Archive for January, 2013

Focusing on Focus

January 21, 2013

When I engage with candidates for a specific opportunity, I’m trying to ascertain the extent of a fit.  There was something about that candidate that initially caught my eye.  Yet, like most recruiters, I’m seeking more specific information beyond the data dump that makes up a LinkedIn profile, resume or phone call.  In its simplest terms, search professionals are chartered with identifying, engaging, qualifying, and presenting candidates.  Granted, the way they go about it, let alone the level of quality and effectiveness, varies widely.  Nevertheless, despite the full spectrum of recruitment competency, search professionals are try to focus on determining the match with their hiring client’s needs.

As a candidate, your job is to help the recruiter understand the fit with the opportunity in question.  How can you do this most effectively?  First, take notes on the key distinguishing points the recruiter provides you when detailing the opportunity.  Make a list of the unique aspects of the opportunity.  For a Sales or Sales Engineering candidate, here’s a sampling to consider:

  • The space the company plays in (i.e., the type of solution and the corresponding problem it addresses)
  • The key verticals the company sells into, or, if a horizontal play, the business demographics of the company’s target audience
  • The types of contacts and contact levels the company usually targets
  • The nature of the company’s solution and how it’s delivered
  • Selling method and model
  • Deal sizes and sales cycle process/length
  • Company size and state of evolution (e.g., small early-stage A-round funded vs. mid-sized public company)
  • Specific technologies employed or integrated with
  • Specific selling methodologies

After I present the details of an opportunity to a candidate, I typically ask them to walk me through specific aspects of their background that map to the opportunity.  What I get back can be all over the map.  Many times, candidates take this as their cue to spew out every nook and cranny of their career history.  Lovely.  Thanks for playing “This is Your Life.”  The more polished professionals make a list of distinguishing points while I describe the opportunity, and then use it as a springboard to focus on connecting the dots with the relevant facets of their experience.

How well a candidate connects the dots gives me several clues about the strength of their candidacy.  It demonstrates strong listening skills, organized and effective thought processes, solutions selling savvy, and capable communications and presentation skills.  This is not to imply that people who know all the “tricks” of interviewing will come out ahead.  This has nothing to do with tricks, but rather actions and attributes that a sales professional would naturally employ on a regular basis throughout their sales career.

In most cases, a given opportunity calls for a subset of your career’s body of work.  For example, right now, I’m working on a Sales Engineer opportunity with an innovative, high growth company that sells predominantly into highly regulated industries with healthcare being front and center.  My hiring client and I do not expect sales engineering candidates to have done this and only this through the entirety of their career.  What I do expect is for candidates to be able to offer up details of the parts of their career that are directly applicable…without skipping a beat.  In this particular case, this means walking me through several points in their career where they sold into healthcare accounts, including name-dropping successful marquee deals, the types of solutions sold, size and scope of the deals, quota attainment numbers, and the exposure to regulatory compliance issues.

Whether you’re discussing an opportunity with a recruiter or in the throes of the interview process with a hiring company, help them envision the fit by bringing focus to the picture.  Sure, the other parts to your background will likely be covered and could bear some relevancy as well.  Yet, the more you spotlight the pertinent points of your background and skills, the stronger your case of a fit will be.


Action items:

1.  Focus, focus, focus.  For every one aspect of your background that applies to a given opportunity, there are likely a good four or five that need to be de-emphasized so as not to dilute the positioning of a fit.

2.  When you’re first learning of an opportunity, jot down a quick and dirty list of the differentiating factors so that you can concentrate on those when making the case for your candidacy.

3.  Don’t leave it up to recruiters and hiring managers to discover the fit.  Help paint the picture for them, just as you would in any selling opportunity.