Know Yourself & Sell Yourself

Feature Function BenefitCan you sell something that you neither know nor understand? Visit some retail stores and you will see people trying, but it doesn’t work. The best sales people know their product, can explain the advantages of its features and connect them as benefits to the customers. In sales-speak, it’s knowing features, functions and benefits. Used effectively, FFB helps make the sale.

As we are facing the historic, crippling, scary, panic-inducing prospect of winter storm Nemo (hype fully intentional) in the Northeast, the example of the common snow shovel seems appropriate. I know, snow shovels don’t need a lot of selling. The Weather Channel incites enough fear to guarantee a sell-out from New York to Bangor, but stick with me.

Our Snow Blaster 9000 has a key feature: an extra wide scoop. The function is that it can move a lot of snow in a single effort. The benefit is that the user can finish faster and get to his Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate with Mini Marshmallows faster. Simple!

Snow Blaster 9000
Snow Blaster 9000

How does this translate to your job search? That’s simple, too.

You are selling yourself, and as every skilled salesperson knows, you’ve got to know your product. When interviewing, you are selling your skills and abilities. You do that by giving examples of how you have demonstrated those abilities before. You wrap it up and make the sale by convincing the hiring manager that you will benefit the company in whatever way makes sense for the job.

Let’s consider a marketing specialist. She has expertise in social media. In fact, she launched a page on Facebook and generated 100,000 likes in 30 days. She discusses with the hiring manager her ideas on how she can help the prospective employer grow its business by bringing these proven skills with her. She has explained her ability, given an example, and presented a compelling case that she will be able to benefit the new employer.

AEB - Social Media Expertise
AEB – Social Media Expertise

Know yourself. Be ready to explain your abilities, examples and benefits. Make the buyer want the product: You!

 

Can you sell yourself in 30 seconds?

Check out “Question 1: Tell Me About Yourself” for more interviewing help.

Five Reference-Gathering Tools & Tips

Specific, concise, results-centered references are an important part of a job search. Hiring managers and HR people want to know what others think about the candidate they are considering. In fact, many companies make this a mandatory part of the process. The HR folks will not be doing their jobs nor will they advance even the best candidate in the process without this box checked.

Here are the five things that you will make your references another compelling part of your career marketing package, supplementing and complementing your résumé, cover letter and LinkedIn profile.

Get them now. Don’t wait until you start your job search to get well-written recommendations into your portfolio. If you are especially marketable, the process could move faster than you thought. You don’t want to be empty-handed when asked for them.

Direct the reference writer. When you ask someone to write a reference for you, tell the person what you would like her/him to write about. Remind her about the project you worked on. Ask him to discuss your negotiating skills and how it helped your company get pricing concessions. If you don’t, all of your references will say “Jim is a great guy” or “Mary is a team player who multitasks well.” You don’t want generic mush. You want focused, valuable and diverse letters that create a comprehensive picture of you, your abilities and your accomplishments. You have to direct the process.

Learn more about LinkedIn recommendations & endorsements here.

Get durable contact information. By durable, I mean at least one way to contact the referrer that is not dependent on employment. If you and Travis worked together at IBM and Travis has since moved on to another company, what good will Travis’s IBM email address and phone number be? A LinkedIn profile address is good, as is a personal email address. Keep them current.

Make it easy. Make life easy for the person giving you the recommendation. Offer to write the letter for him or her. You write it, your buddy Travis reads it, copies it and pastes it into the letter format of his choice. Done! Don’t feel nervous about this. Instead, know that you are making it easier for people to help you. They are doing something that they wanted to do and you have done most of the work for them. Everyone wins.

Create a LinkedIn version. A recommendation letter may be several paragraphs long. A LinkedIn recommendation should be just a few lines. Depending on your relationship with the referrer, offer to write a condensed version of the recommendation and ask Travis to post it to your LinkedIn profile as a recommendation that the world can see. Then you can tell an interviewer that you have more complete letters of recommendation that support the LinkedIn versions.

If you do these things, you will be more marketable and more confident. After all, you already know what your referrers are going to say. That confidence will come through as you interview and you just might become the top candidate.

Bill Florin is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and Certified Employment Interview Professional, and President of Resu-mazing Services Company in Monroe, Connecticut.

Confidence & The Casting Call

Anytime job seekers are thrown into a non-traditional interviewing environment, stress levels rise and anything can happen. If the experience isn’t one-on-one, heart palpitations and sweaty palms result. I heard from a client this past week who participated as a candidate in a group interview, and he did very well, winning an individual interview and the job. Here are some things we can learn from his success.

If you are faced with a casting call experience like this, where it is you and a crowd, be prepared to tell your story quickly. Those who rise to the challenge in this setting and make a strong positive impression are the candidates most likely to make it to round two.

Second, know your material and your success stories well. If a question is thrown to the group about results, accomplishments or anything else that you should be able to talk about, be ready to respond without hesitation. You want to get your story out. Be alert! Be sharp!

Third, and most important, be confident. Your confidence will come across in both your verbal and non-verbal communication. Speak clearly, with energy, and make eye contact at some point with all of the interviewers. Sit up in your chair, smile and show some enthusiasm. Be the person that the interview panel will notice.

These sessions are designed to do two things. They allow for efficiency and an easy way to eliminate people from consideration. The quiet person in the back of the room is going to get cut. They are also designed to get you to show your personality and confidence (or lack of both).

You have a lot to tell and accomplishments to be proud of or you wouldn’t have been invited to interview. Turn the confidence up, get your stories ready and shine. Make the impression that will want the panel to bring you back for more.

Bill Florin, CPRW is the President of Resu-mazing Services Company.

Golden Rule Recruiting

First, excuse me if this sounds like a rant coming from the other side of the table. It’s not. My hope is that these are reminders about what you already know, and that they offer a perspective that you have not heard.

As a professional who assists and advises clients in their career marketing and search activities, though, I do hear a lot about some of the treatment they receive from recruiters. If you want to really feel some of that heat, attend one of my seminars that attract up to 30 people in a session. When we get to the topic of following up on inquiries and after interviews, the intensity and the volume both rise to a higher level. Here is the question that stirs the emotions of attendees:

The recruiter told me that I would hear something within two weeks, but it’s been a month. What should I do?

The question itself is simple enough, but the reaction it gets from others is powerful. There is a universal loathing for perceived fib-telling and forgetful recruiters, whether they are staff recruiters for a hiring company or third-party pros sourcing candidates for their clients. The howls of frustration are tough to hear and there isn’t much to say other than, “It’s unfortunate, but it happens.”

So what’s the difference? Why should the recruiter care? As if doing the right thing isn’t enough, it comes down to the impact on the employer’s brand. Whether a recruiter is an employee of the hiring company or with an outside firm, both have the power to enhance or damage the brand. This may be more true in consumer-oriented companies that might alienate a customer with shoddy recruiting practices, but it’s not limited to them. Even if the organization sells helicopters to the Chilean army, it still has a reputation to maintain. Every marketing dollar is precious, so why behave in a way that diminishes yours or your client’s credibility?

If you don’t think that people talk and share their experiences, head over to Glassdoor.com to see a concentrated sampling of stories told by happy and unhappy job seekers. Candidates treated with respect with a clear, consistent and fair process will give credit as it is deserved. Those who get something less will take full advantage to scream from atop their digital soap boxes.

Here are a few ideas that can help make everyone’s lives easier:

  • If you say that you will call back with a decision or next steps by a certain date, do it. Even if the decision has not been finalized by the deadline, an update with a new due date will be appreciated.
  • Shoot straight. If the answer is no, then say it. Your candidate will appreciate the opportunity to cross the possibility off the list and to stop thinking about it.
  • Set expectations at every touch-point and deliver. If your candidate is traveling, be sure that the details are addressed. If you made the appointment for 10 AM, don’t leave the candidate stewing in the lobby until 11.
  • Hold your peers accountable to do the same. Set the example and expect them to follow.

The extra attention and energy committed to treating candidates the way that you would want to be treated will pay off. And hey, you will probably be on the other side of the table someday, too. Pay it forward, recruiter!

Your Résumé is Foundational

60 Minutes ran a piece profiling the Platform to Employment program in Fairfield County, CT. In one clip, a lecturer tears a résumé in half, proclaiming it obsolete. Ironically, the same piece shows job seekers practice interviewing with the interviewer reviewing the résumé. Go figure. Articles appear from time to time proclaiming the death of the résumé. Did you waste your time and maybe some money creating and optimizing your résumé? No! It is a foundational piece of your search. Here’s why.

Your résumé is your mandatory ticket into meetings with recruiters and hiring managers. Can you imagine what would happen to the candidate who shows up empty-handed for the interview? “Do I have a résumé? No. You can Google me instead and find my web presence.” This would likely be the shortest and most awkward interview of all time.

[See my series of interviewing advice stories: Questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, One Question and Awareness & Adaptability.]

Your résumé is a marketing document. The document tells your story and allows others to present and introduce you to others. I frequently get requests that sound like this: “A friend of mine asked me to send him my résumé so that he could pass it along to his boss.” A LinkedIn profile address might work in this scenario, but maybe not. Note that people are asking for résumés, not Klout scores.

The résumé writing process forces you to clarify your experiences and accomplishments. This, in turn, makes you better prepared for interviewing. The hard work of thinking about your career, identifying the most important results and accomplishments, and putting it all into your résumé forces you to reflect upon, rank and organize your thoughts.

LinkedIn profiles are built off of your résumé. Let’s keep this simple and talk about LinkedIn. You can either upload your résumé and have the system automatically build your profile, or you can fill in blocks that look very much like a traditional chronological résumé. The “obsolete” résumé is the foundation of your profile.

[Get your free e-booklet: LinkedIn Start Up & Tune Up]

Keep that résumé sharp, polished and up-to-date. Be sure that it grabs the reader’s attention in the first few sentences. Don’t worry about it being obsolete. The old-fashioned résumé still has a lot of life and many uses.

Bill Florin, CPRW, is President of Resu-mazing Services Company in Monroe, Connecticut.

Awareness & Adaptability

Here is the tough truth about interviewing: every interviewer, company and day is different. The personalities of the people in the interview – whether in person, on the phone, or by video conference – will sway the encounter. You may have done all of your research and feel that you know the questions you are going to face, only to be disappointed and surprised by an unanticipated angle or a completely different line of questions. That’s where your awareness and adaptability become critical.

Awareness of Your History. Having a detailed awareness of your career history and accomplishments is mandatory. Only you know your story. If you have carefully reviewed your history as you wrote or refined your resume and have updated your LinkedIn profile with your best stuff, you have made a tremendous step in the right direction. By thinking about and reflecting on your accomplishments for these career marketing activities, you will help yourself to have the awareness, memories and stories ready to go for an interview.

Awareness of the Organization’s Culture. This important step is one that is often overlooked by job seekers. Most companies share a lot about their culture and priorities in very open and public ways. Read everything on the company’s career/employment web sites. If possible, get to know people in the organization and learn from them. Then take the step of thinking about how you can best craft your stories in a way that will resonate with your interviewer. Here is an example. Target Corporation lives by the motto “Fast, Fun & Friendly.” If you know this, you could consider how your career stories could be told in a way that show your quick and determined action to resolve a business problem or to exploit an opportunity while staying focused on customer service or employee engagement.

Adapting to the Question. You will have to take your stories and adapt them quickly during an interview. For example, you may be prepared with three stories of accomplishments and you might even have some thoughts of the order in which you would like to tell them. Your interviewer may ask a situational question that changes the order of your stories and the angle you take. Only by knowing your stories well will you be able to adapt. Your interviewer may ask, “Tell me about a time that you saved your company money and please be specific.” If you have a story that fits the question, you can tell the interviewer about the situation, your specific actions and the outcome. If you don’t have the stories memorized and ready, you may stumble through this question and give a weak or poorly told example.

Adapting to the Atmosphere. As mentioned earlier, every interview will be different, and you need to be ready. You could face a one-on-one interview, a small group or a large panel. The interview may be conversational or very formal. It might even include numerous introductions and short interactions. Your emotional intelligence receptors must be on full alert to understand the dynamic and to adapt as needed. By knowing your material and your stories very well, you can devote more of your energy to this critical element and less to the hard work of recalling your stories.

You need to know your stories and must be ready to share them in detail and in a way that addresses the question you face and in a way that is appropriate for the environment. Make the effort to review and reflect on your performance so that you will be ready to adapt as needed. The work that you do will be worth it.

Other articles to help you prepare to interview:

Question 5: Why did you leave?

Question 4: When have you failed?

Question 3: Your greatest accomplishment?

Bill Florin, CPRW is the President of Resu-mazing Service Company.

Question 5: Why Did You Leave?

Chances are that this will be asked sooner rather than later in your next interview. It’s a natural and obvious query, especially if you left your last job without having a new one. Here are some pointers based on different situations.

Layoff. This is the easiest of the bunch, especially if the job loss happened because your employer failed or shrunk. I recently worked with a client who was caught in the 6,000 person layoff from BlackBerry maker Research in Motion. If this is your situation, no worries! Tell the story in a sentence or two. Then describe how you can apply what you learned in your last job to help your new employer. If it was a large layoff – either in absolute numbers or as a percentage of the company workforce – tell the numbers. 6,000 is a big number. 10 is a big number, too, if the company only had 18 people.

You Quit – Personal/Medical. People quit for many reasons. Family and medical issues, spouse’s job change, changes in family status (e.g. divorce) and other personal reasons are all drivers in the decision to leave. If this is your story, tell the truth, but be brief.

Here is an example of what to say: “I had to deal with some medical issues in my family that required full-time attention. That is now behind me and I am ready to focus my energies on my career once again.” Note how this positions your story. You are telling the interviewer that there was a medical (or family) issue, but you are not saying that it was you. A professional interviewer will take that answer and move on.

Here’s what not to say: “I was diagnosed with cancer and when through six months of radiation and chemo treatments.” Do not share these details! Your interviewer does not need to know and you do not need to share.

Be concise. Be brief. Keep it high-level. The more detail you are giving, the worse you are doing.

You Quit – It was the Job/Boss. This will require some creative thinking, with the requirement that you do not lie. Employers dig and dig, checking with your references and reviewing social media. Have you ever complained about your boss or job on Facebook, your blog, LinkedIn or in some other public forum? If so, you have to assume that the employer has already seen it. Deal with it.

Did you outgrow the position? Were you being challenged and allowed to contribute to your potential? If not, these are valid reasons for seeking other opportunities. Try this: “I realized that I had developed to the point that I needed to seek opportunities that were not available in that company. Rather than trying to find a new job while being employed there, something that would have distracted me and would have been unfair to the company, I decided to leave and launch a full-time search for my next position where I can contribute my best every day.” You will have to put this is your own words, of course, but this should give you a launching point for your thoughts.

Was your boss a jerk? Keep it to yourself. Never speak poorly of your past company or the people, no matter how much you may want to.

You Were Fired. If you were fired for performance, you are going to have to do some work. Is it possible that your performance suffered because of one of the issues above? If so, maybe you need to think about the experience, how your personal issues may have contributed to your termination, and what you learned from it. Guess what? People who have been fired find jobs. The trick is to learn from the negative experience, reflect upon the situation and what you did or didn’t do that led to that outcome, and what you can do differently in the future.

Here is one possible answer. “My performance was not what it should have been as I was dealing with some family/personal concerns. Frankly, I don’t blame the company for letting me go. I am happy to say that all of that is behind me, I learned a great deal from it, and I am excited to get back to work.”

Don’t forget that your whole career is much more than your most recent experience. If you had a solid history before, use that. “My most recent position was a stretch that didn’t end the way that I wanted, but I learned from it and have so much to offer from my entire career, including promotions and career advancement. Let’s talk about how I can contribute and make a difference here.

In the end, you have to decide on the story you will tell and the words that will sound best.

Finally, keep smiling and answer the questions honestly and directly. You can anticipate these questions, so you must prepare and practice your answers. Preparation will keep your stress under control and you will seem more confident to the interviewer. Be ready!

Here are other useful interview question articles. Good luck in your search!

Awareness & Adaptability: Be ready to pivot. Know your stories.

Question 1: Tell Me About Yourself

Question 2: Why Do You Want to Work Here?

Question 3: Tell Me About Your Greatest Accomplishment

Question 4: When Have You Failed?

What If There’s Just One Question?

Stationary + Stamp = Standout

thank you noteEvery time one of my children goes to a birthday party, we get a thank you card in the mail. Over the last weeks, as teachers have finished the past year and gotten ready for the next, we have received notes and cards thanking us for the end-of-year teacher gifts. Each time we get one, it brings a smile, a comment about the sender’s thoughtfulness, and some excitement for our kids. What child doesn’t like to receive mail?

The thank you note should not just belong to teachers and kids. I received an email from a client over the weekend. He had been on an interview late in the week and was asking for some advice on follow up. His question: “Should I send an email or a letter?” Definitely go with the letter or a card. Here’s why.

Just as the cards we have received in our home tend to stick around for a while, the same thing will happen with your thank you card or letter. It is a tangible thing that will sit on the receiver’s desk. She might share it with others. If it is nice stationary, he may hesitate to discard it. Can any of us say the same about an email? It could be vaporized on a Blackberry or trashed on an iPad and forgotten, if it is even read at all. The extra effort will make you a standout among your candidate competition.

Your challenge: Visit a store that sells stationary (Staples, Target, CVS, etc.) and buy a package of professional-looking cards. Get some stamps. Over the coming weeks, use the entire package. Are you up to it? You get extra credit if you report back your results to this blog as a comment.

Here are some practical tips on using them.

  • Keep your message concise and clear.
  • Express why you are grateful. Example: “Thank you for the time you spent with me today. I enjoyed getting to know you and I hope that we will be working together soon.”
  • Challenge yourself to send them as soon as possible. We all get busy and the opportunity becomes forgotten and lost.
  • Get creative about to whom you will send them. The people who interview you are the easy ones. How about these people: The person who told you about the job opportunity. People who have helped by reading, reviewing and commenting on your résumé. The person who sold you your interview suit and did such a great job. That person who gave you some encouragement and a pep talk when you were feeling down.

Your gratitude, expressed in writing, will brighten the recipient’s day and make you more memorable. The very act of thinking about what and why you are grateful will lift your mood, too. Have some fun and tell us all how it goes.

Here are two other articles about less-common tactics that should be part of your career management strategy starting today.

Pocket-Size Resume: The essentials on a card.

3x5x30: Create your elevator speech now.

And a reminder of what can go wrong with a poorly written thank you letter.

Bill Florin, CPRW is President of Resu-mazing Services Company. Contact Bill for help with your job search, career management and personal brand questions.

Pocket-Size Résumé

Twice in the last week I have participated in conversations about personal business cards, useful for networking events and chance encounters. One conversation was with a friend, another on a LinkedIn group. In both settings, hot topics encompassed what the card should include, what it should not, and the value of this pocket-size résumé. Here are some tips on how to write it and make it work for you.

Let’s Start with the Basics

  1. Include your personal contact information. This means a professional and personal email address, not a work email that you lose when you leave a job. “Professional” means sticking with something that is your name and not much else. Examples: JoeSmith100@—.com, MaryLBaker10@—.com. Avoid potentially embarrassing email addresses.
  2. LinkedIn Profile Address. You have one, right?
  3. One phone number. Your best, can reach number that is yours alone. This is most likely your wireless number. By the way, check the outgoing message. Does it portray you as a professional? Re-record it if necessary. Now.

Brand Statement

What is your profession? What are you known for? Under your name, create a title that is reflective of your skills and career, but that is not dependent on your employer. You may be a divisional sales manager for your employer, but you should come up with something else for your personal card. How about this: “IT Sales Executive: Coach, Trainer and Leader.” This same brand statement could even be used on your LinkedIn profile.

QR Code: Yes or No?

Some people love it, others don’t. If you haven’t used a QR code before, it is that square scannable bug that you see on print advertising. Scan it with your smartphone and it directs you to some online content. The destination could be a personal website, blog, LinkedIn profile or anything else that you want. Be sure that if you use it, the destination is something that you want other professionals to see. If in doubt, leave it out.

Flip it Over

A business card has two sides. Use them. Think about your two or three most compelling selling points that you bring to the job market. Refine them down to a few bullets and get them on the card. Points that you have in your elevator speech can work well here. Or, you might change your elevator speech after forcing yourself to clarify your value proposition by going through this exercise. Whatever the case, be prepared to present yourself to people you meet and use the card to reinforce your message.

Complement Your Résumé

Be sure that the card and your résumé are communicating the same message using the same language. Think of them working together as a marketing kit, both presenting you with the same value propositions and both with special uses. You wouldn’t go to an after-work networking mixer with résumés, and you wouldn’t go to an interview with just a business card. The two work together and must complement each other.

Do you have a card that works for you? I would love to hear about it. Please comment and share your ideas.

Bill Florin, CPRW is President of Resu-mazing Services Company. Contact Bill for help with your job search, career management and personal brand questions.

What If There’s Just One Question?

Many people make the effort to prepare for the job interview by considering potential questions, many of which have been covered in earlier pieces on this site (See the “Questions” series). But what if your interview consists of only one question? A friend conveyed a story of his experience about meeting with a top executive of a potential employer. The question: What are you good at?

My friend, being honest and humble, readily admitted that he did not handle this single question very well, but he took it as a learning experience. He is now ready to answer that one if he faces it again. How about you? We learn from our mistakes, but it is better to learn from the mistakes of others; it’s a lot less painful that way. What would you say if faced with this single question? Here are some ideas.

First, think about the things that are important to employers in your industry. It could be a special technology or trend for which you have developed a marketable skill. Be ready to weave that into your answer.

Second, consider the scope and sophistication of your reply. It should be appropriate to the level at which you are interviewing. If you are being considered for a top spot at the firm, your highlighted skills should be at a much higher level than the recent college graduate looking for her first job.

Third, build in examples, or at least short mentions to pique curiosity in the interviewer. For example, you could talk about your superb team building skills as demonstrated when you worked on your firm’s top XYZ account. This will give your interviewer the prompt to ask more about a topic that you want to discuss.

Finally, be sure that you have done you research to understand what is important to this potential employer. You have got to be able to demonstrate that you offer a solution to a problem. You offer skills and abilities that will meet the needs of the organization. You cannot know this if you don’t know anything about the company.

Important: This goes beyond the elevator pitch, which is a brief 30 second self-introduction. It must be concise but it the answer will be developed for a formal interview setting. Add more detail and context and develop it to encourage follow up dialogue.

Summarizing yourself and your career with a concise presentation will not be easy, but it will be worth the effort. You are good at something and likely many more than one thing. Ensure that telling your story about what makes you special one of your top skills.

If you found this helpful, see some other stories to help you deal with common interview questions.

Question 1: Tell Me About Yourself

Question 2: Why Do You Want to Work Here?

Question 3: Tell Me About Your Greatest Accomplishment

Question 4: When Have You Failed?