Branding: The art of differentiating yourself.

The reality is everyone is graduating with a similar degree and academic records and this generally plays a minute role in making you stand out among your peers. However, if you have an outstanding academic record, sing your own praises about it. Use the record to indicate that you are someone who’s hardworking and dedicated. 

The current blog seeks not only to give you steps on how to set yourself apart but maybe to provoke you to think differently when creating your CV or answering questions during interviews. The blog will discuss three main points, firstly the value of your degree when marketing yourself, followed by giving an example of Ziyanda Hadebe who logically differentiated herself and lastly, it will address curating your CV to suit a specific company.

For discussion purposes, I will use a degree offered at Stellenbosch University AgriSciences faculty, a bachelor’s programme in Plant and Soil Sciences (BScAgric): Crop Production Systems with Horticultural Science. This a perfect degree to discuss because from a face value; it is very broad yet graduates struggle to market/differentiate themselves with this degree. Especially, when faced with a desire to be positioned within secondary agriculture value chain. The secondary agriculture value chain encompasses of the activities of supply management, production and process management, and demand management through a competitive distribution channel for satisfying the end consumers.

The main challenge with this degree and other crop production-related degrees is that it generally limits the graduates to crop production positions that are closely associated with primary agriculture (farming). Naïve as this might sound, it is the graduate’s responsibility to challenge and educate the potential employer of the benefits of this degree.

As a graduate, sitting opposite an interviewer, this is an opportunity to summarise whatever you learnt during your university years. During an interview, you are the one who have a fresh understanding of plant physiology, the impact of plant physiology on the product shelf life and theoretically understanding of how shelf life can be extended.

For example, let’s assume that you are being interviewed by an exporting company and you are given an opportunity to ask a question. You can ask the interviewer about the techniques they use to maintain fruit quality during shipments. This indicates to the interviewer that you understand the importance of postharvest management programmes. Maybe list the advantages of these programmes such as minimising losses, preserving nutritional quality and ensuring better economic returns to growers and higher availability of fruits to consumers in off-season.

The degree and its theories are all you have, use it to empower yourself. Select the module that you intend to brand yourself with and then sing its theories.

Recently, I had a discussion with Ziyanda Hadebe. She holds a master’s degree in Agricultural Economics from Stellenbosch University. The question of self-branding/differentiation came up. What intrigued me about her journey was how each course she decided to do was directly aligned with her future career plans. She curated her profile by carefully selecting elective modules that added value to her degree.

For example, for her undergraduate degree, she did BSc Agricultural Economics with Food Science as an elective, and this served as a stepping stone into her masters’ project which addressed the impact the Listeria outbreak that occurred 2017-2018. During the interview which landed her first job at the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, Ziyanda emphasised that she was able to assess consumers’ purchasing behaviour towards ready-to-eat meat products years after the outbreak occurred, by applying her understanding of behavioural economics, game theory and market analysis skills she gained from her agricultural economics degree. She added that her food science background was an additional advantage because the position focused on market analysis and Agri processing. The point here is that you can differentiate yourself by making sure that your academic history or the modules that you choose to talk about during interviews tell a coherent story and are relevant to the position you are interviewing for.

The third factor that plays a role in one’s employability is the kind of companies an individual targets when sending out the CVs or creating a profile on a recruitment agency website. For this discussion, let’s use C Fruit DIFFERENTLY, an exporting company and a member of the Fresh Produce Exporters’ Forum (FPEF). The company’s values include creativity and flexibility. Creativity and flexibility can be equated to innovation, thinking out of the box.  Therefore, curate your CV so that it speaks to this.

Tailor it in a such way that it indicates your ability to break the old rules and resolve challenges differently. According to Chirene Jelbert, the CEO of C Fruit DIFFERENTLY, the company is a relatively small business which has grown phenomenally quickly over a short period of time. The company’s mission is “creating value through unique procedure strategies”. Getting an opportunity to work for this company means that you will be part of system developments and implementation. Thus, during the job application/interview, it is important to market yourself as someone who is ready to adapt, innovate and improve. According to Chirene, finding ways to showcase the fact that you are someone who can face the challenge of taking whatever you have inherited and optimising it, because there isn’t just one way of doing it will place your above other candidates. Chirene advised that candidates can differentiate themselves by having the right attitude and being eager to learn and ask questions. She added that, “you almost have to be willing to irritate me into giving you time to ask questions and recommend new ways of doing things”.

In conclusion, it is important to understand the company that you are interviewing with. This will enable you to select suitable modules you can speak about during the interview. Considering that your theoretical knowledge is all you have, revise it well and thereafter use it as your weapon.  Lastly, ensure that you align yourself with the company’s values.

Compiled by:  Makhosazana Ngwenya