Archive for April, 2012

Sales 101 for Candidates

April 24, 2012

There are so many accomplished sales professionals out there.  If you get to know them, you’ll see why they’re so effective.  Along with strong listening skills and insatiable inquisitiveness, they live by that age-old belief that if you aim to help others, others will help you.  And of course, these sales professionals know how to present, negotiate and close.

But God forbid they should have to sell themselves in an interview, let alone on their resume.  Somehow, their rich sales savvy and interpersonal communications ability suddenly go unaccounted for.  What can we do to get them back on track?  Sales 101 for candidates, I suppose.

Let’s start with the resume.  Think of it as a sales or marketing presentation that you’re going to deliver to a prospective customer.  How do you think grammatical errors, formatting inconsistencies, weak language, and missing key elements would go over in a sales presentation?  Probably not too well.  You could easily come off as not terribly sophisticated, rather disorganized and lacking attention to detail.  Your customers may think twice about wanting to do business with you.

For years, I have subscribed to the 4 Cs of resume writing:  Clean, Clear, Concise, and Compelling.  Anything else that detracts from these qualities will likely carry a deleterious effect and an undesired result.  There are may ways to craft and present a sales presentation at a customer meeting.  This is what marketing is for – to help craft the most compelling and professional sales presentation possible.  Similarly, there are many facets to a well-crafted resume, and most-all candidates are best served to invest in a top quality resume written by a 3rd party who understands the industry, position, and perspective of a hiring executive who would read the resume.

Next is the interview.  In theory, this should be easier for salespeople to excel at as the interview setting mimics that of a customer sales meeting.  The key difference, of course, is the product or service you are selling is yourself.  Why do people claim to have such difficulty in selling themselves?  I’ve heard every excuse, from humbleness (really — salespeople?!?!?!), to inexperience, to bringing up deep rooted insecurities.  I’m sorry, but what a crock!  Everyone has had to sell themselves.  Remember those college admissions applications?  Band auditions?  Courting your significant other?  Meeting the prospective in-laws?  It happens everywhere and more often than you think.

The issue is that people don’t practice selling themselves and as such, don’t put much thought into it.  So, in preparing for an interview, aside from researching the company, its products and services, its people, and its market, how about researching yourself?  Take the time to refresh your memory on your many accomplishments.  More importantly, put some thought into (and anticipate) why this interviewer is interested in meeting with you and what it is they’re likely looking for.  During the interview, if you can come up with specific examples from your experience that definitively map to what they’re looking for, you’re on the path to making a strong case for your candidacy.

Additionally, just as with a customer sales meeting, in which you’re asking many thoughtful, poignant questions to help understand your client’s needs and pain points, you must come to the interview table with equally strong questions that demonstrate forethought, intelligence, and genuine interest.  This a great way to sell yourself on such attributes as preparedness, curiosity, logical thought process, and forward-looking skills.

Finally, the last step in an interview is testing for concerns and then closing on a next step.  Like customers, not all hiring executives are forthcoming enough to divulge their reservations about you.  But you have to ask.  If there’s an objection to overcome, you want to know about it and address it before it festers and grows a life of its own.  And just with customer meetings, you want to close the interviewer on the next step, whether it be a follow-up meeting, reference checks, or discussions on the offer.  In managing a customer sales cycle, all of this is common sense. You wouldn’t dare miss any of these critical customer engagement elements.  The same holds true for interviews.

If you aren’t in sales, pretend that you are, put your sales hat on and manage the sales cycle.  If you are in sales, keep that sales hat on.  Don’t be shy about selling yourself.  When you’re interviewing, that’s your job!


Action items:

1.  No matter what you do in life, self-promotion is always a part of it.  Surely you do not want to come off some sort of narcissistic deity, but it’s important to learn how to present yourself and your career in a favorable and compelling light.  Seek out counsel from those you trust and know of your accomplishments and abilities.  Ask them how they would go about selling you.

2.  Your image, brand and reputation are formed with how well you position yourself.  If you’re unclear on how to do so effectively, seek out professionals, such as resume writers, career counselors and mentors.

3.  People buy from those who they trust.  You earn people’s trust by gaining their belief in your ability, convictions and credibility.   Anything in your resume, interviews and follow-up correspondence that detracts from these attributes compromises that trust and inhibits your ability to sell yourself.