How Being Odd Can Help Out Your PR Career


The U.S. economy is just barely recovering and the labor market is still highly competitive. While job growth substantially accelerated and now exceeds 200,000 per month, it is still a long road to full recovery. Two economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City concluded recently that at the current rate of progress, the U.S. labor market wouldn’t get back to normal until the summer of 2015. Goldman Sachs economists, who were analyzing the same data, even reported that pre-2008 conditions might not arrive until early 2017.

This means that you want to do what is possible to stand out in a sea of job applicants. In a recent article for Harvard Business Review, Neil Bearden, an Associate Professor of Decision Science at INSEAD, cites German psychologist Hedwig von Restorff who discovered that things that stand out are remembered more easily than regular things. Bearden provides the following example: apple, truck, necklace, tomato, glass, dog, rock, umbrella, butter, spoon, Lady Gaga, pillow, pencil, chocolate, desk, banana, bug, soup, milk, tie. Clearly, the atypical term “Lady Gaga” stands out and is more likely to be remembered than “glass,” for example.

This so-called Restorff Effect can certainly be applied to the hiring process. Once a company announces the opening for a job position, dozens (and sometimes hundreds, depending on the field and the position) of applications pour in. Eventually, a subset of applicants will be invited for a job interview. In some cases, there might even be a second interview round when the applicant pool is outstanding. After that, a group in the company usually decides whom they wish to hire. Even though concrete facts like CVs or test scores play a big role, these conversations unsurprisingly often revolve around specific characteristics people remember about the applicants.

Interviewers might refer to “the guy who spent his childhood in Indonesia and speaks fluent Indonesian,” “the woman who is a hobby calligrapher “ or “the guy who made Seinfeld references all the time.” “In a crowded field — and it feels right now that most fields are crowded — the most disadvantaged people to be in this situation are those ‘other guys,’ the ones who cannot be recalled vividly,” Bearden states. This is especially true for a competitive and growing industry like public relations. Moreover, (aspiring) professionals in these fields often have similar CVs, including similar schools/programs, similar internships, and similar proficiencies.

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