Oops … I Forgot to Leave My Schoolbooks at the Door
One the of things I tell my readers in my book, Hello, Career, is to leave their schoolbooks (aka school-based knowledge) at the door of their first employer. Sounds crazy, right? (Given the amount of time and money just spent on school!) Here’s the reason – it’s critically important to learn what your new company looks, smells, and feels like (well not literally) before imparting your school-based wisdom upon them. Why? Because while they trust you as the right person for the job, you won’t know how to effectively meet their wants, needs, and expectations unless you learn what’s most important to them. How does this concept apply to me? Let me explain…
When I finished writing Hello Career, graduating seniors came to mind as my target audience. Why? Easy. I wrote the book specifically for them. So, I developed and executed a marketing campaign - meeting them where they are on social media (Instagram posts, Facebook groups and posts, LinkedIn groups, and even reluctantly performing TikTok videos) and giving live presentations at colleges/universities to graduating seniors. I thought I was doing everything right based on my own past marketing experience. Know how many book sales this marketing campaign resulted in? Minimal (I’m embarrassed to share the number), although I know I reached thousands of students. Why? Quite simply, I didn’t practice what I preach. I didn’t leave my schoolbooks at the door.
Given I’d marketed benefit programs to employees for over twenty years, I thought I knew how to effectively reach my book’s target audience. Boy, was I wrong. While confident I reached them, I clearly wasn’t successful in engaging them (aka purchasing the book). Here’s where I made my mistake. Benefits are a “must have” for employees (meaning very few employees go without benefits) so marketing was not very difficult. In fact, by making sure my audience was aware of their benefit options, enrollment took care of itself. In my book’s case, I was confident if I reached my target audience, the same would occur. Wrong. Why? While I personally see the value in the book as a “must have” (what author doesn’t), I realized it’s simply a “nice to have” for graduating students as they are focused on studying for finals, graduating, partying all summer, and looking for a job. Then maybe the book becomes a “must have” but only after they land their first job and we are nowhere near there yet.
So, I moved on from “boo hoo, why aren’t college students purchasing my book” to focusing on where my marketing time and efforts would be best utilized. I landed on:
Working with a college professor to see how the practical message in the book can be introduced into college classrooms as a prep opportunity for the working world.
Assimilating the book’s message into employer new hire orientations and internships. I am currently working with my own employer, Ross Stores, on developing a message for our summer interns to support their career readiness.
Utilizing social media more effectively. For example, posting messages to new hires in their first job and parents of college graduate groups as I’ve learned the value of the book will resonate more effectively with them. With graduation around the corner, I’ve been marketing the book as a great graduation gift.
Talking to college/university career development offices about advertising my book’s message to students who gain full-time jobs before the end of their senior year.
While this marketing recalibration is going to take time and effort, taking such action is no different than what I promote in Hello, Career – don’t think your way is the right way simply because you learned it in school. Instead, learn the company (aka what they want, need, and expect from you) and you’ll put yourself in an optimal position for great things to happen.
By the way, my schoolbooks now reside on our front porch.
Ed Bray is the author of Hello, Career: What You Need to Know to Be Successful in Your First Job. He's an experienced human resources professional (like the people who interviewed you for the job you just landed), and he’s got a ton of advice. Let him be your guide as you navigate the first job fears.