Call me crazy, but when I think back to how job searches were conducted in the prior millennium, the common wisdom was that applicants would really need to step up and “sell themselves” effectively in order to get hired.

What does this mean?  It means that they’d have to fight for the job they wanted.  They’d have to boldly trumpet their strengths and be ready to neutralize their weaknesses.  They’d need to radiate hope, and conviction, and confidence.  And they’d need to create an irresistible impression that they were the best available person for the job — and somebody the employer would be crazy not to take a chance on.

These days, however, while the “selling yourself” terminology still gets bandied around at times, it seems like the spirit behind the phrase has largely been forgotten.  Are candidates today approaching the interview process with the conviction that they need to fight hard and proactively promote themselves, or are they merely allowing themselves (as I suspect in most cases) to “be interviewed” in a passive way without any real selling taking place?

I raise this point because out of all the interview role-playing exercises I conduct, it’s actually quite rare that I come across a person who seems to be functioning in active, assertive persuasion mode.  Somebody who utterly believes in the product they’re selling (themselves) and almost, almost seems like they won’t take no for an answer.  Right or wrong, many candidates today instead seem to approach the interviewing process with a hint of defeatism and/or the belief that landing an offer is mostly a case of playing it safe and fielding some predictable questions.  To use a sports metaphor, they seem to be playing “not to lose” instead of playing to win.

So while I certainly don’t pretend to know how many of you out there might benefit from some improvement and practice along these lines, here’s a quick rundown of the things that I believe represent true “sales” behavior in an interview process — and could tilt the odds in your favor, when it counts.

  • You approach the interview with a strategy; you have a clear sense of the key points you want to make, the top several things you want the employer to know/remember about you, and a firm understanding of the qualities you possess that differentiate you from your competition; would YOU hire yourself over all other applicants for the role in question, and if so, why?
  • You’re ready to overcome objections; you anticipate every reason (fair or unfair) an employer could cite for not hiring you and prepare to embrace these obstacles, if and when they get raised, pushing back with a confident, energizing argument as to why they actually won’t be a problem or prevent you from doing a bang-up job on the employer’s behalf
  • You focus on the customer’s needs and pain points, not your own; it’s not about you, yet; you want to display rabid curiosity about what the employer needs done, why it’s important, what’s been tried in the past, and what their “ideal vision” is of what the successful candidate will accomplish; you then check in with them constantly to confirm these assumptions so that you can show them, out of everybody they’re talking with, that you are the one who “gets it” most clearly in terms of what the job entails and what results the employer is looking for
  • You sell hope and talk about the future; instead of telling war stories or focusing on accomplishments long since past, you take your understanding of the hiring manager’s needs and make specific, convincing statements that let the employer know, that yes, you can solve their problems; remember, employers aren’t hiring people for their resume credentials; they’re hiring them to save money, make money, solve problems, and achieve tangible business outcomes — so don’t imply that you can do these things, tell them you can do these things
  • Lastly, you need to close with strength and ask for the sale; to be clear, this doesn’t mean putting an employer on the spot and directly asking “did I get the job?” since that would be a bit awkward and presumptuous — but it does mean that you look them in the eye, thank them for their time, and tell them that you’d really interested in the job at hand, now that you’ve learned more about it, and that you hope they’ll consider you for a spot on the team

Again, from my point of view, there are a lot of professionals today going through the motions and sort of sleepwalking through the hiring process, instead of summoning up their gumption and showing some fighting spirit.  Sure, you won’t win ’em all and some employers simply won’t be swayed by your entreaties no matter what you do.  But some will be.  People are people, after all, and in a close contest between two applicants, I still believe that most managers will extend the offer to the person they feel wants it the most and has shown the most passion in advocating their fit for and interest in the role.

Heck, I even had one older candidate many years ago offer to work for free (which technically, I don’t believe is legal) for the company for a month in order to prove himself in the face of the employer’s obvious doubts — and guess what?  They took him up on it, he blew them away, and upon crossing paths with him years later he said it was the singular event that got him out of a dying industry and propelled him into an entirely new career path that he’s enjoying — and kicking butt in — today.

Try mixing a little bit of that persuasive energy into your next job interview and see if it makes a difference…