and introduced us to various issues ranging from the potential mental illnesses that occur as a result of being jobless in Nigeria to the seven coping mechanisms for dealing with stress in the workplace.
She may have also put herself out there even more by offering free psychology evaluations for job seekers, interpersonal coaching, etc. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.
Lack Of Salesmanship
Most graduates seem to take for granted the tremendous marketing skill required to stand out in a competitive environment. Here she is selling her one and only product, herself. The entire placard is all about her and her issues. It fails to indicate what she brings to the table and why she’ll be an asset to an organization.
People are selfish by nature. The preeminent interest is self-interest. Employers do not care about your personal issues. Therefore, trying to use a sad story to get hired for a job is a waste of time.
The world does not owe you anything. No one owes anyone anything, particularly in the highly competitive job market. In such a challenging economic environment, companies, schools, and non-governmental organizations are dealing with a lot of issues. It is also apparent that these issues won’t be solved with conventional solutions. If only she had focused on how she can help the employer as opposed to focusing on HERSELF, HER PROBLEMS, AND HER NEEDS, the results, and the responses would have been dramatically better.
Lack Of Expert Positioning (Personal Branding)
In this case study, we do not see her positioned as an expert or rising star in the field. She positioned herself as a typical
job seeker “begging” for a job to meet her personal obligations. The better way to go about it, given the massive free publicity she generated, would have been to position herself as a highly desirable candidate that just happens to be on the market for a short span of time.
Thereby stimulating and tantalizing the proverbial “greed glands” of her potential employers. Turn the tables around. Let them fall on themselves to interview her or give her a job. For example, if you drive to the US Embassy in any country, especially Nigeria, you will see long lines of people queuing patiently under the sun or in the rain, for the chance of getting a visa to go to America. Whether their documents are works of fiction or not, there is eternal hope living in those long lines.
People are glad to pay the nonrefundable visa fee over and over again, even if they are rejected, just for that long shot of beating the odds. Why? It’s because of positioning. The USA (thanks to Hollywood and the Media) has positioned and marketed itself to the point that even if reality does not match expectations, there will always be long lines of
eager applicants willing to take the chance and try again. Compare that to the lines at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington D.C. or NYC. The difference is telling.
So, What If You Did It First?
The story above noted that the pioneer of the “placard marketing campaign” felt slighted because although she was the first to hold a sign, she did not receive the same attention as the fast follower(Footnote C). My rebuttal is, so what if you’re first? Pioneer status does not equate to being the best.
Many pioneers have been soundly defeated despite their “first to market” status. Look at Google! Google was late to the search engine market by all accounts. There was Altavista, Lycos, Yahoo, MSN, Ask Jeeves, and a whole host of other players who have since crashed and burned along the way. But, today Google has a market cap of $475 billion while the pioneer of it all, Yahoo, is on life support and practically selling itself piecemeal to any bidder.
Unfortunately, pioneers will always be at the mercy of fast followers, unless, the pioneer moves quickly and innovates at a rapid pace that leaves all other copycats in the dust. Such is the case with Uber and Airbnb. Both are pioneering companies with a lot of copycats, but they still retain their dominant market leading positions because they’re willing to take the time to study their environment/market and innovate aggressively.
In conclusion, I would like to say that while I commend our placard pioneer for her guts in taking action and putting herself out there. I would advise that she apply her zeal and creativity to mastering how to sell herself better by learning copywriting or direct marketing. She can gain some related experience by either hosting free counseling sessions, freelancing on the internet as a psychology teacher, or even becoming an editor of psychology journals and publications, thereby creating an online presence for herself.
As I stated earlier, my goal is not to bash anyone for taking the necessary drastic actions required to change your situation for the better. I applaud action takers and doers. I only want to ensure that such relentless effort is backed up by a solid strategy.
This article was written by Chi Odogwu. He runs the education portal www.odogwu.com, where he shares principles of entrepreneurship, personal development, and lifestyle design. He also hosts “The Bulletproof Entrepreneur” podcast on iTunes(www.odeshi.com), a show that reaches audiences throughout Africa and around the world.
Additionally, he teaches online courses on creating an online business, freelancing and internet marketing. He is a garri & soup aficionado, and lover of peace and quiet.