Successful marketing can land you your dream job, but does this really mean you are the best person for the role?
Achieving your dream job is always going to be a bit of a challenge. You may have a great degree, and maybe relevant experience, but getting your potential employer to believe you are absolutely the right person for the job means marketing yourself correctly. This can be tricky, particularly if you are starting off new in a field with no established reputation behind you.
To achieve this, there are two broad approaches to employability — purists and players. Purists market themselves by making sure they have the right attributes to ensure that they will be picked for the role. This can mean they are authentic and genuine, and in the right situation will thrive. They work hard to pick up the right skills, and put their faith in others to recognise their abilities.
Players, on the other hand, treat employability as a game where they adapt to strategies, remarketing themselves and their attributes to each opportunity in order to win the role. This may involve attending extra classes or curricula activities to gain added value and provide a flexible CV when allowed. Players promote themselves.
When applying for a job, being a purist or player might seem daunting and at times unnatural, but lessons can be learnt from both of these tactics from other walks of life.
The players and purists of politics
Politics can be a complex field, where, like employment, you need to understand your own goals, as well as your competitors’. This was seen in the 2016 US Presidential election, when climate change was debated. Hillary Clinton was a purist, and based her argument on scientific facts, responding to questions by saying ‘I think science is real.’ Conversely, Donald Trump’s views on climate change revealed him as the archetypal career player — reaching to the emotions of the electorate by tweeting that climate change is a hoax and invented by the Chinese (which he later denied).
Part of the success of Trump’s player role was the use of post-truth politics. This appealed to the emotion of the electorate, even though the electorate probably knew he was not telling the ‘well known’ version of the truth. It worked for Trump (for now), but, in a CV, application form or interview, this will not work. Player scientists still have to present technically correct information, but they find the best way to do it. This can simply mean doing your homework before hand, enhancing different aspects of your CV to fit the role to market yourself differently.
For instance, when recently interviewing a potential PhD candidate with experience in numerical modelling, I asked them a question about the particular model which was to play a major part in the PhD. They admitted they did not know and had not looked it up before the interview, despite it being in the PhD advertisement. I was looking for a player, but instead I was faced was a purist. Despite an excellent CV, they were not offered the position as the risk was too great.
However, if faced with a player, I would need to ensure the player was genuine — if a candidate plays too hard they may be seen as faking it. Part of the game is not just determining whether you are a player or a purist, but what strategy and the strength of that strategy the interviewer is looking for, too.
The players and purists in policy
Research suggests that around one third of people fall into a purist, one third a player and a third in between. We can consider the third in between when contrasting with the UK’s energy policies. These policies contain three main goals — to keep the lights on, keep energy affordable, and move towards cleaner energy. At times, when implementing these goals, it may appear that one government policy does not support another, which in part aligns to a player role as strategy is key. For instance, in the UK, increases in shale gas and fracking are on the political agenda, alongside investment renewables and a long-term reduction in emissions. But behind this, there is a purist strategy, as one policy is bridged to the next, where decisions are based on facts in light of changing evidence, aimed at striking the best balance between short-term needs and long-term goals.
Throughout our careers, we change and shift our position too. Sometimes this is to fulfil a short-term need to gain experience or when moving to a new sector, where we have to respond to the new market conditions. Being a purist or player does not change motivations or enthusiasm for a job; it is a choice that has a legacy beyond the interview. Purists can be more themselves in a role, but a player may have expectations to live up to that they do not fit comfortably. The danger of being a player and over playing it, is that when in the role you cannot be yourself or lack the technical competence for the position, and this could create unnecessary strain.
We all know interviews can be stressful and nerve racking. Whether a purist or player, the key is to plan ahead, use all resources you feel are available to you and listen and pick up clues from the potential employee to show you at your best. How you market yourself and what you feel comfortable in doing — both before, during, and (if offered the position) after the interview is up to you.
Dr Sally Brown in a Senior Research Fellow in Engineering and the Environment at the University of Southampton and a member of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. She researches coasts, and the impacts and adaptation to sea-level rise.