Sitting on the bench in your job search means you’ve been forgotten and get called up only in the event of an emergency. Is that where you want to be? If not, here’s how to get in the game: learn to sell.
Learn to sell because big-ticket items never move without a salesperson. You are a big-ticket item! And large purchases are always driven by someone. If you aren’t already working in your dream job, it’s because someone has to drive that process. Don’t expect the tooth fairy to do it for you.
Fortunately for you, sales skills are not complicated and you can learn it all here. You may find it uncomfortable, but it’s what makes the world go round. A skilled salesperson (with a solid product to sell) has total job security and often makes more than the president of the company. Skilled salespeople don’t even need resumes, because they get recruited from one company to another.
Talk to me about ‘benefits’ in your emails, cover letters, resumes and conversations. Inexperienced salespeople sell the features or functions of a product when they should be selling the benefits. For example, I want an electric bike. I want one with a lithium-ion battery — that’s a feature. I want the lithium battery because it charges quickly and is lightweight, saving me time and energy — those are the benefits of the lithium battery feature. The electric motor on the bike assists the rider in peddling — that’s a function. That means you get to work faster if you’re using the bike to commute — that’s the benefit.
Explain your features but always link them to benefits with phrases like:
- “which means that”
- “offering you”
- “providing you with”
Make sure to talk about the benefits you know I (the employer) want. Listen carefully and try to determine the one key benefit that will convince me to put you in the game and spend your time proving you’ll deliver that benefit. You won’t get anywhere selling irrelevant benefits an employer isn’t interested in, so be sure each benefit you talk up will pass the “so what?” test.
Sell me your potential. If you guessed hiring managers like me naturally prefer candidates with a proven record over those with strong potential, you’d be wrong. Harvard researchers have proven it. Whether we are aware of it or not, we’re more impressed by potential than track record. Potential is risky and that lights up human brains – love of the game is hardwired into us. So use that and talk to me about your future potential! Here’s an excerpt from the Harvard blog post:
It would be wise to start focusing your pitch on your future, as an individual or as a company, rather than on your past — even if that past is very impressive indeed. It’s what you could be that makes people sit up and take notice — learn to use the power of potential to your advantage.
Pick up the phone and call. Big-ticket items don’t sell easily without live conversations, face-to-face or via telephone. Knowing that you’ll need to get on the phone to get hired, are you going to sit on the bench waiting for the phone to ring, or will you pick it up and make a call yourself? If you want to get in the game, pick up the phone and start cold calling. The top salespeople everywhere in the world love to cold call because they know that if they do it, they will succeed. And they know that for every dead-end cold call they make, they’re just one call closer to the next sale.
Let others lead small lives,
But not you.
Let others argue over small things,
But not you.
Let others cry over small hurts,
But not you.
Let others leave their future
In someone else’s hands,
But not you.
The most important reason you’ve got to cold call is that many jobs are not advertised. So if your job search involves mostly responding to ads on job boards and employer career pages, you’ve put yourself in the extreme competition for the smaller pool of jobs that do get posted, and against the millions of other candidates applying the same way. What’s more, human recruiters might not ever even review your application. Cold calling is the way to make it past these hurdles and get in front of the hiring manager.
It does help to send a value proposition letter before you call, hard-copy or email, but it isn’t necessary. What’s critical about cold calling is that you are being proactive, taking control of your job search and your destiny by targeting unpublished jobs. What’s critical is that you stop putting yourself in competition with the herd that follows online job postings. What’s critical is that you go after the companies that really fire you up and get in their face.
Prepare for the call – get confident and sound authentic. You need to accomplish three things technically with your call:
First, you need to sound natural. Sometimes when we post job ads, we ask the applicants to leave us a voicemail introducing themselves. We’re looking for someone who understands voice inflection, because that automatically screens out 8 of 10 applicants who aren’t ready for the game as they lack people skills.
Here’s an example of inflection:
Here’s an example of an approach that would work well on me:
“Hi Eric, my name’s John Doe, and I’m calling to see if you could use a content manager who produces distinctive content? I can achieve deep user engagement for you and would love to show you some examples…”
Or, if you previously sent me an email or hardcopy letter:
“Hi Eric, my name’s John Doe, and I’m following up on an email you should’ve received last week to see if you could use a content manager who produces distinctive content? I can achieve deep user engagement for you and would love to show you some examples…”.
Now, when you’re asking a question, the pitch of your voice should rise at the end, which suggests the question. Using the example above, if your pitch is falling on the words ‘distinctive content.’ it will sound like you’re reading (as many applicants will) and that’s the end of your candidacy.
Note this example is short, addresses my critical needs and connects a feature with its key benefit. Before you call, you need to be able to deliver this (your value proposition) on the phone with an easy, natural tone of voice. If it sounds like you’re reading, you’re not ready.
Second, you need to sound energetic. You do that by standing up while you talk. Sounds goofy? Salespeople all over the world are doing this because it works, so just stand up when you call.
Third, you need to sound confident – you do that by smiling while you talk, by speaking slowly, pausing and allowing for silence. You sound confident when you know your pitch backward and forwards without needing to look at the script. You sound confident when you pause after your pitch and don’t break the silence if there is one. The silence puts pressure on the other person to speak and it means you are in control.
You can also boost your confidence by remembering that the purpose of your call is not to get a job – your mission is only to get a meeting. That’s a manageable task and just a chunk in a long process. Every “no” brings you one call closer to “yes.”
Remember also that when I’m recruiting, I have a deep desire to find the right player and every time I meet someone, I really want you to be the one. I’m rooting for you.
Getting by the receptionist. When you reach a receptionist, you must be clear and confident with your request: “Mr. Jones, please.” Here’s what happens next:
- You get put straight through and start your conversation.
- You get put through to voice-mail. Don’t leave a message – call back later.
- Mr. Jones is out of the office. Ask for a cell phone number. If the receptionist refuses to give it, ask to be put through directly to the cell.
- You get put through to Mr. Jones’ personal secretary and she asks what the nature of your call is. You either say it’s personal or you want to discuss a business issue. Never pitch the secretary because she will connect you to the HR department or ask you to send in your resume (ending your candidacy). If the secretary refuses to connect you without more detail, call back before or after normal working hours. When the secretary is not there, the boss is likely still around and often answers the phone.
Use an open question. You’ve made it past the receptionist and now you’re on the phone with me. Keeping in mind that your goal is to arrange an interview, you’ll want to find out what my needs are and what key benefit you could present to me that would seal an offer.
When you want information about someone’s motivations and circumstances, you want to get them talking. You do that with an open-ended question that invites a longer response and gives control of the call to the person answering the question. The best example might be the question employers sometimes ask in job interviews, “Tell me about yourself.” This is an open question you should be ready to answer before you call.
But, when you want to get an employer talking, try something like, “When you’ve hired for this position in the past and it hasn’t worked out, what’s gone wrong?” That’s a question that will help you pin down what key benefits I might be looking for in the perfect candidate.
Closed questions are easy and quick to answer, often inviting a yes or no response, and they maintain control of the conversation for the person asking the question. Here’s an example of a closed question you’ll want to use towards the end of your conversation: “Can you see where you can use someone with my skills in your company?”
Welcome objections. What often gets in the way of gathering the information you need from me is your fear. Are you afraid I might tell you something you don’t want to hear?
Inexperienced salespeople fear objections and that keeps them on the bench. You, on the other hand, will know that objections are a sign of my interest. They are a buying signal and an important signpost on the way to getting hired. Treat any objection as a question and recognize that objections are natural whenever we approach transactions that involve risk.
Imagine, for example, that I’ve just said we can’t afford the salary you want. Instead, you hear me saying “Show me how I can justify paying you this amount.” You should respond with “That’s a good question, why should my salary be more than you expected to pay?” And then you answer the question you posed. When you answer objections in a friendly, constructive way, you make it easy for me to object and you make it easy to find out what my real issues are.
To tease out my real issues, be patient and listen carefully – pause before replying and question for clarification. When you find the real reason I’m hesitating over you, you have the chance to present more information that will satisfy me and result in a job offer.
Separate objections and conditions. An objection is a problem for which there is a solution. For example, “We can’t afford your salary” is an objection if it turns out that the underlying issue is our company pay scale enforces salary relationships with job titles. On the other hand, if the underlying issue is that the company is headed into bankruptcy, that’s a condition that probably renders the sale (your job offer) impossible. Other examples of ‘conditions’ might occur when:
- you are talking to someone who is not the decision-maker,
- there’s no opening or
- you do not have the skills for a particular job.
When you meet with a condition, you want to test it with some follow-up questions before moving on:
- Who is the decision-maker?
- Is this a temporary hiring freeze?
- Will there be an opening in the future for someone with my skills?
Depending on the answers you get, a condition may become an objection and eventually turn into a job offer.
Close the sale to get an interview. When you’ve reached the decision-maker and the call is proceeding well, it’s time to ask for the sale. This is called “the close” – you ask, “Can you see where you can use someone with my skills in your company?” If the answer is yes, you want to ask for a meeting to go into more detail about what you can do for them. Here are the possible answers you may get along with recommendations for your next move:
“Tell me a little more about yourself.” – Give more detail about your experience and the benefits you’ll offer the company, then try to close again with, “I’d like to get together to talk through my experience in more detail and look at how I can help your company – when would be a good time for you to do this?”
“Send me your resume.” – Chances are, when you hear this, the person you’re talking to wants to get rid of you. Try asking, “Is there anything specific you want to see in my resume that I haven’t mentioned?” You may be able to rescue the call if this draws out the reason for the lack of interest and you can satisfy the employer’s need with a little more information. When you agree to send your resume without an agreement to meet, you’ve given control over to the employer, so hold out as long as you can for a meeting or some information you can act on.
“No, we’re not looking for someone like you.” – Ask if it’s just at this moment. If it’s a permanent thing, ask if there’s anyone else within the company that might need someone like you. If so, get contact information and call immediately, dropping the name of the person you just spoke with. If there’s no recommendation and this is a permanent condition, say thanks and move on. Otherwise, if it’s temporary, find out when the next opening might occur and set up a reminder in your calendar. As always, follow up right away with a ‘thank you’ email.
If the anticipated opening is four months away, call back in two saying, “Hi, we spoke two months ago and I thought I’d call to see if anything has changed regarding the timing of the next opening.” If the position has opened up, try closing again, “When would it be convenient to meet and discuss the opportunity in more detail?”
“Yes, come see us.” – Stop selling when you hear this! Just confirm the time and date with them and say thank you. Follow up with a ‘thank you’ email confirming the time and place.
When you use these ‘closing techniques,’ you’ll come across as a confident and positive candidate. Every boss wants to build a team with players who can manage and control conversations with customers, vendors and staff on his behalf. You’ve just demonstrated you can do this in your first contact. So, right out of the starting gate, you will have chalked up some points in your favor, congratulations!
For comprehensive advice on the entire job search process, read our complete guide to landing a job at a great company or visit our career advice hub.