By James Warda

Oftentimes, when I’m about to write, inspiration strikes. Not sure why. Not sure how. But it does.

Like this morning.

I knew I’d be writing a piece for Ron Culp, a friend and PR professor at DePaul University. And I knew it would be mainly for communication students, young pros and other creatives – to remind them that they already have what they need to get that first, or next, job.

What I didn’t know was what my “hook” would be.

So, What’s a Hook?

As communicators, you probably know what a “hook” is. And, if you don’t, you need to.

It’s the touchstone. The linchpin. The core truth. The beating heart of every good story and pitch.

But I didn’t have it for this article.

Until this morning.

Baby, What a Big Surprise

At about 8:37am, while working out, I happened to be listening to an old Behind the Music episode on the band, Chicago. I thought I knew about them, but I quickly learned one thing I hadn’t known. The core members were DePaul alumni.

And there it was − the hook! After all, I was writing this article for an instructor and professional director at DePaul!

Coincidence? I think not.

So, how is the band Chicago the hook for an article about job search?

Well, as you learn about the band, you find out what made them unique. They were a rock band with a horn section that didn’t just provide backing but stood out as a signature sound. And they were smokin’, killer, sick, fresh, and all those other slang terms for “good.”

Which meant people took notice. The horns were the band’s hook, along, of course, with the fact that it also had other great musicians and, of course, songwriters.

Which brings us to your career, your job search, your hook. What makes you stand out. Your writing? Speaking? Design? Ability to build relationships that stand the test of tribulations? 

How to Find Your Hook

First, look through the list below – it’s not comprehensive, but it’s a good place to start. They’re my perspective of key skills that communications students and other creative students and professionals often have, along with how they apply in job search.  As you do, figure out which ones you’re good at and what you need to improve.

And, if you’re not sure what you do well, ask your family, friends and so-significant others.

They’ll know. 

Creative Skills and How They Apply in Job Search

  • Creativity
    • Are you good at creating something out of nothing, and improvising on something that already exists?
    • In job search, you’ll be creating all along the way. From your brand, to your online presence, to your real presence at job fairs and interviews.
  • Project management
    • Can you define your audiences, the best way to reach them (e.g., channel, tone, tactics, and timing), and the best way to measure that you’ve reached them? Then, can you create and execute a plan that does those things?
    • Job search is hard. You’ll need to create structure to keep track and keep moving. You’ll also need to know how and how often you’ll be reaching out to people and companies. And, remember, building and executing a job search plan, like all plans, is both an art and a science. So, grab your palette and beaker.
  • Change management
    • Do you know what levers to pull to drive the behavior you’re looking for? From communication, motivation and overcoming resistance to measuring success.
    • In job search, you want to motivate others to hire and work with you, and proactively overcome any barriers along the way. Knowing how to overcome challenges in a job search is key to staying motivated yourself, too.
  • Being a quick study
    • Can you quickly come up to speed and proactively adapt?
    • You’ll need to do this in job search every day, if not every moment. Take it all in, using your senses, experience, and intuition. Learn quickly about a company, a role, the people you’ll be interviewing with, what the culture’s like. Then, in the interview, notice it all. Are these people you’d want to work with? A place you’d want to work for? Listen for the things that aren’t being said, too.
  • The ability to just keep swimming.
    • Can you keep going even when the going gets rough, hope is dimmed and there isn’t a finish line in sight?
    • In job search, what will you do when it seems like every door is locked? When the night is dark and the alley darker? Do you have a Plan B, C, D, and oh yeah, E? Of course you do and you will.
  • Write well, design and speak well.
    • Can you communicate thoughts and ideas in a sincere way through words and images that inform, motivate, and ultimately change behavior and get results? Can you be accurate (please, no typos!) and consistent?
    • You’ll get many chances to use these skills in job search. From cover letters to resumes and LinkedIn profiles to online portfolios. Be crisp, clear, and convincing with your words, presence, and imagery. Do you build your brand and reinforce your professionalism every time you open your mouth, and they open your cover letter? Do you know that less is more? Do you get that “Ramble On” is a great song by Led Zeppelin but a terrible way to answer interview questions? And, oh yeah, try to be human, not stilted, and corporate. People appreciate human.
  • Market well.
    • Can you turn strangers into prospects into leads into loyal buyers?
    • In job search, can you identify companies, jobs and contacts and the best way to reach them? Do you know how to build an effective personal marketing campaign on LinkedIn for free that builds your brand and makes you consistently visible? If you don’t, check out #40 here.

Now, Use Your Hook

Great, now that you know your hooks, the things that give you that “leg up” in the job search, use them to stand out. Not in a cheesy way. Not in a way that feels like you’ve strapped spotlights to your shoes that are pointing up. But in a way that separates you, lifts you up and out, and makes you memorable.

Because, when you’re memorable, you’ll no longer be a job seeker.

You’ll be job sought.

James Warda is a keynote speaker, conference presenter, workshop facilitator and author of Where Are We Going So Fast? He also blogs for the Chicago Tribune Media Group and has written for the Chicago Tribune, Pioneer Press, and Chicken Soup for the Soul Enterprises. In addition, James is an adjunct professor for the School of Communications at Loyola University Chicago where he also sits on their Communication Advisory Board and has been a guest speaker at DePaul University. Learn more at jamesward.com.

An Evening with Chicago and Their Greatest Hits tour is scheduled to resume June 11 with first concert of 2021 at Concord, CA.