By Terry Lowe-Edwards
Contributor, Online Career Tips
Today’s career landscape is fiercely competitive for job seekers. As a result, standing out from other candidates in the job market can be an extraordinary challenge. But belonging to a student organization and using marketing techniques, good manners and handwritten notes are good ways to help an interviewer remember you.
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Student Organization Membership Can Distinguish You in the Job Market
One way to stand out from your competition as you’re seeking a job is to join a student organization; these groups offer you an opportunity to connect with peers and professionals in your area of interest. In addition, these organizations open doors to activities like conferences or competitions, which allow you to sharpen your proficiencies in communicating with peers, collaborative teamwork and critical thinking.
You also come away with tangible accomplishments. These real-world skills show prospective employers you are ready to jump in to an organization.
DECA is a career and technical student organization that prepares future leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management. It has chapters in high schools and colleges worldwide.
At the 2020 State Leadership Conference for Virginia DECA, Renae Sterling, a marketing teacher at Briar Woods High School in Ashburn, Virginia, shared some of her insights on how students prepare for the workplace through student organizations like DECA. Her advice can be a guidepost for anyone wanting to stand out in the job market.
The Value of Being Active in a Student Organization in Today’s Job Market
Involvement in a student organization, Sterling explains, helps with career readiness by giving “real-world professional experience. With an experience like this state leadership conference, students learn how to dress professionally, communicate, and problem solve. DECA teaches students 21st-century employability skills, critical thinking, and teamwork.” She adds that there is the advantage of meeting people outside your immediate circle and making connections to widen your perspective and knowledge base.
Student organizations often become a resource for learning new material or amplifying knowledge gained in the classroom in order to apply that knowledge to career-relevant responsibilities.
Sterling explains she got a text from a former student engaged in a team project. He told her, “I’m taking a professional management class this semester and today in class, I was the only one who knew the 5Ps and SWOT analysis!” He was referring to the 5Ps of marketing – product, place, price, promotion and people. The SWOT analysis aids business decision-making by evaluating an organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
Many times, being active in a student organization allows an individual to “shine in their uniqueness.” Sterling says, “We always tell students: Be remarkable. Be yourself. Be unique. There is nobody like you in this world, and you need to make your talents shine through. Don’t worry about what all the other Joneses are doing. Stay in your lane.”
Use Marketing Techniques to Sell Yourself to an Interviewer
Sterling also believes marketing is integral to any career path to learn how to sell yourself and your knowledge, skills, and abilities. She notes, “We have students who want to be a doctor, lawyer, sports broadcaster, dentist or engineer. You need marketing skills. You need to know how to market yourself. If you want to be a dentist, you need to know how to get people to come in to your practice.”
When it comes to preparing for an interview, Sterling says that the basics cannot be overstated. She explains, “We remind students: State your full name, make eye contact, have a firm handshake. When answering a question, think in terms of a beginning, middle and end to your responses.” When challenged to solve a problem as part of the interview, Sterling advises, “Have an agenda in your mind. Tell the interviewer the meat of your solution, then provide a summary of your recommendation.”
Using Good Manners and Handwritten Notes Are Other Ways to Stand Out from Your Competition
Sterling underscores that some traditional tried-and-true business practices be exercised. She says, “Remember to say ‘thank you.’”
To truly stand apart from the crowd, she suggests sending a handwritten thank-you note to your interviewer. Sterling explains, “After our mock interviews, we practice in class writing thank-you notes by hand and addressing the envelope.”
Sterling also suggests sending a thank-you email to ask the interviewer another question is a valuable tactic. The communication “will jog the interviewer’s memory about you if they haven’t heard from the other candidates.”
Leverage the opportunities made available to you in order to truly set yourself apart from others in the job market. These opportunities can come through the activities you might engage in through student clubs and organizations as well as creative, memorable tactics used during and following an interview.
About the Author
Terry Lowe-Edwards is a senior copywriter with American Public Education, Inc., who brings a decades-long career as an integrated marketing communication professional with education, nonprofit, retail, and media enterprises and marketing agencies. She has been a judge for two years at the competitive events during the State Leadership Conference for Virginia DECA, and she enjoys supporting organizations like DECA in helping next-generation leaders prepare for their future.
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