Job seekers, don’t be a commodity

James Thrasher - Contributing Columnist

Commodities are bought and sold in nameless bulk contracts on the New York Stock Exchange every day. According to Mike Moffatt, writing for, “When an economist, economics professor or economics textbook talks about a commodity, that term refers to a basic, marketable good or service that is produced to meet a demand … interchangeable with others of the same type.” One of the properties of commodities is that they are “uniform in quality … one cannot tell the difference between one firm’s product and another.” Commodities are basic, blasé materials like pork bellies, corn, wheat, sugar, soybeans, cattle and lumber.

So why should job seeking college graduates care about commodities? New York Times best-selling author Vince Bertram, CEO of Project Lead The Way, has written a new book: “Dream Differently: Candid Advice for American Students.” Don’t be a “commodity” is his advice to job seekers.

Did he really say commodity? Bertram is calling job seekers out. Look again at the definition above. Does that describe you or someone you know? A soon to be or recent college grad? Are you “interchangeable with others of the same type?” If so, that’s trouble.

With more than two million students graduating from college each year, differentiating yourself from the crowd is of great importance. To add to the challenge of finding employment, grads are competing with out-placed, experienced workers and with college grads who are employed in positions which do not require a college diploma. If you present yourself as an uninspiring, uninteresting, and unstimulating “commodity” job candidate, who is no different from any other candidate, you will be overlooked in the hiring process.

To counter this, Bertram’s recommendation is to become a “specialty product.” He states, “A specialty product stands out from the masses by possessing features and skills others don’t offer.” A specialty product is something that “consumers will actively seek out and purchase because of unique characteristics. Consumers who seek specialty products know what they want and will spend the time and effort to get it.”

Katie Lobosco, in her recent article, “What Top Employers Look for in New College Grads,” supports Bertram’s recommendation, stating that recruiters are trending away from elite schools, GPAs, and majors (commodity-type elements). She states that the Korn Futurestep organization surveyed 1500 recruiters and reported that 61% said that “drive and passion” were the top factors in hiring new grads (evidencing specialty product features and skills).

So how do job candidates say “no” to being a basic commodity and say “yes” to being a specialty product? Where do drive and passion come from?

Uniqueness, drive and passion come from calling. Drive and passion are transferable skills which reflect your uniqueness and calling. Recognizing and effectively communicating transferable skills solve the bland, dull and humdrum commodity concern, and they declare your uniqueness and special features. Your exclusive calling is confirmed by your transferable skills.

How do recent or soon-to-be graduates set themselves apart from the crowd in the job search process? The answer is self-assessment. Everyone is created with an endowed blueprint as valued, special, and unique. Self-assessment is the ultimate differentiating mechanism which reveals each grad’s design. Every person has been blessed with distinguishing gifts, talents, attributes, abilities, personalities, passions, interests, aptitudes, and transferable skills. All men and women have an individual design which is theirs alone. A DNA sequence alignment of personal distinctives, so to speak. This design must be brought to light to be sought after as a job candidate.

One very practical way to unearth your transferable skills and uniqueness is through a résumé remake. As you start this process, remember that it’s not what you have done that will get you hired. You must identify your accomplishments and achievements, and then ask yourself this critical question: What was it about me that made that accomplishment and achievement possible?

This question will prompt your thinking to hone in on transferable skills and attributes that set you apart. Be prepared: this question may set you back on your heels. This question will force you to think in a new way about yourself — as a specialty product made to fit different career paths (the non-commodity self). People are very proficient at quickly listing job responsibilities but not at what they brought to the table to make their accomplishments possible. Transferable skills, design, and one’s DNA of individual distinctives will transform the job search. Make sure these elements are presented boldly on the résumé. These features and skills will revolutionize your self-concept and your understanding of vocational calling.

So, job seekers, don’t be a pork belly commodity. Stand out as the unique and special person you have been created and designed to be. Highlight your calling and get hired!

James Thrasher

Contributing Columnist

Dr. Jim Thrasher is the Senior Fellow of Career Services and the coordinator of the Center for Vision & Values working group on calling.

Dr. Jim Thrasher is the Senior Fellow of Career Services and the coordinator of the Center for Vision & Values working group on calling.