Eat your supper, kids in Africa are starving?

boy-180437_1280Anyone remember being told that by your parents? Eat your supper, kids in Africa are starving?

Really? Name one.

Turns out if you can name one, that kids gets a meal.

“If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will,” Mother Theresa.

Having an emotional appeal, particularly to a individual helps ideas and people “stick,” according to Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold and Others Come Unstuck.  And interestingly enough, evidence of mass human suffering can actually make people less charitable, whereas if they can attach a name and a face to the tragedy, or the situation, caring (and contributions) actually go up (Heath and Heath 167).

Since I’m approaching this blog series from a job hunters perspective, let’s take this theory to the market there. While social media, texting and email has made it easier to communicate (and figure out ahead of time who is going to your 30th high school reunion), it has also made communication between people less intimate. This hurts you in the job market.

I once had a star student ask me, after 2 years of unsuccessful job hunting, why he was not getting a job. When I looked at his strategy, which was only to surf online job postings and send resumes and applications in the blind, I had his answer. In that two year period there were other students who were less talented who had had multiple job offers.

The difference was that those students were seen and being seen at industry conferences, seminars and so forth. They were becoming what we call “the known candidate.”

Making people care isn’t just the job of a charity organization – teachers, sales people, managers, everyone, has to make someone care enough to learn, buy, and work on projects. Job hunters have to make hiring managers care about THEM, and a paper resume or text just doesn’t cut it.

“The most basic way to make people care is to form an association between something they don’t yet care about and something they do care about,” Heath (173).

And one way to make people care is to invoke self-interest. Heath and Heath note that the most frequent reason advertisers are unsuccessful is that they are so full of themselves and their own accomplishments they forget to tell us why we should buy – what’s in it for us? (Heath and Heath 179).

I see this in resumes all the time. People get so caught up in their own accomplishments in their resume, they forget to tell the resume reader why they should hire them. The job seeker will then tell me: “well, I figure if they see all that I’ve accomplished, they will figure out a job for me.”

No, what they do is get bored and quit reading. You’re making it about YOU not them. If you want to make it about them, which means they keep reading then they call you for a job interview, you need to demonstrate in your resume how you will benefit them.

  • Study the company
  • Learn what the company is looking for and what specifically, if you can, what that manager needs
  • Customize your resume to show how you will contribute to his or her goals

By the way, this takes effort. Most job seekers won’t do this level of work. They continue to put together a resume stuffed with generic job descriptions and send them out in the blind then they drive to the gas station to buy lottery tickets – your odds are the same by the way.

While we’re talking about self-interest, let’s check in with our old friend Maslow. Most people are familiar with Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. Maslow said we must first fulfill our lower end needs of survival before we will strive for higher needs. Unfortunately, most subsequent research proved that Maslow didn’t get this exactly right – turns out that most people pursue all their needs pretty simultaneously (Heath and Heath 183). We are just as motivated by self-esteem as we are food, shelter, water and sex (well, maybe sex ranks a bit higher).

United Airlines recognized this dynamic early on. United is very much about a certain archetype that they look for in their workforce (think IBM). Southwest Airlines also figured this out and they too look for a certain archetype (think Apple). Both airline hiring processes are about identifying individuals that will fit in with the corporate culture so part of the interview process actually assesses intrinsic motivation – not just, how bad to you want to fly, but how bad to you want to be a part of United or Southwest?

There are 3 strategies you can use to make people care (about anything):

  • Create a positive association (try smiling and actual human contact in order to breakdown the electronic barriers – you’ll find these two simple strategies can pay off HUGE dividends)
  • Appeal to their self-interest
  • Appeal to their identity

Mother Theresa did this by giving a face and a name to the starving child in Africa. The State of Texas did this by creating a persona (Bubba be thy name – I’m not kidding either) and convincing Bubba that he’s not the kind of person to litter his own State. Remember the “Don’t Mess with Texas,” campaign? And an anti-cigarette smoking launched by the American Legacy Foundation actually reduced the rate of teen smoking by associating smoking with being pro “establishment” (versus anti-establishment, which teens generally are and how they like to see themselves). Heath and Heath (169).

How can you make people care about you in the hiring process? You get them to take off their analytical hats and create empathy – show how your idea and how you are associated with things they already care about – appeal to their self-interest and to their identities, not only who they are right now, but who they want to be (Heath and Heath 203).

While the data, the job requirements, the experience and education requirements do matter, particularly to get through the HR screen, having solid relationships with people that can help you navigate the process. Then, once you and half a dozen or so others have made it through that process and everyone’s pretty equally qualified, being the “kid in Africa” that the hiring manager actually knows, means the check, the paycheck, is in the mail!

Chip and Dan Heath. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold and Others Come Unstuck. London: Random House, 2007. Print.

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