Image Matters

Like many of my fellow collegiate peers, I am spending my summer working for a large corporation in the hopes of getting a job with them once I graduate. Internships are a great opportunity to learn the inner-workings of a company, to make important connections with potential employers, and to get a foot in the door towards employment. But what helps you stand out among the rest of the fresh-faced college kids and land a job?

Going into my previous internship, I followed the usual advice: work hard and do your job correctly. A very Midwestern attitude, the idea of reward for hard work is a very strong opinion of previous generations, most likely linked back to the ideas of farming: if you work hard every day, take care of your crops, and don’t fool around, eventually your fields will be full and you will be rewarded for those months of backbreaking labor.

Unfortunately, media jobs and farming don’t overlap very much beyond Dirty Jobs. I went into my internship smiling and willing to do whatever they asked, ranging from making copies to running across downtown Manhattan with a fake machine gun (true story). I went into that internship with the whole idea of never saying no, doing everything that was asked of me and doing it well.

But despite all that work, I doubt I will get a job with this company once I graduate. Even though I put all my effort into doing any job put in front of me, performance of your job is only a small portion of what gets you a job. In fact, it might be one of the smallest factors that employers look at when looking to promote or hire employees.

Employers tend to emphasize three factors when it comes to finding new employees for hire or promotion: Performance, Image, and Exposure, commonly referred to as PIE. Performance describes how well one a person does their job. Image refers to how a person presents themselves to the company, ranging from a lazy slob to an extreme workaholic. Finally, Exposure is about how much one a person promotes themselves and their  work in a positive manner.

The problem with this method of choices for promotions and hiring is that it is more important to promote yourself and make it seem like you do your job well than it is to actually do your job well. Although using this facade goes against most advice given to us by our parents, teachers, and politicians, it appears to hold true. If you appear to be a better candidate for a new job, you will get the job regardless of your actual competence.

In fact, doing your job well may actually be worth even less than what you may anticipate. Many employers actually emphasize Image and Exposure, relegating Performance to the smallest factor in employment. While extroverted slackers may rejoice in this news, the hardworking introverts will struggle to make it into those entry-level positions or beyond.

For anyone who isn’t grasping this concept, this would be like an author promoting one good chapter in his book, saying he is the best author in the world, and then getting a book deal instead of an author who has a fully written book ready for print.

Choices like this could be dangerous for any company’s future. This hiring method promotes short-term success without contemplation for long-term consequences, disregarding poor business decisions for an attempt at a higher position in the company. These decisions are also bad for the future hires (i.e. interns and entry-level positions) who will be forced to clean up the mess that was left behind by the employees who used their image and short-term successes for a promotion.

So what does this hiring problem mean for current interns and new graduates? Talk yourself up! Whether in a via cover letter or face-to-face with a corporate recruiter, promoting your image and giving exposure to your work are becoming exponentially more important for future hires. Employers want people with personality and new ideas, not just another drone who that can do the work handed to them. And even if you are a person with new ideas, how will the new bosses know unless you talk your work, and yourself, up in front of them.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tell my boss how great my new article is.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.