Procter & Gamble (P&G) is a consumer goods powerhouse that touts more “billion dollar” brands than any other.  Legendary brand names like Bounty, Crest, Olay, Pantene and Tide have filled America’s homes since 1837.  P&G fundamentally understands the American consumer and has based its success on targeting “the middle class.”

The economic conditions of recent years have forced P&G to change this longstanding strategy, though.  The Wall Street Journal, “As Middle Class Shrinks, P&G Aims High and Low”, on September 12, 2011 observes that the middle class is in distress.  Families making $50,000-$140,000/year are looking to find savings in every way, and many are trading down to less expensive items. Citigroup generated a concept known as “Consumer Hourglass Theory” which explains that companies positioned either to cater to highest-income (Tiffany & Co., Estée Lauder, Neiman Marcus) or lowest income consumers (Dollar General, Kellogg) will benefit in this economy.  In response to this “new norm”, P&G has  launched lower end options in diapers (Luvs) and detergent (Gain) as well as higher end options in face care (Olay Pro-X at $60).

What can P&G’s strategy teach you about your job search?  They key takeaway is to identify and know your customers and to create differentiated products (your experiences, skills and abilities) based on your customer’s specific needs (industry, function, role).  Too often, job seekers in the employment marketplace respond to the “what kind of work do you want?” question with the cliché “I will do anything!”  While trying to show a willingness to work, this answer just communicates desperation as well as a lack of focus.  Employers, as your consumers, are interested in people who are interested in working for them, in their industry and in their specific culture.

Like P&G, you need to seek out specific employers and target your communication accordingly. First and foremost, develop a top 10 list of prospective employers.  In creating this list, you can use the criteria below so that your employer list is based on your own work values:

  • Location – Are you interested in staying in your current geographic area or are you open to moving?  Job searches are most effective when conducted in person.
  • Industry/Sector – Have you worked in one industry your entire career? Are you just starting and are open to multiple industries? Media & Advertising? Higher Education? Law? Financial Services? If you have abilities that cross industries, even better.  Based on either experience in the industry or perception of the industry, you should have a clear idea on why you find your chosen sector interesting.
  • Role – Are you looking for a functional role? A managerial role? What skills and interests are you keenly interested in utilizing?
  • Organization Size – Fortune 500? Russell 2000? Inc. 500? A nonprofit with 3 people.
  • Culture – What type of people do you enjoy working with? Are you most comfortable in a hierarchical culture? Consensus based? Freewheeling?
  • Compensation – What is important to you? Base salary? Benefits?

Once you have defined these key areas, you are set to create your top 10 list.  As you do further  research, via informational interviews and defined google searches, employers that meet your criteria will become increasing apparent. Creating this list sets the baseline for your job search  outreach.  Get to know these employers by  following them via social media (Twitter feeds, LinkedIn) and activating your  personal and professional relationships.  Informational interviews at your top 10 list of organizations will be  the surest way to landing that next job.

Products sell because  there is a clear value to the customer buying them.  Your potential employer is no different.  Act like P&G and you will be targeting your  job search in the right direction! Shop well!