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Sell Yourself Into A New Job

Times are tough, everybody knows that. The economy is in trouble, and so are many job seekers. There are fewer and fewer job openings and more and more intelligent, highly-skilled people out there looking. It's never been easy to get a job -- what do you do in such tough times? How can you get an employer's attention, stand out from the crowd, and get the job offers you really want?

The one common trait of all successful job seekers is their ability to sell and market themselves. "Going to the right college or even having the right skills isn't enough any more," says Arthur Denny Scott, former senior vice president of personnel at Goldman, Sachs and Company. "You have to be a salesperson -- and I don't mean a huckster. I mean you're going to have to sell and market your ability to contribute to the organization."

That's what selling is all about: your ability to persuade potential employers that they need you. Here are four important sales tips, tricks of the trade that will help you "make the sale" and get the job you want.

Sales Tip #1: Accentuate the Positive

This seems like a bit of obvious advice, but it's amazing how many of us are reluctant to talk about our own achievements. Why do we shudder at the thought of having to go out and sell ourselves? We're shy. We're modest. We're embarrassed to talk about ourselves. But think of it this way: if you owned a business, would you simply open a store, sit there, and wait for customers to come to you? If you did, you'd close down in no time. And if the owner of the business is reluctant to sell, who else will do it for you?

David Chan, a recent graduate of Cornell University, landed a job as a Cost/Industrial Engineer for IBM over 30 or 40 other people who interviewed for the job. His secret? "Tell them anything that's positive about yourself," he says. "I knew they were looking for previous work experience. I had some through the Coop (work-study) program at school. But it wasn't really related to the type of work for which I was applying. When they questioned me about that, I told them that my Coop experience taught me things I couldn't learn in school -- what it's like to work under a real deadline with other people depending on you, how to make use of the high tech equipment that was available to me, and most of all, how to work with others and talk to the people around me."

Chan turned a negative -- unrelated work experience -- into a positive, and the result was a job that he finds challenging and rewarding. This is the goal of every job seeker, and the result of using sales and marketing skills.

Sales Tip #2: Focus on Employer Needs and Benefits

David Chan was successful because he was able to speak about his previous work experience in terms of how it would be useful as an employee of IBM. His prospective boss was able to see how Chan's experience would benefit him.

The only reason an employer will hire you for a particular job is because there's something in it for him -- something that will make his life easier, solve his problems, and benefit him in some way. You have to find out what that something is.

This is known in the sales trade as benefit selling. And the secret of successful benefit selling is knowing the difference between features and benefits.

Features are used to describe what a product or service is (in this case, the product is you). A feature is a piece of factual information that remains the same for everyone: The fact that your last job was as an account executive for an importer of French perfumes remains the same no matter who hires you next.

The benefits of a product change for each person who considers the purchase. No matter what you're buying, you don't buy because of what the product is, you buy because of what it can do for you. Suppose your job with the perfume company required that you speak French fluently. That fact might be unimportant to many prospective employers. But to the one who is about to expand her market into Western Europe, you could be the answer to her prayers. When employers buy (or hire), the product must fill their needs. A successful salesperson knows how to ask questions, find out what the buyer is really looking for, and translate the features of any product into benefits for the potential buyer.

This is one of the abilities that got Vicci Lasdon her new position as Advertising Director of Self magazine. She realized that she couldn't just rely on her past experience at such magazines as Country Living, Mademoiselle, Woman and Lear's.

"Your past success is only valuable if you can bring it to a new position," she says. "You have to answer the question, `How is my past success relevant to this new job? What attributes will be valuable to this new employer?'" As the employer was looking for someone with experience directly related to Self's target market, Lasdon was able to position her breadth of experience as a benefit.

"You're really encouraging someone to take a leap of faith by hiring you," she adds. "You must make a convincing argument so that they can believe that hiring you will fulfill their needs."

According to Debra Laks, head of Career Transition Resources in New York, you must begin to look for ways to match yourself up with prospective employers right from the start of your job search. "If you're answering an ad in the paper," she says, "study it very carefully. Ask yourself, `What kind of person do they want?' Then send them a letter that includes one appropriate accomplishment -- one that sets you up as the kind of person they're looking for."

Sales Tip #3: Never Assume

Employers buy for their reasons, not yours. Any interviews you go on, any letters you send, any phone calls you make, must be focused on what your employer needs and what problems she needs to have solved. The more you can tap into this, the more she'll want to hire you.

The true art of selling is problem solving. In order to persuade an employer that hiring you will solve her problems or fill her needs, you must let her know how hiring you will accomplish just that.

Never assume that the boss can figure it out for herself. A potential employer has to be able to see your past in relation to her future. She doesn't want (or need) to know exactly what you did in your previous job unless she also knows the results of what you did.

Imagine you last worked as an advertising copywriter. An old client, who was considering moving to a new agency, was so impressed by your catchy new slogan, he signed on for another two years. Your prospective employer asks you what was your most important contribution to your last job. You say, "I created a new slogan for Reliable Office Products."

The employer will probably say, "Thank you very much, it's been a pleasure to meet you," and that will be that. You make another attempt. "I'm a very good copywriter," you say. "My ideas are fresh and imaginative, yet still get the client's message across clearly and concisely."

Better. But the prospective employer is still not impressed.

However, if you were to add, "As a result of my new slogan, Reliable signed on for another two years and improved the company's bottom line by $800,000," the prospective employer will undoubtedly consider you strongly for the position.

Sales Tip #4: Be Active, Not Reactive

Dan Tompkins is a senior level Public Relations executive with more than 15 years experience. When he moved to New York from the west coast last year, however, he ran into an economy where PR professionals were being laid off left and right.

After more than a year of answering ads, registering with executive search firms, networking, and hearing "You're credentials are great, we'd really like to hire you, but... Perhaps when things pick up again...," he connected with a Long Island advertising agency that was looking to start a PR division.

During the interview, agency President Norma Murphy mentioned a client who was in desperate need of a PR campaign, but that she was swamped with other projects and had no time to devote to this effort. The interview ended by Murphy saying she had a few other people to see, and probably wouldn't be getting back to anyone until after her other projects were finished.

The next day, Tompkins called Murphy and said, "I've been thinking about our interview and your client who needs PR. Why don't you hire me on a temporary basis to take care of this client for you? If I do a good job, we'll talk about a permanent position."

It was the perfect solution for Murphy, and it gave Tompkins the chance to prove himself. After a few weeks of working on a temporary basis, he was hired to head the PR division.

Taking an active approach to the job search is one of the first things career consultant Laks advises her clients. "Unemployment figures are very discouraging," she says, "but people are getting jobs -- by working very hard at the job search."

"If you use creative thinking, target the kinds of companies you're looking for, and take an active approach, you can get the job you want," she says. "and always do what you say you're going to do. If you write a letter saying you'll call next week, call. Don't expect the employer to take the lead."

This sentiment was confirmed by the executive assistant to one of the highest level executives in the New York publishing world. "We get hundreds of resumes with cover letters that say, `I'll call you next week.' Most of these people never call. If someone is persistent, I'll probably pass their letter on to my boss. But if they never even make the first call, the letter goes into my file -- and that's where it stays."

My motto is, "Success is turning knowledge into positive action." Other people may present you with opportunities, but you're the only one who can make something happen. You're the only one who can convince your "buyers" of your value, achieve your goals, and be successful in the business of selling the ultimate product -- yourself -- right into the job.


Robert Marx started prospecting a year and a half before he got his new job. "When I started looking, I was only talking to business acquaintances -- I thought those were the people who would have the best contacts. But after several months of getting nowhere, I realized I had to broaden my scope." Marx began talking to everyone he met. "I made my ordinary contacts work for me, people I knew through my hobbies, my clubs, and my temple. This approach generated a number of interesting interviews." Two months ago, Marx was hired as the Manager of Business Development for MedPlus, a Brooklyn, NY company that designs and develops computer systems for medical offices.

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