How Top-40 radio can help with your job search

In my younger years, I was quite the music fan. When I say fan, I mean the guy that  could name obscure B-sides, searched for the original samples to current songs I liked and read the album liner notes. Naturally, this led to an internship at a local radio station — which later turned into an 8-year job.

The lesson I had the hardest time learning? Radio is not for the music fan.

Allow me to explain.

After earning my way to an on air position, I wanted to share that love of music with listeners of my show. I went back and forth with several programmers about adding an album track to the rotation or why we should take a chance on an unproven, but talented artist. I won some of these battles; I lost many more. There’s value in being a taste maker, but programming is more science than art. One day, I was pulled aside by the program director and the reasoning for not taking chances with the playlist — no matter how good the music might be — was hammered home.

“Do you know why people listen to the radio?” I was asked rhetorically. “People listen to the radio to hear their favorite songs. People like to sing along and they listen to the radio to hear songs they know. When people hear unfamiliar music, they change the station.”

I thought about my own listening habits and the habits of friends. I’ve been in the car more times  than I can count with people who can turn to a station, hear a commercial or a half a  bar of a song they don’t know before their hand pushes the button for the next option. Conversely, these same people recognize songs they know almost just as fast. Familiarity may breed contempt, but it also drives listeners.

What does this have to do with the job search? Just as radio listeners pay attention only when they hear songs they know, hiring managers (or computer programs that sort resumes) pay attention when they see key words used in resumes for jobs they’re trying to fill.

Sure, you may know all of the obscurities  and intricate details that make your industry click, but if your resume is full of terms and accomplishments that few people (if any) are aware of, your chances of getting an interview go down dramatically. Simply put: use job terms that easily explain your strengths and accomplishments to general audiences.

Don’t worry, you can wow them with your love of the abstract after you get a foot in the  door and land the interview. For initial impressions, think like a Top-40 radio programmer: use language familiar to employers, that match the position being filled, and use it often.

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