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How American Idol can help your job search

From Joe Turner

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( -- Are you currently interviewing for a better job? Try watching American Idol.

If you follow this huge money-making singing contest from Fox these days, you already know all about this phenom.

Love it or hate it, American Idol (and their other country equivalents) is a good metaphor for life on a number of different levels, which is one reason why it's so popular.

If you're currently in job interview mode, you could learn a lot by watching this show.

Branding versus the "best" candidate

American Idol sometimes seems like some weird group interview where each candidate makes his or her case to three fickle interviewers and is either advanced or sent packing.

Aside from the constant reminder that this is a singing competition, we all know it's more than that. It's about that elusive quality called a "total package." Ditto the job interview. Here's the reason why all job interviewees should take heed of what happens on Idol: "differentiation."

Some candidates understand this early, while a few just get lucky.

Too often, we'll see a very weak singer retained while a much stronger performer gets cut. Some may call this an injustice, but it's not so. What's happened is that the "total package effect" came into play.

One singer won more votes, not for singing ability, but for that fact that his or her "brand" differentiated them from the pack. No one else is like those people by a long shot and that brand triggers visibility, notoriety and votes.

The moral of the story: You don't have to be the best singer, just the most memorable decent singer. Same for the job interview. You don't have to be the best candidate with the top skills. You do have to find a way to be the most memorable, hirable candidate.

This leads us to the second important lesson of American Idol:

Know who you are

On Idol, almost everyone who begins the show is a decent singer. Those who know who they are early in the show always enjoy a huge advantage over those who haven't a clue, even though they may be better singers.

Those who understand this principle include Chris Daughtry, Bo Bice and Taylor Hicks, to mention three. Sorry, but none of them is a "great" singer.

They did know their strengths and they stayed with them, often maddenly so. But in the end, look where they are now. They know who they are, what they do best and they never strayed from that path.

In many ways, this is not about finding and molding raw talent, it's about finding and marketing talent that's already well-branded. I believe the interview process is much the same. The branding should occur long before you walk into the interview room.

Too many job hunters try to get through the interview by merely giving the "right" answers. The real issue: They haven't a clue about who they really are or what they bring to a company.

As a job seeker, you must define your strengths and hone a message (your unique selling proposition). This is called branding. Branding is a process that clearly defines who you are and what clear benefit you bring to an employer.

If you can't do that, then please watch "American Idol" next week. You'll see the fate that awaits the next fallen Idol who failed to learn this message in the singing world.

As a recruiter, Joe Turner has spent the past 16 years finding and placing top candidates in some of the best jobs of their careers. Discover more of his job interviewing insights by visiting

© Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority


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