Looks Awful. I’ll Take It!

I saw a preview for what looks like it could be the worst movie ever. I am going to run down to the ATM machine, grab some cash and take the family out for a rotten evening.

A friend told me that she went to a “taste of” event that a civic organization in her town held a few weeks ago. All of the town’s restaurants were there so she was able to sample food ranging from American to Thai, Chinese to Italian. She found the one she liked least and immediately made a reservation. Knowing that it is one of the highest priced restaurants in town makes it that much better.

Sounds insane, right? Of course, but it is exactly what job seekers are asking potential employers to do when they send off error laden resumes, cover letters and emails. If they are showing their best in this work  – and that is the assumption that employers and recruiters have to make – it is just not good enough.

Why do the headhunters make this assumption? The job seeker has almost unlimited time to create a perfect document, so mistakes in this work must be a predictor for inattention to detail and poor work performance, right? Understand this: resumes, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, personal websites, thank you notes, emails and every other form of communication must be perfect. The notion that you only get one chance to make a great first impression must be top of mind in any job hunter’s campaign. Get advice, get help and get it all right. All of it.

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Your Mistake, My Money

The electronic ink flows faster than a western river after the spring melt as small business owners and entrepreneurs discuss how to grow their businesses. How can we get more customers? How can we sell more? How can we get referrals? Here is an idea: do what you said you were going to do and return calls.

Here is a brief and hopefully not too boring example of what has got me stirred up this morning. My house needs a chimney repair. We called one local contractor who visited our home, scribbled a quote with his pencil on the back of a business card (really!) and told us that he really wanted to do the $1,600 job. We called him back to make the appointment. And called. And called again. Tony, where are you?

As I sit writing this, I am waiting for another contractor who committed to a visit during a time window that ended 30 minutes ago. We called this guy from his colorful – and presumably not free – ad in one of those coupon magazines that fill the mailbox. Tick tock, tick tock.

When I get inquiries from potential clients, I always respond right away. There are simple technology tricks to make this possible, solutions like smartphones to get emails and voice-to-text email alerts of office voicemails. Almost always, these people express delighted surprise that I get back to them so quickly because my competitors don’t. They lose, I win. I get paid, they don’t.

Woody Allen famously commented that success is all about showing up. I think he was right. In business, success can come from something as simple: return the call. Show up and win the business, because others have not yet figured this out.

A Bright Future in Sales

Have you ever heard someone say, “I never want to work in sales”? While we know what that means – not wanting to have to hit sales quotas and relying on commissions to pay the mortgage – every one of us is selling all the time. Rather than sales, we call it persuasion or influence or woo or something else, but the fact is that we all have at least one thing to sell: ourselves.

Think about the other ways that you need to influence people in your life. You have to get your kids to eat healthful foods. You have to present a project proposal and persuade your boss (and her bosses) to give you the approval and the budget to make it happen. If you are single and looking for a partner, you have to sell yourself in ways I won’t cover here. And if you are looking for a job, you have to sell yourself as a solution to a problem. There is work to be done, profits to be earned and we need the right person who will give the best return on payroll and benefits costs expended. Are you that person?

Understanding some basics of sales can help you understand how to market yourself and close the sale by getting the job offer.

First, understand your skills and experience (Sales Lingo: Product Knowledge) and how they are relevant in the employment marketplace. You need to be the expert on you, so if you can’t describe what you do and what you offer, you need to get to work and become the subject matter expert. Now.

Second, understand the needs of potential employers and understand the challenges that they face (Qualifying). Nobody buys anything that they don’t perceive as meeting some need. You must be able to show how you are the solution to whatever problem or opportunity your next employer faces. Do your homework before the interview so you can speak your interviewer’s internal company language.

Third, be prepared to show your interviewer how you understand their needs and show how your profile is a perfect match (Presentation). You will demonstrate this through your experience, accomplishments, understanding of the employer’s needs and your attitude as displayed in the interview.

Fourth, be ready to ask questions that will demonstrate that you are already visualizing yourself in the organization and that you are engaged in thinking about how you can be a new, valuable part of the team (Trial Close/Transferring Possession).

Finally, be ready to ask for the sale (Close!). Practice a summary statement that conveys this: You need someone who can do X, Y and Z. I have the experience, training and track record that clearly demonstrates that I can do X, Y, and Z. When can I get started helping you solve these problems and maximizing on these opportunities?

Take the time to prepare yourself and have a strategy as you get ready to sell yourself in the jobs marketplace. This time and effort will pay off and place you well above many of your competitors who just will not do the hard work. Now go close the sale!

(And yes, the title is a reference to the Fountains of Wayne song)

Face to Face

You have a great résumé and you have found a job listing that sounds like it was written just for you. You send off a perfect cover letter and the best possible thing happens: you get the call and a recruiter wants to schedule an interview.

Now what? Are you ready to sit for an interview and follow up?

First, how much time have you spent preparing for easily anticipated questions? When the recruiter, HR manager or hiring manager sits with you, how will you respond to these questions?

  • Please, tell me about yourself and your career.
  • What accomplishments from the last 12 months are you most proud about?
  • Give me details on how you grew sales/reduced expenses/improved profitability as you claim on your résumé.
  • What is your greatest strength? How about your biggest weakness?

Are you going to be ready for these questions, or will you just hope for the best and see what happens? Your competition will prepare and practice and have a portfolio of answers in mind to answer these and other questions. How well do you know yourself and how well can you tell your story in a compelling way that will make the interviewer want to hire you?

Here are a couple of ideas to help you get ready:

  • Research the company you are hoping to join. Complete an Internet search for “(Company Name) interview questions.” That may give you some insight into the questions you will face. Glassdoor is a potential resource to check.
  • Write out your answers to common questions and read them out loud. Do they sound convincing? Try recording your voice – your smartphone probably has a voice recorder – and listen for enthusiasm, energy and conviction. Is it there? No? Try again.
  • Know your résumé from top to bottom. Even if you paid someone to write it for you, this is your life and your career. You need to get committed. (An aside: You can either be involved or committed. When it comes to a bacon and eggs breakfast, the chicken is involved. The pig is committed. You want to be the pig).

If this still leaves you feeling unprepared, get some help. You have come this far. Making an investment in interview coaching can help. Whatever you decide, get ready, because your time to sell yourself face to face is coming.

Out-Communicate the Competition

Knowing that clients, employers and the general public can spread news about you and your business in moments (think Yelp, Google Places, Kudzu, etc.), why do so many act as if the Internet does not exists? Two examples from this week make the point.

I heard from a new client this week. She had done some research to find resume writing services in the Better Business Bureau directory. I was fortunate to be one of the three businesses she called. When I spoke with her, she told me that of the other two, one never returned her call and the other was rude. To whom do you think she gave her business?

My wife and I contracted to have a big repair done on our house. The builder was recommended to us by a friend. We met with him, felt good about hiring him, and went ahead with the project. Here is where he could have done a better job: the project materials were delivered mid-week, and we never heard from him as to when the job would begin. As we went through the weekend, my wife and I were getting frustrated in that we hadn’t gotten a call about the project start day and we decided that we were going to call at 8AM Monday morning. The builder arrived and started tearing our roof off at 7:45. What was wrong? Nothing that a quick phone call wouldn’t have fixed. “Hey, I’ll be there Monday morning. See you then.”

Keep these stories in mind as you work on your professional reputation, either working for yourself or someone else. Are you hitting your deadlines, communicating effectively and thanking your prospects and clients for the opportunity to serve? Your creativity and effectiveness at keeping in touch with your people at every step is just as important as how you initially contact new employers, peers and customers. Do more to communicate and serve than your competitors and you will be rewarded with more business, a better reputation and a more successful career.