The Use of Analogy in Career Presentations

by Alan Farber

Career presentations can be rather sterile and uninteresting affairs. I have found that the use of relevant and creative analogies captures students' imagination, relates foreign topics to familiar ones, and invites participation. I use the following analogies with college students, but believe they would be equally effective with high school and adult audiences. Here are a few of my (not necessarily original) favorites:

Obtaining Career Information as Car Buying

I liken the need to obtain career information in the career decision-making process to the process of gathering information prior to buying a car. I ask students what information they would seek in the car buying process. The responses can be categorized as (1) Read - internet car sites, automobile and consumer ratings magazines, dealership literature; (2) Talk to people knowledgeable about cars -acquaintances who drive similar cars, mechanics, car salespeople; and (3) Test Drive - to determine if the car is a "good fit." I then compare this process to the importance of (1) procuring accurate and up-to-date career information in books, brochures and on the Internet, (2) conducting information interviews and seeking opinions from professionals, professors, academic advisors, and career counselors, and (3) "test driving" a career with courses, internships, voluntarism, etc. This analogy provides an incentive to conduct a thorough career search as most students agree that they would invest weeks, if not months, in researching and test-driving cars.

Recruiters as Horse Handicappers

I ask participants to discuss what they know about the process of establishing the odds for each horse prior to a horse race. We then discuss the role of "past performance" and "past form" in determining which horses are considered "favorites" and "long shots." I then liken this process to the role recruiters play in trying to determine which job candidates, based on their "past performance" are considered "favorites" and, thus, worthy of an interview. If "race savvy" students bring up the role of "lineage" in determining a horse's odds, I note that lineage may play a role early in a racehorse's career, but it is ultimately the horse's performance that determines its likelihood of winning. Similarly, a job seeker may benefit from nepotism or personal contacts early in his/her career, but ultimately his or her success at work will be a function of on-the-job performance.

Selling Oneself as Marketers and Advertisers Sell Soap

I have students select a product, and have them brainstorm ways they would market the product to prospective consumers. Responses tend to include: identifying the "target market," reaching as many potential consumers as possible, identifying "product features" that would compel people to make the purchase, and taking creative approaches that make their product stand out from the competition. We then relate this approach to the job search process and discuss the need to market oneself thoroughly and effectively, research the marketplace, make compelling arguments for hiring the job seeker, and so forth. We discuss job search techniques as "marketing strategies," and correspondence, application forms, resumes, networking, information interviews, personal websites, portfolios, and job fair and interview contacts as "marketing materials and opportunities."

Interviewing as a Courtship Ritual
I compare the interview process to a courtship. Both parties are "feeling each other out," to determine if they share common interests and goals. If "attracted to one another," the potential exists for the establishment of an on going, mutually gratifying and beneficial relationship. I compare the first interview to a first date. The applicant is nervous, concerned about his/her appearance, and is worried about saying or doing the "wrong thing." I suggest that, as in a dating situation, the applicant avoid talking about him or herself during the entire interview. Instead, s/he should show a genuine interest in, and knowledge of, the employer and the position for which s/he is being interviewed.

If the interview goes well, the employer typically arranges a second interview (i.e., a second date). The applicant, of course, is under no obligation to participate if s/he "didn't hit it off" with the recruiter. I stress that with any relationship, there are certain topics that one simply never addresses. For example, on a date one would not comment on their date's shortcomings (e.g., physical imperfections or annoying mannerisms). Similarly, in an interview, the applicant wouldn't criticize a past employer, make excuses for personal or professional shortcomings, or make unreasonable demands. I ask participants to list dating "do's" and "don'ts" and have them compare these to interview "do's" and "don'ts." An alternative exercise involves having participants list terrible experiences they have had on first or blind dates, followed by examples I site of mistakes applicants have made on job interviews.

In summary, real-life analogies speak a language and generate ideas students can relate to and understand. They pique participant interest, encourage participation, and make a potentially "dry" topic come to life.

Alan Farber, Ph.D. is Assistant Director
in the Career Planning and Placement Center at Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115

Email: afarber@niu.edu

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