I am not a big fan of horror movies. Maybe at heart, I am a big chicken. I would not say I like surprises. I am not too fond of things that go bump in the night. And I do not like things that make me question, to doubt, my core beliefs and fundamental principles. Having worked successfully in the sales profession for 30+ years, I believe to my core that selling is like breathing. We do both every day of our lives. So, when someone questions or demeans the value of sales skills, I stand up and take notice.
I was reading a popular job search book this past month where the author informed the reader that “selling yourself” is terrible, even outdated, advice if you want to land that next job. That line caught my attention. As a job search coach who believes that sales and marketing strategies are essential elements of a successful job search, I needed to learn more. Am I the washed-up, outdated, old sales warrior to whom this author referred? Have I been dispensing the wrong advice to my clients? I needed to dig further to answer these questions.
First, I needed to determine the author’s level of experience with the sales profession. Had the writer ever worked in sales, carried a bag, or a sales quota for a living? As best I could determine, the answer was “no” when it came to professional sales experience.
Second, how did the author define the act of “selling yourself” in the job search process? This author’s definition of “selling yourself” was standing in front of a recruiter, a hiring manager, or a potential network contact and listing off as many of your skills and work experiences as possible. In other words, the author equated “selling yourself” with detailing as many of your “features and benefits” as quickly as possible WITHOUT understanding, or caring, what the person in front of you was seeking.
Now I understood the disconnect. The author’s view of sales was conditioned over a lifetime of viewing sales and the act of selling to be a sub-standard profession. Popular culture, literature, and even life experience have shaped the way we react to the sales approach. If you do not believe me, go to any mattress store on a Saturday, and just people watch. Observe the customers' body language as they react to the sales rep’s initial approach and the typical “Can I help you” query. Whether it is a body turn, a head shake, or a quick “just looking” response, the reaction is always the same. We assume a defensive posture. It is a standard fight or flight response. Our brain is telling us that the sales rep wants to take from us something of value. Money, time, information, or even personal space.
I am not sure if this adverse reaction to selling is hard-wired into our genetic code. I may have missed the natural history class in high school where they talked about the Neanderthal caveman as a sales rep. But I am pretty sure that when Christopher Columbus discovered America, he was in the final stages of the world’s longest sales call. The act of selling, the sales profession, and sales reps have been around for a long time and will still be here after we are gone.
To win in the job search, you need to change the way you view sales. Selling is not an all take and no give transaction. Selling is not lacking in integrity. Completing a sales cycle can be a balanced transaction where both the buyer and the seller believe they have gained equally in the process. We need to cast aside a lifetime of conditioning on how we view the act of selling. Perception does not equal reality in this case, which has significant implications for us in our job search process. The act of selling is essential to a successful job search.
Let’s look at just a few examples of what it means to “sell yourself” in the job search process and why it is nothing to fear and, most definitely not bad career advice.
Successful sales reps take the time to research their territory and understand their prospects. They develop a refined and very targeted list of potential clients. They know that not every account needs their solution or services. Same for the job seeker. To start the job search, you need a plan. You need to research and select a target job title (max 1 or 2). You need to research and develop a list of target organizations (max 30-50) to focus your search efforts.
Sales professionals can quickly and clearly articulate the value proposition for their solution that they are selling. They understand the problem that their solution addresses and how it can eliminate pain points for the target customer. They do not need a 10-page brochure listing all the features and benefits. They use an elevator pitch. Same for the job seeker. The elevator pitch is the first step in building your brand and starting the job search process. You will use it in your resume, cover letter, LinkedIn, networking, and even in your interviews.
Most sales reps know how to work with a Request for Proposal (RFP). They understand that with an RFP, the client details precisely what problem they are attempting to address and what they seek in the preferred solution. Same for the job seeker. What is a job posting? It is an RFP from your potential customer (the hiring organization). The pain point is the open position, and the requirements for the solution are spelled out in the job description. Your job as the applicant is to dig deep and determine if your solution (i.e., your value proposition) is the best fit solution for the RFP.
Award-winning sales professionals know that when they have the opportunity to present a proposal to the customer, they enhance the presentation with stories and case studies. Here is how clients with similar problems used the solution to address the same pain point. Same for the job seeker. Prepare for every interview by developing and customizing stories that demonstrate how you have successfully produced similar and relevant results in the past. Include stories that show you will fit seamlessly into the team, organizational culture, and management style.
These are just a few examples. Do not be afraid to “sell yourself” in the job search process. Take a page from this old sales rep (and job search coach). When you are looking for your next job, you are selling the most important product in the world. Yourself.
In a job search, your customer is the hiring manager for the position you are seeking. The pain point is the open position. There is a job to be done, and no one is doing the work right now. Revenue is lost, targets are missed, and customer inquiries are going unfilled. You name the problem. No one is there to solve it.
You can be the solution. Your task is to demonstrate to your customer, this hiring manager, how you, more than anyone else, can solve their problem and close the gap. You need to convince the hiring manager that if they offer you the position, the pain goes away, and good things will follow.
I want you to start viewing your job search through this sales lens. Understand that finding your next job is the most important sale of your career.
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Dan Troup is the Managing Director of the AdvantEdge Careers coaching service. If you are interested in learning more about how a job search expert and certified career coach can assist you, please contact AdvantEdge Careers for a free initial consultation.