buying and selling

Sell Yourself

I was on a career panel this week with Tim Harris Executive VP of the Lakers. We were presenting to a bunch of students at UCLA who want to know what they are going to do with their Sociology degrees. Tim and I were both Sociology majors.

Sociology, like a lot of social science or liberal arts educations truly enables graduates to do whatever they want to do. And we discussed these virtues. These are hollow words to those who expected a clear career decision to come out of their classes (including those nagging parents). Those with educations understand well that an undergrad degree is the platform, the foundation on which a career is built. But I digress....

Tim and I tried to share some thoughts, and suggestions about life after the degree and how to approach the choices and chances ahead.

Tim did something brilliant. He asked, "How many of you want to go into sales, cold calling, and marketing a product?" Predictably, there was an awkward pause and one hand shot up and another one sheepishly raised her hand halfway. Then Tim, said, "You all have to go into sales and cold call, because that is what you have to do to get a job!" He went on to say that marketing oneself is your number one product and if you can't do that you won't be successful. You could feel the regret rush into the room. The regret of not answering the question correctly. But also the regret of being ill-prepared to "sell" oneself.Selling

We know that there is a big difference between passive marketing and selling. When supply exceeds demand you have to separate yourself by actively pursuing the opportunities. Waiting for a response or hoping you get one is plain ole lazy and ineffective.

Real selling and marketing require  great messaging, preparation, networking, research, and courage---fearlessness. Many younger job/career seekers think the job search is a video game. Apply online, fill out apps, send e-mails. They avoid human contact and the effort it takes to talk to people, to get feedback and help. Surprise! The interview requires you to log off and literally face your future!

The basic elements of your sales strategy:

  1. Your job and career goals. What are your targeted industries, employers, and missions without regard to job openings? Where do you want to work?
  2. A great resume and cover letter. Is your resume ready for primetime?
  3. A confident story about who you are and where you are going.
  4. A kitchen cabinet, your personal board of directors or advisors. Who is mentoring and or guiding you on a regular basis?

Real sales people develop relationships. They do their homework. They research their prospects to see if and how there is a fit. They talk to people at all levels to get a read on the company and in this case the potential supervisor. They even mystery shop these employers to see how the company does things. And they get referred by influential and trusted colleagues so the candidate gets the attention in the screening process,  a shot at an interview and gets hired.

The most effective selling starts way before the job search and lasts well after. Keeping your brand fresh and in demand is critical. Makes your selling during a job search so much easier.

In truth, there is little if any cold calling--that is contacting total strangers for jobs. Yes your interview may be with "strangers" but the process of getting the interview is alot more warm calling. Engaging your network in your search, referrals, references, and insights will be invaluable. Getting people you know to help you.

Yes, there are always those who over sell and take things to the extreme.  Like anything, use your judgment and discretion on how aggressive you want to be. But the vast majority of candidates are under sold, under marketed, and the employer is under-whelmed.

This is Tim's point. Of course you need to have the gumption and guts to sell yourself, but you have to be smart about your approach. Selling isn't just about the ASK. It is about the the preparation for the ASK--your preparation and preparing the employer for your candidacy.

If you really want a job or to work at a particular place, you have to differentiate your candidacy from the masses. We assume you have the skills and competencies. But how will you differentiate yourself? Your passion. Your knowledge of the position and company--most people don't do any homework. Who refers you and your references-- who you know and who knows you. Outside validation is comforting to the employer. All of this has to be part of your sales package and approach.

If you aren't willing to sell by putting in the effort and time, then don't bother applying. Those that sell will shine and those who think that their specialness will ooze out of their online app or resume have a rude awakening.

Tim Harris is absloutely correct. Prepare and psych yourself up to sell! Push yourself to embrace the  part of your job search that gets you out from behind the computer. Selling will increase your chances that new doors will open and opportunities will present themselves.

 Thanks for reading. John


Endurance Networking: 10 Tips for the Longer Term Job Search

Labor Day is the time to consider and help those without jobs. Regrettably that is a huge percentage of people around us. People we know and people we don't know. More and more frequently I am encountering people from my former lives and people who are in my extended network who have endured an interminable and for some, brutal process of looking for a job. The time and effort to get a job from a layoff, termination, or job transition can be a marathon of frustration and exasperation. The toll this process takes on ones psyche, confidence, and self dignity can not be exaggerated.This is where doing the same thing over and over is insanity. Let's be honest, most people have never been taught or know how to conduct a job search in good times. So looking for work when competition is furious requires a much different mindset and approach.Distance 

Many approach this like a video game. They are under the hypnotic trance that the internet will find them a job. They are seat belted to their home computer and go through the maze of job sites over and over and over, and impulsively lob resumes at them. It has become a game of numbers where quantity matters and you want instant gratification. These same people send out FB and Linked in requests without personalizing the invites. Because amassing more impersonal connections will help you win the game but not a job.

I remember a friend who had developed a condominium project for a specific price point and target market. It was not working, people were not buying. As we know, people look at certain price bands that they can afford and avoid other bands as "too low" and "too high". We sat around and discussed discounting strategies, promotional tactics and other ways to essentially lower the price point and move into a lower band. Then someone suggested that the product was positioned poorly and would have less competition if we RAISED the price and re-positioned. We decided before we discounted we would try to retain the value proposition and move into a different band of buying. The condos sold out quickly and the lesson is one of human myopia on both the buy side and the sell side. We operate in narrow bands of behavior based on what everyone else is doing. And in doing so we have forgotten the most important principle of marketing oneself--differentiation. How do we stand out of the pack, the pile of resumes, and separate ourselves from the sea of candidates?

I see this in the job market today where for some reason we gravitate to the common denominator strategies where the great majority of the candidates are operating and competing. See the same thing in college applications. People follow a formula that others told them, they read on the web, or they got a tip at a workshop--and then become the unattractive average. Surveys always tells us that more than 75% of us are above average! So why would we adopt a job search process that your competitors employ? This behavior is proof of the gravitational pull of conformity and the centripetal force of mediocrity that leads to an insurance policy that your job search may never end.

If it works, it is obsolete. (attributed to Marshall McLuhan)

If we agree this market is different then you have to be, think and act differently.

Economic disruptions like this cause irrational behavior. Job seekers who start to second guess the market where they adjust their resumes and their job search process may or may not work. They can lose their way going down the rabbit hole of confusing self-talk and behavior that can distract them from their strengths. Simply put, straying from who you are and what your competences are is risky. Not saying you should not traverse sectors or make major job shifts.  But if you are a finance, marketing, or human resources professional with years of experience, you have to play those cards. Otherwise you are reduced to a new grad with a liberal arts education---you can do anything! And how does that differentiate you in the pile of resumes?

The following assumes your resume, your basic understanding of your story (including gaps, challenges and transitions), and your goals are fairly well established. So here are 10 tips to keep you on a pace to to survive the long distance job search:

  1. Stay positive. Put any semblance of embarrassment, shame, self consciousness and self doubt in a box and lock it in the attic. These demons keep you in a mode that is less willing to ask for help, less able to show your vulnerability, and less of the authentic you.
  2. Every day is a work day. Your search has to consume the equivalent of a full time position. This is not just playing the job boards, it is the process of getting leads and networking. Energize yourself to go at it every morning.
  3. Think about your "band of behavior". What types of jobs/opportunities are you willing to take? Remain open and pursue opportunities that make sense but you have never considered. How big of a pay cut are you willing to take? Will you relocate? If you are making a sector transition, are you willing to essentially start over? Expand your band with specificity.  In other words, describe all of the attributes of your minimums (we know you want more!) What are your true minimums? 
  4. Stay active. Pursue or maintain volunteer, consulting, pro-bono and/or part time gigs to keep your juices going and to keep a warm place on your resume. Substantive charitable or non-profit volunteer work can be part of your story that fills the time and the gap in your work history.
  5. Continuous education. Take a class to sharpen your skills and find another networking platform.
  6. Apply early and often. Apply for everything that interests you AND where you have a real chance to add value. You need the practice interviewing. When in doubt apply. Focused on your goals, you do need leads and options. Even if you are "over-qualified" give the resume reader pause by considering someone who can do the job easily.
  7. Differentiate, differentiate, differentiate. How will you make your resume, your candidacy stand out? The key is who you know. Who you know and who they know.
  8. Go Face to face. Devote more than half of your search time to meetings or telephone conversations. Get out of your house and talk to people. You have to be able to push yourself and those around you to get out from behind their computers and literally and figuratively "pound the pavement" and "knock on doors". Hopefully you have gone beyond the basic networking and have a good inner circle of supporters. People who know you and you have a trusting relationship with. Have you met with all of them? No you haven't?! Connect and reconnect with your existing network--your relatives, your friends, your former colleagues, and your former bosses.
  9. Get on the insider track  As you expand your connections, you will begin to become aware of positions that are open and not posted. This happens when your focus is also on employers not openings. The biggest mistake is ONLY talking about positions that are posted. Most jobs are like houses in the most coveted neighborhoods, they are not listed, they all start out with private processes that are not made public unless they did not work. The word about a good job is put out to the employer's inner network to talk to the "best" candidates. The only way your name comes up in these searches is if someone you know is aware of it.
  10. Be introduced and referred This is the most powerful networking and the biggest differentiator. Having influential people you know or meet introduce you to prospective employers is enormously helpful. Instant credibility, good brand management, access to information, and an expansion of your network. Clearly, the ability to drop a name on the cover note of your resume when applying/inquiring for a job may be the biggest differentiator. The bigger the name the hotter your resume becomes. That resume has to be separated from the pile, people have to track it and you get a better chance to get to the next level of consideration. Please don't misunderstand me, you don't need referrals from the C Suite, you need to be referred by an insider. That implied endorsement is big, regardless of the level.

Jobs are opening up everyday behind the curtain and posted on Monster. So persistence and vigilance are essential partners for the longer term job search.

Networking is ALWAYS a long term if not a life time process. A process of staying in touch and exploring opportunities. It is a marathon lifestyle where the tortoise beats the hare every time. Meeting people to appreciate who you know and who you are will energize you. To learn of new opportunities and ways to approach old ones. To keep the mind sharp, the blood pumping and keep the finish line in sight.

Thanks for reading. John

 


3 Perspectives on Our Opportunities

1. Tsunami of emotions and the power of WE

As we watch the ongoing tragedy in Japan, we are conflicted. Our hearts are pained by the images and stories that we are engulf us through the news. We feel helpless. We do not know what we can do. We can send money, but is that enough? Doing nothing seems wrong. Our desire to help expands and our ability to help is constrained. As in all traumatic events, we think of ourselves. How lucky WE are. I was in a conversation this week where we were urged to launch a campaign here in LA to get people to prepare for the BIG ONE in Los Angeles. We want to help, but it did not harm us. The horrible thing about this conflict is that it freezes us, it prevents us from doing what is human--to help each other. It is what I have called the Brentwood Triangle. So proud of my kids because they made donations to help the Japanese recover. We have to give. There are many wonderful organizations you can support with the confidence that the money will get to where it is needed now. Here's what my foundation recommends.

I must tell you these articles, columns and blogs that are telling people NOT to give to Japan, because they are "wealthy" or "they don't want our help" or "they have not asked for our help" are painful to read. Inhumane. The more we think about "us" vs "them" the more we divide ourselves. The world is not only flat it is inextricably interconnected. We are them. Our destinies are tied to one another. We give to help ourselves. There are no victims or perpetrators or enemies--there is only us.

If we have no peace, it is because we forget we belong to one another.  Mother Teresa

2. Be a Seller then a Buyer

Looking for a job, applying to grad school, promoting a cause...

Too often we resign ourselves to just the role of the seller. Hat in hand we humbly or not so humbly push our ideas, our "wares", and our personal agendas. We feel lucky if people are interested and are recoiled by declination and rejection. Often the seller is in a position of weakness. I used to joke about this when I was dating. Guys have to sell by asking for a date and the Gals are the ultimate decision makers as the buyers. The buyers have great power (unless there is a monopoly)if they exert it. They can always walk and go somewhere else. The seller has to sell and promote.Buyer seller

My point is that once you have options, you have to become a buyer. My daughter Jenna got into a bunch of grad schools and they offered her financial packages. We talked and determined which of the schools were her favorites. Mind you she has choices for which she is almost indifferent about. But the differences are not insignificant. A school back east a school close to home. Travel and living expenses and of course, the weather! We strategized and I told her to call her two top schools and see what else they could offer her to persuade her to go there. At first she hesitated and then she agreed. Her first instinct was this was wrong or not appropriate. I assured her this was perfectly up front and normal. I told her, "You are a great student that is in demand. You are now the buyer. You have what the schools want. Now it s time to turn the tables and use your power." The schools both increased their packages, one by 80%!

The lesson here is when you know what you want and have just a little leverage, you have to sell less and become a discriminating buyer.

Unless you are destitute or in grave financial straits, your buyer mindset should be dominant. Feeling empowered and confident in what you are offering. Being in control of your destiny and your journey. Seeing down the road and the consequences of your decision. Avoiding the expedient and embracing the excellent. Doing everything you can do avoid settling. Looking to see if an employer, a boss, a donor, a partner is the right fit is vital. Selling AND conducting due diligence on what will be best for you and your needs have to be intertwined. Just selling will never get you what you want and what you need. Just as in dating, after the party manners and things start clicking, the buying begins.

3. What is your story?

I literally start every interview and many new encounters with this question. An open ended, soft ball question that begs the respondent to talk. After a brief moment of humility, many people launch into their story. In interviews, it is an attempt to allow the candidate to fill in the blanks and between the lines of the carefully constructed truths of their well written resume. Those that flunk the one question IQ test, merely recite everything on their resume and just what's on their resume. Crazy. Kinda of a name rank and serial number response. These same people also define themselves by their job title, when  asked "Tell me about yourself." The fact that they are a father of twins, a trombone player, little league coach and on a prominent non-profit board are left standing on the alter of betrayed opportunities.

I interviewed this young man last week. I started with THE QUESTION. And he preceded to tell me about his education, job experiences, and accomplishments in chron order. He was poised and well spoken. Only thing is he did not know his story. And in his lack of preparation he made up things. He was not lying, but winging it. His new story begged questions and raised doubts. It was unclear where he had lived and where he worked, what he did and where he was going. Unfortunately his story ended with our interview.Stories

Your story, a brief but reflective articulation of:

  1. Who you are. What makes you different. (stuff you care about)
  2. Where you have been
  3. Why you went there and why you left
  4. What you are doing now. (And if a candidate, why this position fits into your game plan)

If well prepared, not memorized, then the story makes sense out of a resume (hopefully does not conflict with it :) and gives dimensions to a person that you are trying to get to know or help others get to know you. The story has to be authentic, it need not be clever.

As Peter Guber, big shot Hollywood producer and author of Tell to Win, differentiates story telling from telling a story with your heart and with purpose. Anyone can tell a joke or a story, but how do we engage people in conversation, captivate their imagination for a moment, and move them to action? To think, to vote, to buy, to care, to hire....Guber evangelizes about being in the "emotional transportation business." He's right we are, if we are successful.

Here's several of the key takeaways from his book:

  • Capture your audience's attention first, fast and foremost
  • Motivate your listeners by demonstrating authenticity
  • Build your tell around "what's in it for them"
  • Change passive listeners into active participants
  • Use "state-of-the-heart" technology online and offline to make sure audience commitment remains strong

Love the state of the heart technology! Bottomline, prepare and speak from the heart and your stories will transport you and your audience to new levels.

Thanks for reading. John