Sales Basics and the Job Search

Everyone is in sales. Whether you sell for a living or have to influence others in some way, you are selling ideas, products and yourself all the time. Having your eyes open to that fact will work to your advantage as you conduct a job search, and understanding some basic sales tactics can accelerate the process and get you doing what you love, your career of choice. Having worked in sales and sales management, I hope that these concepts that I have learned – some the hard way – can help you.

Use Your Network. People buy from those that they trust. The best way to become trusted is with the recommendation of a valued and respected insider. Continue to build and energize your network, helping others as you can. The day may come when you need a favor (maybe you need one now) and the investment you made in time and energy will pay dividends.

Sell What the Buyer Wants. You must understand the needs of the buyer. You are the seller, and the employer is considering buying your services. What is important to the company and what are the qualifications of the role? What is the organization’s culture and how would you fit in? Study the job posting, read the company’s website, research the organization through other sources (including insiders), and be ready to explain how you can help solve their problems. Focus on the needs of the organization and how you will be a great asset with the track record to prove it.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare. If you have ever been on a sales call, as the seller, the buyer or just an interested bystander, you know that a professional sales presentation can lead to success. The presentation includes the person (dress, grooming, professionalism), sales and marketing materials (leave-behinds, brochures), the content of the presentation and asking for the sale. As you sell yourself, you need to consider and plan for your interviews and other interactions. What will you say? What material will you present? How will you follow up?

Multiple Contacts Increase Your Chances. This comes back to the point of trust. We don’t trust everyone we see from the first contact. That’s why you need to work to get your name, face, and work in front of the buyer as many times as you can and through as many channels as possible. At a minimum, this will include your initial contact, a phone interview, a face-to-face interview and follow up (thank you letter). You enhance your chances with a recommendation from an existing employee (back to your network). If you are in a less aggressive job search, consider a drip marketing campaign with potential employers, contact them once every 30 to 45 days with something of value.

Ask for the Sale. When you have gone through the process, ask for the job. Your request could be as simple as this: “I really would like to get to work helping your company capture market share. What are our next steps to me joining your team?”

Consider these sales basics when marketing yourself, and put them into practice. Understand that as you enter the labor market you are a sales person, so be great at it.

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Three Reactions to No

Not all news is great in career searches. A seeker will feel that the résumé is perfect, the cover letter compelling, and the job requirements a perfect match for her experience. The call comes, the interview is scheduled and completed, and she waits for the offer. Instead, rejection follows. It happens. What is next is completely up to the seeker. Here are three potential reactions.

Assume the fetal position and whine. Alright, maybe not literally, but in every other way. Job seekers take the rejection at the most personal level and retract into their shells, unable or unwilling to see that the opportunity may not have been as perfect as first thought. Or it’s possible that there was some bad chemistry between the candidate and the interviewer. Or there was an equally strong candidate willing to do the job for a lower salary. Or, or, or. No means no, but nothing more than that. Unless Connie Candidate had a total meltdown in the interview or committed some egregious faux pas, the reason for the decision will likely never be known. Move on before the rejection kills confidence.

Get mad. Much like the “Woe is me!” reaction above, this is just another inappropriate emotion for something that is not entirely in the seeker’s control. Anger and the accompanying reactions – denial, obstinacy and bitterness – will not serve the seeker well. The job search is, in part, a numbers game. There may be one job and 10 qualified candidates, or 100. While anger can offer some emotional fuel, too much can lead to irrational and damaging decisions.

Learn from it. This is the best option by far. A detailed self-debriefing can pay huge dividends, especially if it is done immediately after the interview. Thoughts on which to reflect could include the following. Which questions caused me the most grief? Which questions allowed me to give my strongest answers? How could I have told my stories more effectively and concisely? If I could go back and answer one question again, which one would it be and what would I say differently?

Rejection will come to all but the most fortunate job hunters. Prepare yourself for it and give yourself a pep talk on what you will do when it happens. Which will describe you when it happens: quivering mess, ball of rage, or wiser and smarter professional? Your reaction is up to you and one of the only parts of the process that you control.

Ready for Your Screen Test? Get Hired, or Not.

Have you heard about the latest launch that will have job seekers setting up their tripods and talking at their cameras? GetHired.com just hit the Internet and promises to give recruiters and hunters one more factor to consider and stress about.

Here’s the idea. Job seekers can post a résumé and an audio or video file to pitch themselves to recruiters. Recruiters can see your résumé, your location and whatever other content you post. There is more to it than that, but you can visit the site for yourself if you want to get all the details.

This concept is intriguing, and there may be value in it that we will discover if it gets big, but here are a few warnings that give me pause.

Recruiters: How comfortable are you with defending your decision while avoiding potential liability from perceived discrimination? What if the candidate has a solid résumé, but a video with all the production value of Plan Nine from Outer Space? A bad pitch, poor sound and terrible lighting could cause you to pass on a candidate who may have been considered if it were not for the video. What if the applicant is visibly in a protected class? How will you defend your decision to pass?

Job Seekers: As if being concerned about every letter of your résumé and cover letter were not enough, now you get to make a video. Then you get to wonder if it was the reason why you did not get the call. Won’t that be fun?

Here’s some advice. If you decide to use this tool, do the hard work of producing a quality video. This means having a script, delivering it well and both looking and sounding great. By the way, that will also require attention to lighting, sound (use a clip-on microphone) and the background of the shot.

The idea is compelling, and there will probably be some people who master the tool. Keep in mind that this is extra work, though, and a 60 second video could take hours of work. Should you choose to participate, work hard, and remember that the first step in the process is posting your résumé. That needs to be great, just like always, before you even start your video production.

The Terrible T’s, Shortstops and Quarterbacks

Consider this a counterpoint to the Three R’s (relevant, recent, results). The Terrible T’s are something that should be very limited in your résumé, only appearing if needed to tell your story.

The Terrible T’s are tasks, those phrases and sentences that fill some résumés with what one is required to do on the job, rather than the results achieved. Here are two examples from sports to make the point.

A shortstop takes his position between second and third base, fielding balls that come his way. The shortstop is often the key to successful double play tries, covering second when a ball is it on the right side of the infield. He also bats, taking his turn at the plate.

A quarterback is the leader of a football team’s offensive unit, calling plays, keeping the team together and driving the ball down the field. He uses a combination of running and throwing plays to get the job done, making snap decisions on what to do with the ball all while being pursued by defensive players who want to tackle him and strip him of the ball.

These are boring explanations of the jobs of shortstop and quarterback. Every person who has played either position recognizes it, from kids in their earliest games to pros making millions to do it and do it well. The previous paragraphs are unnecessary in most cases. Here is what is necessary.

Tom Brady had a record setting performance on Sunday, January 15th when he led the New England Patriots with five touchdown passes in the first half of the game. This has never been done in NFL playoff football and sent the Denver Broncos into the off season with a resounding defeat.

Derek Jeter entered the record books in 2011 by surpassing the 3,000 career hits mark. This was just one more milestone in a career with the New York Yankees, one that has included multiple Golden Gloves awards, All Star Game appearances and World Series titles.

Do you see the difference? Is your résumé describing you as a Brady or a Jeter, or just another journeyman player with no accomplishments to share?

TIP: Get a red pen and a copy of your résumé. Underline every statement that describes a task. Then get a blue pen and underline everything that describes a result or accomplishment. If you are seeing more red than blue, you have some work to do. Write your history in blue and leave the red to the employee handbook and job description documents in the HR department.

The Three R’s Your Résumé Must Include

Font choice? Debatable.

One page, two pages or more? Debatable.

The Three R’s? No discussion. They have to be there.

Relevant: How is the information in your résumé relevant to your reader? Part of the effort of a successful career search is ensuring that the information you present is important and compelling to your market. Your market is defined as the people who are reading your documents and are in a position to offer you a job. Before sending your résumé to your dream employer, review it carefully and challenge everything in it with the question, “Will they care?”

Recent: Are your stories of recent vintage, or are they showing the wear of time. If you are in IT, your expertise with HTML5 and projects in 2011 are recent and valuable. Your expertise with WordPerfect 5 that wowed your fellow cube dwellers in the 90’s: not as much. Give the majority of your space to stories from the last five years and dial down the older material.

Results: Employers will hire you if they are convinced that you will bring more benefit than you cost. If you can help them achieve their goals by getting results, you’re hired. Unlike a mutual fund, your past performance does indicate potential future success. Tell stories of results you achieved and how you got them.

Next up: The Terrible T’s that will kill your best efforts.

This Isn’t a Legal Trial

Last night I ran a seminar called Optimizing Your Résumé for a New Year’s Job Search at the Edith Wheeler Memorial Library in Monroe, CT. The event was well attended and we covered a lot of ground in 90 minutes. There was one idea that several people had that is worth a blog post: “How do I prove my claims?”

The concern from a few people was that they were not comfortable making claims about their performance because there was no record of it having happened. In many cases the employers where the great work was done are no longer in business. The people who could confirm the claims are now difficult to contact. The performance data may be a distant memory with little more than recollection to support it. These are all valid concerns, but not a deal breaker.

It’s important to keep in mind the venue for these claims and how they will be used. If a job seeker states that as a Sales Manager she, “grew sales by 27% over 33 months and opened two new markets,” there may or may not be documentation to support the claim. If she does not have documentation, should she not include it in the résumé? Of course not! It has to be there.

Think about it this way: If a résumé were to only to contain claims that were supported by indisputable evidence, it would be a very short document. Are there things on your résumé that you don’t have evidence to support? Probably. Should you delete that information? No!

Your résumé is a marketing document. The standards are simple. Is it the truth? If yes, go for it. Can you discuss and defend it in a convincing and credible way in an interview? If yes, you’re all set!

Interviewers are looking for cultural fit and evidence of professionalism and potential. They are looking for transferable skills. If the sales increase performance from above leads to a discussion of how the candidate got the results – through market research, powerful leadership, cold calling, tenacious follow up, and other tactics – the interviewer will learn what she needs. The point is not the exact precision of performance claims, but evidence of the talent you bring to the new gig.

Remember that the standard of proof is not beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s just this: Give some stories that are credible and true that will lead to an in-depth discussion of your transferable talent and how you can help your next employer. Don’t worry that you past company got vaporized in 2008. Sell yourself!

BTW – Be sure to get your copy of 25 Résumé Tune-Up Tips, a brand new eBooklet ready for free download.

Trust Your Résumé

If you have done the hard work of creating a well written résumé, one that is current and packed with achievements, trust it. I share this simple thought as I have spoken with two clients in the last week who have had concerns planted in their minds by comments they have gotten about their career marketing documents.

One person said, “It’s a little wordy.” What does that mean? What words would we eliminate that will not degrade the quality of the stories that we tell? As it turned out, this comment came from a person with the notion that there is some rule that a résumé must fit on a single page. It sometimes works that way, but when the job seeker has a longer career filled with experiences that add value to the résumé, it is not always possible.

The second comment came from a recruiter. The client has a highly technical résumé, one packed with certifications, projects, multiple degrees and high-level experiences. This client has a strong interest in IT security and the experience and credentials that make him an expert. The feedback he got: “It’s a little heavy on IT security and not enough hands-on.” Yes, yes it is. That’s what this client does and wants to continue doing. That’s why it is written that way. By the way, this client is contacted by potential employers and recruiters every week, validating the effectiveness of the résumé.

My response is this: Consider the advice you get, take it seriously, but also consider from where it comes. Is the person giving you the advice qualified to do so? The average time in role in the recruiting industry is less than three years. If your résumé is written by a CPRW (Certified Professional Résumé Writer – like me) or a pro writer with another industry-recognized credential, you can be confident that it is a quality document.

The job seeker must be confident in the résumé, fully versed on everything in it. She must know what it says and why it says it. He must know the details of the stories described, ensuring that he is ready to explain in detail in an interview setting. Like a golfer who must trust his swing or a singer who has confidence in her training and ability to hit the high notes, the job seeker must know that the résumé is solid and must have the stories ready to support it.

Feedback is valuable, but don’t twist yourself in knots over every comment. Good hunting!

Assume the Call & Plan for It

Your résumé is designed to do one thing very well: get you an invitation to an interview.

It may or may not be written to fulfill its next important function: guide the interview.

I frequently have a similar conversation with clients to help them understand that a well-crafted résumé will serve this dual purpose. It will get someone from the hiring organization to call you and it will help the interviewer decide what to discuss with you. Be strategic about the next step. What are the stories that you are sharing to influence the tone of the interview?

Career marketing documents that are filled with accomplishments and experiences that set you above the competition will inspire inquisitiveness and curiosity in the people interviewing you. Make sure that your stories have enough detail to engage the readers, leaving them wanting to know more. That approach will give you the opportunity to discuss your successes live, successes that you will share with enthusiasm and conviction. Weak stories will leave the interview open to other directions you may not like.

Also, consider that your résumé will likely be the catalyst that will fuel conversations within your targeted organizations. Many companies use multi-level and/or panel interviews. Your stories of success should give those people something to consider and should leave them wanting to ask more about how you achieved these things, not just what you have accomplished.

Documents with stories that spark the imagination will pay benefits throughout the hiring process. Make sure that yours has spark-worthy material and is not boring. Remember, you are selling. Assume the interview and plan for it by giving your interviewer the best chance of asking you the questions you want to answer.

 

Keeping Your Search Alive

Staying motivated in the search for a new job, especially during times of unemployment, can be one of the biggest challenges in the process. After all, who wants to hear “no” all the time, or worse – nothing at all? Sending out résumés and cover letters for jobs for which one is perfectly qualified and not getting a reply can wear out even the most resilient job seeker. What can you do to stay engaged and motivated? Here are a few tips.

Make a Plan for your Day. Whether you create tomorrow’s plan in the evening or start early with a planning session, make a list of the things that you need to accomplish. Don’t stop until you have completed your list. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and something to talk about if there is a significant person in your life who wants to know what you have been doing all day (can you say “spouse”?).

Eliminate the Distractions. While it can be tempting to kill time in front of the TV or with social media sites, set a time limit for these activities and stick to it. If 30 minutes a day is your Facebook budget, don’t stretch it to 35.

Get out of the House. Get your exercise, shower, dress and go meet people. Get out to the job fairs, meet colleagues for coffee and stay tuned in to the current events in your field.

Challenge Yourself to Add to your Network. Your network should include recruiters – both recruiting agency people and staff recruiters – as well as people with whom you have worked and those that you don’t know yet. Attend as many live events with other people as possible.

Don’t Stop with LinkedIn Messages. Anyone can build a network on LinkedIn, but if it is nothing more than a list of people and their pictures – a list of people you don’t know – you have not done enough. Pick up the phone. Send a personal note. Make the connection more meaningful and valuable for you and the other person. You will be surprised at how warmly some will welcome the extra effort.

Learn Something New. Public libraries, state departments of labor and other organizations give you the opportunity to learn new skills and meet new people, mostly for free. Explore the opportunities and sign up.

Volunteer. You can add new things to your résumé and meet people while helping others. Don’t discount the value of this activity.

Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself. If you have been doing all of these things and know that you are working as hard as you can to find a job, feel good about your effort. It’s a challenging labor market filled with wary hiring managers and senior leaders trying to chart a course in an uncertain environment. Don’t take it personally and keep at it.

The Right Story at the Right Time

Let me tell you about my greatest success that never happened! I worked on a project for almost two years and in spite of all of my efforts, it never got off the ground. I remember it fondly and consider what could have been, and my hope is that you share the same warm feelings.

What?

There is a time and a place to tell your stories, and knowing when and where to share successes and setbacks is an important part of any job search. Consider that there are two broad categories of communication that all seekers must create and share, as follows.

The Résumé. This is your product brochure. Think about any piece of sales literature you have ever seen. They are all written by people who want to sell you something, and they describe the features of the product or service and the benefits that the buyer will receive. The résumé is your personal sales brochure, and it should be filled with information about the things that make you special and your statistics that are likely to be repeated. It is not the place for full disclosure. That belongs in…

Everything Else. By this, I mean your cover letter and the stories you will tell when interviewed. This would be the place where you may use your story about the one that got away. Many interviewers will ask you about a time you suffered a setback or your greatest weakness. This could be the time to trot this tale around the track, being sure to share what you learned from it. “This happened, and that happened, and I learned that great ideas may never get off the drawing board if every key decision maker is not on board.” Save those stories for this setting. It will sound genuine and you will not have to struggle with one of these negative interview questions.

The sales brochure for that new car you have your eye on doesn’t list the product recalls in the model’s history. Nor does it tell about unhappy customers. It stays positive and talks about acceleration, safety and Corinthian leather. Your résumé must do the same thing. You will have your chance to share the other stuff later.