Not every father dreams of raising his son to become a sports icon like Tiger Woods. When I was 13, my Dad, who peddled insurance, turned to me and asked, “Have you ever thought about going into sales?” I quelled my initial reaction to run out of the house.
To me, a career in sales was akin to being condemned to a life of hard labor. Having shadowed my father for years, I understood the loneliness of cold calling, the challenge of meeting sales goals, and the frustration of receiving a reduced sales bonus.
Yet, whenever I am looking for work, I experience a certain sense of deja vu. That’s because – like it or not – conducting a job search is much like conducting a sales campaign.
My dad would laugh to hear me admit this. After all, I am the son who touted his own “Power of Negative Thinking” to counter all the positive thinking hype Dad delivered at the dinner table. My argument went like this: If you can’t play the trombone, all the positive thinking in the world ain’t gonna change that fact.
Of course, the power of negative thinking won’t get you anywhere either, particularly in a job search. While I still can’t play the trombone, I have had to adopt one or two of those sales principles Dad touted – especially the part about staying positive.
You want negative? You’ll get plenty of it during a job hunt. It’s simply impossible to be confident looking for work if you do not maintain a positive attitude. That doesn’t mean you believe you can do anything – just that you can perform the skills outlined on your resume.
But as I learned from Dad, there’s more to sales than having an upbeat personality. So I contacted some other folks with a knack for closing the deal to see what they might advise. Here are some general sales strategies that might help in your job search.
Adopt a tough mindset. “Salespeople already have a basic belief in themselves,” says sales guru and author Jeffrey Gitomer. “Salespeople are dogmatic and persistent, and tend to take no not as no but as not yet.” Good salespeople also tend to be self-starters, he adds. They are more assertive, more punctual, and present a more confident demeanor – from the firmness of their handshake to the ability to banter back and forth with a contact.
Work with a good manager. In this case, find a friend who will take an active interest in your job-search campaign. A trusted confidante can help you polish your presentation, provide moral support, be a sounding board, and may be able to provide contacts or suggest additional strategies.
Record what you do. Recording your activity is a positive way to show yourself you are making progress. Made ten calls today? Write it down. Sent out five letters? Chart your accomplishments.
Know your product. In the job search, you are selling yourself. Have you really sat down and itemized all your attributes? A book like Richard Bolles’ What Color is Your Parachute will help you articulate your transferable skills, those attributes that may appeal to a variety of hiring managers, even in different industries.
Play the numbers. If a salesperson is successful with one in ten calls, he knows he must make 100 calls to have ten successes. The job search can also be a numbers game. By being persistent, by constantly “improving your numbers,” success is just a matter of time.
Always have a smile in your voice. There is a reason good salespeople smile so much. It conveys a friendly, positive attitude that’s hard to resist, even over the phone.
Don’t procrastinate. Instead of making sales calls, my father loved to reorganize his office. He would build new cabinets, rearrange his briefcase, etc, anything to avoid making those cold calls. While it pays to be organized, don’t let distractions block the true business at hand.
Know your customer. It is vital to know as much as possible about a potential employer. What are the company’s products? Its markets? This will help you understand the potential role you could play in the organization.
Listen to your prospect. Don’t let the interviewers ask all the questions. Find out what kind of person they are looking for. Be sure to ask open-ended questions that invite more conversation. What do they need? Listen carefully, then tell them how you can provide solutions to their problems.
Stay focused. In a sales call – and a job interview – it is important to keep the conversation focused on why you are best for the job. And once you have closed the sale, do not extend the interview. My father always complained about a partner who kept talking endlessly after closing a sale. The fear? That the client will have a change of heart. Once you have won the position, don’t prolong the conversation. At that point, all you can do is lose points, and maybe the job.
Realize there is no magic. At one point, my father was studying handwriting analysis so that he might better understand what was needed to sell a client. It never worked. Gitomer cautions against other manipulative sales tactics, like attempting to classify an interviewer’s personality type.
Ask for the sale. No good salesperson fails to try and close a deal. Neither should you at the end of a job interview. “When will you be deciding about this position?” or “Do I have the skills you are looking for?” or “When can I check back with you?” are all good approaches.
Don’t be pushy. One of the dangers of any sales training is that the student gets carried away with the newfound strategies and becomes a parody of the pushy salesperson. “You can go past the point of enthusiasm to the point of being a pest . . . of being too overbearing,” Gitomer warns.
“In the end, you are trying to begin a relationship with someone, not interview for a job,” Gitomer concludes. “Careers are based on relationships.”
I think my dad used to call that relationship selling. Another valuable tip to remember.