27 Jul 2017


Don’t focus on selling yourself to potential employers, think instead about how best to market yourself.

Words: Prof Sue Bridgewater, University of Liverpool

When looking for a new opportunity it can be tempting to send an unsolicited CV, letter or email to every organisation you can think of in an effort to push yourself to the front of the queue.

Sadly, though, this approach rarely succeeds. This is because letters and calls are easily overlooked amidst busy workloads and also because a speculative letter fails to consider the specific requirements and demands of the position, if indeed there is one available.

Marketing is the process of thinking about the needs and wants of a potential customer or employer and then trying to position and communicate your skills and abilities in such a way that they clearly match.

In some professions the challenge is even greater because the supply of qualified and experienced candidates far outstrips the demand. It becomes even more important to stand out from the crowd and sometimes also to think laterally to identify opportunities in other markets that might suit your  skills and provide an alternative route forwards. Ask yourself where you are now, where you would like to be and how you are going to get there.


When trying to be objective about your skills and capabilities it can help to follow a simple framework called a SWOT analysis. Think about your Strengths, Weaknesses or any barriers you may need to overcome, what Opportunities exist to match your skillset and any potential Threats.

For this to be a productive exercise you will need to be honest with yourself and not overly modest, as many people feel that they are being boastful in listing their strengths. Likewise don’t be too hard on yourself or self-limiting; don’t think “I don’t stand a chance” or “there are too many people out there who have more experience than me”. If you don’t put yourself out there, you will never get an opportunity. It’s just as important, however, to be truthful, realistic and to avoid exaggerating your strengths and experiences. The truth often comes out in the end and when it does it will cast doubt on everything else you have said about yourself.


A good place to start is to reflect on what strengths you have, what you enjoy doing and what your ambitions are. Write down what your dream job would look like and then be realistic about the many steps required to reach that goal. Look at your strengths and weaknesses to build self-awareness of what positions might be best suited to you, and note down the positive and negative points of each option. Some roles make big demands on lifestyle, for example, and may not be conducive to family life, or they might not offer the stability you would like. What would be the deal breakers for you and which opportunities does this rule out?

Take a systematic approach to where you might look for jobs and what kind of role you might be suited to. This might start with researching which are the five or six key organisations in your field of interest and then listing the roles within those that most appeal. Then refine that list according to the skills and experience they require and which best align with your own. Through this systematic approach you may discover that your strengths are more transferable than you thought, opening doors in sports or other fields that you hadn’t previously considered.


If a role is advertised, look carefully at the job advert for clues on what is required and the desired skills and abilities. Match your SWOT analysis to the desired attributes; even if you don’t have one or two of these, it may still be worth applying.

If you tick none of the boxes, the job may not be right for you at this stage of your career, but at least you have more information about what kinds of skills, abilities and experiences you might need to develop. If you decide to apply you will need a CV and covering letter, within which you should showcase how you fulfil each desired attribute. You should always have an up-to-date CV available, because when opportunities appear you will need to be ready to seize the moment.

Take opportunities to build connections, network and get yourself known because, whatever your potential, if no one knows about you you’re unlikely to get an opportunity to prove it. Get out and about, attend education courses, networking events and matches.

Even if you know the potential employer, a CV is a good way to remind them of your abilities and to point out how good a fit you are. There will most likely be other candidates, so you will need to explain how you are different and better for the needs and wants of the employing organisation.

Even if you do all the right things, getting that dream job will not be easy, but some detailed and honest consideration, planning and an understanding of how to market yourself effectively will increase your chances of success.