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Looking For A Job? What Do You Have To Sell?

There are a couple of very common mistakes people make when they prepare to look for a job.

The first problem is an identity issue. You have most likely heard that getting a job is a sales function, and that you are the product. This is not only wrong, it’s very dangerous.

Think of a product. Let’s say a toaster. Okay, if I’m a toaster, I should be a very good-looking toaster; nice and shiny, attractive packaging, so that someone will want to buy me. Now transfer that thought over to the job search.

If getting a job is a sales function, and I’m the product, then I should be a nice shiny product, so that someone will want to buy me.

No single thought could endanger you more as you approach the hiring manager. This belief immediately makes you subservient to that person. In thinking this, you give the hiring manager power that he or she didn’t have before you got there and gave it to them. Now, in the employment interview, which most people see as an adversarial process, you have to fight against the power that you just gave that manager! Brilliant! How’s that working for you?

Here is the truth. Getting a job is a sales process, but you are not the product! The set of skills, abilities, and strengths that you bring to the work is the product. You are the sales representative! You may not enjoy being a sales representative either, but you’ll get a whole lot farther along as the sales representative than you will as the product!

The second problem has to do with what you are selling.

Most people believe they are selling their experience, and it isn’t difficult to understand where this idea comes from. Every advertised job in America asks for experience (except the rare ad for an out-and-out beginner).

In an employment interview, there are essentially three factors: chemistry (how well do we get along), ability(do I believe you are capable of doing the job), and experience (have you actually done the job).

They are important in the orderI’ve mentioned them. Why?

Chemistry is most important, because if I don’t like you, I don’t care how good you are.

Ability is second, because if I do like you, and I believe you’re capable of doing the work, I don’t care that you haven’t.

Experience is last; not unimportant, but least important. If you have any experience at all in the work world, you have probably worked with someone who had 10 years’ experience, but still hadn’t mastered the job!

Earlier I mentioned the set of skills, abilities, and strengths you bring to the job. This is what you are selling. If you’re an accountant with five years’ experience, and you’ve prepared financial statements, I figure you probably know your way around accounts payable and receivable, payroll, and the general ledger. A recitation of everything you’ve ever done in accounting doesn’t interest me. That’s experience. I want to know one thing: Are you any good?

Did you uncover an embezzlement? Did you introduce systems or processes that made things more efficient or that saved money? Did you reduce the time necessary for monthly closing?

These are things that will tell me what I want to know.

So, your job in preparing for the job search is to look back through your career, or your education if you’re a new grad, and find successes. Then attribute the successes to skills like the ability to analyze data, organize work, solve problems, establish systems and procedures, develop productive business relationships, lead others, make presentations, negotiate, et cetera. Write each success down in three sentences:

  1. What you did;
  2. Step by step, using action verbs, how you did it;
  3. The business result in terms of increased revenue, reduced costs, increased efficiency, first ever, biggest, smallest, fastest, and so forth. To the degree you can note results in dollars or percentages you’re ahead of the game. If you increased sales by 17%, I’m impressed on two levels. I’m impressed that you increased sales, and that you are smart enough to know by how much!

Why are you doing this? The results will fit neatly into two places: first, your resumé, and second, your head. These are also the answers to, “Tell me about a time when you had a situation like this, what you did about it, and what the result was.” This is called a behavioral question, and you won’t have an interview without behavioral questions. 

So, now that you know what you’re selling, and what you’re not, get to work. This preparation is most likely some of the hardest work you’ll do in looking for a job!