Winning a Job With Your USP

Solid credentials and honed job-search skills might get you through a prospective employer's door, but what can make you stand out among candidates? Glowing reference letters? Confidence in the interview? A memorable "thank you" e-mail or note? (If you've considered creating memorability via balloons or candy in the company's logo palette, please save it for after you've accepted the job.)

Those things certainly make good impressions, but there's a further critical factor in getting hired: communicating your unique selling proposition—USP—and linking it to the profitability of the company you want to serve. The trick is to take the time to figure out your USP before you embark on your next search and then apply it routinely to every prospective position from the moment you make contact.

How do you develop a USP? Think of yourself as a product and employers as the buyers of your tool kit or skills set. A USP conveys how your unique skills set is of value to the hiring manager. There's always a way to tie your unique skills to results. Your abilities may translate into a more streamlined or technologically advanced approach to the job at hand—or more directly, to profits or reduced costs.

famous unique selling propositions

Rosser Reeves, a pioneer in TV advertising in the 1950s, developed the term USP. He believed that ads must make a proposition (such as "Buy this and you'll get these benefits"). The proposition must be unique and the promise must be desirable enough to sell. Consider the following classic USP ad slogans.

1. M&M's: "Melts in your mouth, not in your hand."

2. Domino's Pizza (DPZ): "Hot, fresh pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed."

3. Colgate toothpaste (CL): "It cleans your breath while it cleans your teeth."

Now consider the following three analogous phrases you might use to communicate your USP during a job search.

1. "Under my leadership, turnover in my department was the lowest in three years, which solved a major challenge for the company—and helped boost profits by an estimated X%. ("Turnover" is the melted chocolate.)

2. "You'll find from my references that I closed every deal in record time." ("Delivered in 30 minutes.")

3. "I was able to increase staff by 10%, but also trim extraneous costs that offset the expense. (A double-win proposition.)

In creating your own Job USP to market, start by asking yourself these questions:

What have I excelled at in my career that I enjoyed or that came relatively easily to me?

For which projects am I most remembered, associated with, or complimented on?

Which abilities have I applied that had the most impact on profitability?

What makes me unique as others see me? (You might seek input from trusted colleagues.)

What words would managers, co-workers, or customers use to describe my talents and expertise?

Keep in mind that not everything in your bag need be a hard skill. You want to avoid: "I'm a sensitive person—and trust me, my jokes get the best laughs on the 17th floor." But you can use a resume or cover letter to point up your relevant people skills, as appropriate. For example, you may state that you have strong leadership or team skills; have led project teams and cross-functional teams; have headed committees or did volunteer work; have taken courses in public speaking, communications, or writing; and are involved in community, trade, or other business groups.

I have heard countless stories of candidates who, via a USP, presented such articulate arguments for their potential contributions that companies altered the job positions to better fit their backgrounds.

Tying your USP to the job at hand requires an ultra-careful reading of the job description—and some rereading for nuances. In each sentence, there's an opportunity to reflect on every project you've handled in that arena. For example, if a job advertisement in your field requires "strong analytical skills," and you excel at sifting through complex research, highlight that ability as part of your USP, citing various projects. (This exercise can also be handy because after you've read an ad several times, you may find that a position isn't for you, saving significant time and energy.)

Also consider what the prospective employer presents to the general public. If, for example, the company's advertising tag line is about excellence in serving customers, you can align your specific customer service expertise with that broad mission.

Via social media and blogs, you can find ways to determine what's important to a department or company. Do all the research you can on the Web, and then go live and personal with people you feel would make good sources for you. Assuming that you're a good fit for the job, all you need is your USP and the company's core wish list. Sync them up, and your pitch will be memorable to hiring managers. No balloons or candy required.

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