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What career lessons can you learn from RuPaul’s Drag Race?

The drama and pageantry of RuPaul’s Drag Race might seem a million miles from the world of CVs and assessment centres, and that’s because it is. However, that’s not to say there aren’t some recruitment-related lessons that you could learn from watching a group of drag queens competing for a bedazzled crown. Here are six career and application lessons that you could pick up next time you watch an episode of Drag Race (or All Stars or Drag Race UK or Canada’s Drag Race).

1. Know your brand

From the moment each queen first walks into the Werk Room, you can tell that they know their personal brand: they know what they’re best at, how they’re perceived by others and how to present all of this. Mercedes Iman Diamond ululating, Raja entering wearing a cyclops hat or Laganja Estranja immediately performing a dip, there’s a reason why these entrances stick in the memory. They encapsulate their queens’ personas completely (international glamour, off-kilter fashionista and ‘being too much’, respectively).

While you shouldn’t rock up to assessment centres, networking events and internships with a van full of branded merchandise (apart from, maybe, business cards if you’re really keen), thinking about how you’re perceived by others (and cultivating a professional reputation that you’re happy with) can stand you in good stead for your career. Online (on social media that you use for careers-related purposes) and in person, aim to appear professional, positive and helpful. If there’s an area of your sector that you’re particularly interested in, make that known. Whether you’re talking to (potential future) colleagues or recruiters, passion and enthusiasm will always stand out.

2. Be the most confident version of yourself

‘We’ve not yet seen the real you’ is a refrain that you hear over and over from the show – and the queens are always bemoaning overthinking things or ‘getting in their head’. Just recently in All Stars 5, Ongina went home for this very reason.

Likewise, job candidates frequently make the mistake of second-guessing and acting in a way that they think employers want them to behave. More often than not, they give weaker interview answers or less-convincing assessment centre performances as a result. Recruiters frequently tell us that, through the application process, they’re most interested in getting to know who applicants really are.

What if, however, you find it tough to show off certain skills? For instance, you may not be particularly confident presenting or public speaking. While you shouldn’t completely ‘fake it’, acting as a more confident version of yourself and giving yourself a pep talk that you have the skills for the job can help. If struggling for confidence inspiration, adopt Valentina’s mantra from All Stars 4: ‘Sending me home doesn’t make sense with my fantasy.’

3. You need to have done your research

If you want to be America’s/Canada’s/the UK’s next drag superstar and win $100,000/a RuPeter badge, you need to know your herstory – whether it’s being versed in the history of the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, knowing who Rose Nylund from The Golden Girls is or recognising a Crystal LaBeija impression, having done your homework is crucial.

Similarly, when it comes to your job hunt, you need to carry out detailed research into the employers that you apply to. Knowing what each organisation does, its goals, competitors and values will help you to tailor your applications and give convincing reasons for why you want the job. Recruiters will be able to tell if you’re winging it or making something up – don’t be like Dahlia Sin from Season 12, who thought that Bob Fosse was the main character in Chicago.

4. Show that you fit the bill

Each season, there’s always one queen who complains that they ‘can’t sew’, ‘don’t dance’ or ‘aren’t an actor’ – despite the fact that, after 16 seasons and 12 years, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody that there’s going to be a sewing, dancing or acting challenge (looking at you Ginger from season 7). This is never a good look, and you should avoid following suit when it comes to job applications. Make sure you read job listings and adverts carefully and have examples for each of the competencies and traits that the employer asks for and look out for opportunities to demonstrate these during assessment exercises. However, you also shouldn’t get too hung up if you’re a bit rusty on one or two skills, as long as they’re not essential to the role – employers will be looking at the whole picture. We often speak to graduates who thought they did poorly in one assessment, only to really impress recruiters in another.

5. You don’t need to be the loudest to stand out

Group exercises are a core part of both assessment centres and Drag Race and in both scenarios it’s not always the loudest or most dramatic people who see the most success. Playing an active role in the overall success of the group and helping others will be noticed by assessors. Recruiters will be looking out for who best fits into their organisation – there’s no Miss Congeniality prize when it comes to recruitment, but you can bet that Nina West and Heidi N Closet would stand out in an assessment centre for the right reasons. Also, it should go without saying, but shading your fellow candidates won’t do you any favours either – everyone remembers Phi Phi O’Hara from Season 4’s ‘Go back to Party City’ comment, but not for the right reasons.

6. If at first you don’t succeed… try again!

And, if you aren’t successful in your application for your dream job, take a leaf out of the queens of All Stars’ books – you can always try again. Many employers will accept applications from candidates for a number of years after they graduate and, like Alaska or Trixie Mattel, you can use your time between applications to develop your skills, gain experience and give yourself the best chance of securing the role the next time round. And, unlike on All Stars, you won’t be at risk of being voted off by your fellow competitors (#JusticeForShangela #ManilaWasRobbed).

More career tips from TV shows…

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