Selling Yourself to Employers: My NBMBAA Conference Experience
By Kyle Bray, MBA’17
I just recently attended the National Black MBA Association conference in Philadelphia as a Babson Graduate Affinity Scholar. The conference was attended by a myriad of Fortune 500 companies, Colleges and Universities offering MBAs. As I was talking to a Vice President at Discover Card Financial Services about my Babson Education and how my skills would be relevant to his business unit. What struck me was how similar handing the Vice President’s concerns regarding the relevancy of my experience, to the role we were discussing was remarkably similar to handing a customer objection on a sales call. Previously, I had taken three roles as salesperson. I spent a great deal of time reading instructional sales books. That is when, I realized pursuing a new position or career is very much the same as the sales process. People say you are always selling yourself when you meet someone new, whether you are on a date or you are a CEO selling to investors. It was at this moment it really rang true. The topic of this blog is to outline the sales process and how it relates to job seeking because even though everyone attempting to sell themselves, but not everyone is closing the deal. Therefore, I thought it would be beneficial to talk about the sales process stages and how they can help students devise objectives or talking points when networking for a position.
Prospecting is the first stage of the sales process and also the first stage of job searching process. Prospecting is the act of searching for potential customers. One approach is called cold calling. This approach is the reaching out to random customers without any screening or indication they may be interested in your service or product. I would imagine this is equivalent to randomly approaching a company at a job fair. At the NBMBAA there were hundreds of companies with booths and staff. In the sales process you can go door to door, but this is extremely time and resource intensive. Researching with the internet increases the efficiency of a sales process and reduces the labor cost significantly. Analogously, at a convention or more specifically a career fair, a person can do research on the internet about the jobs posted by specific companies. These companies could be announce their strategic plans online, so you can predict their human resources or skill needs. Alternatively, there are warm leads, warm leads are prospects that have expressed an interest overtly in a particular need. This could come in the form of a referral or an email list. A warm lead tend to be the most effective source of new business for a salesperson, there are no better warm leads than the referral. Similarly at the NBMBAA, information passes verbally from the colleague to colleague. It is commonplace that these opportunities are shared before they are even advertised. Many colleagues will introduce their respected colleagues to those looking to fill a positon.
Dealing with Gatekeepers to meet the Decision Maker
In Sales, when prospecting for customers, it is common you will have to interface with a Gatekeeper. Gatekeepers allow decision makers to concentrate on critical tasks by serving a filter for distractions. These gatekeepers come in many forms such as an Administrative Assistants, a cashier etc. Typically when meeting someone at a company booth they will provide information about the company or the roles available, but these persons typically are filters for the next level of the evaluation process. There is a duplicity for Gatekeepers, they can be a barrier or the can be an advocate. You want to get these people on your side. There are somewhat cliché examples of salesman bring Administrative Assistants flowers, but in our job searching analogy a successful candidate should show their competency by sharing knowledge of the company, having knowledge about the roles that are open, and familiarity with new executives joining the company. Once you demonstrate your value as a high potential candidate, then, it is likely will connect you to the hiring manager or in sales the decision maker. At times there will be more than one layer of insulation around the decision maker, but by repeatedly demonstrating your value to the gate keepers and you will move up the connection chain.
Once you meet the Decision Maker you should begin with your value proposition. Your value proposition should be essentially two sentences. The first sentence should describe what you can do to solve their need. The second statement should be how you are different from everyone else. Our value propositions should be a quick and pithy statement to hook your audience. It should also intrigue the person wanting more.
Demonstrating your Value
This brings me to my next comparison between selling yourself at a career fair or in interview and the sales process. There is a framework in Sales developed by Neil Rackman. He called it “SPIN Selling.” The objective of this process is to impress upon your prospect that the problem they face is critical and action is inevitable, therefore it is better to take a corrective action sooner than later. The first step is to engage the prospect regarding their current situation. To be clear it is critical to have done your research on the industry, particular business and if there are economic or political changes that will affect the space. Gatekeepers and Decision makers alike will want candidates familiar with their business, it demonstrates interest, initiative and allows you to engage in topics that concern them, their peers and their companies at large. Next you should start to talk more about the problem or problems that your product or service can solve. The objective here is to really elucidate the problem, define it clearly. Next you really want to elaborate on the implications of the problem. To elaborate typically, when we really evaluate a problem, there will be secondary, hidden or complementary impacts. This is when you should really flush-out these implications out. Your objective is to make the decision maker come to their own conclusion that the weight of the problems and their implications far outweighs not taking action. Additionally, inaction will hurt their business. Finally, Needs are the solution(s) that are required to fill in the gaps for their problem. When looking for a job, you should make it clear you are the solution they have been seeking.
In the sales process, it is expected to give successes to demonstrate creditability or competence, it will be analogously appropriate, when selling yourself for a position. If you were selling a product or service you would typically give your prospects testimonials or references of past clients. It would also be advantageous to go into detail how these products or services have solved problems for these users. Similarly, job seekers should explain their successes. For example, seekers should explain comparable examples, when they faced equivalent situations. A popular methodology is the SAR format, where the job seekers should describe a situation, actions taken and results obtained.
ABC “Always Be Closing”
The last step in the sales process is when the salesperson closes the deal, comparably the job seeker receives a job offer or more proactively asks for the position. In sales, there is an acronym ABC or “Always Be Closing.” This essentially means assertively push towards the closing of the deal or ask for the business as soon as possible. Similarly in seeking a position, job seekers should ask for the next steps or when can you start. It may seem audacious but assume the role is already yours and ask when you can start. In sales it is typical to receive some push back, some reasons why the prospects cannot buy. What I found these reasons tend to be come up repeatedly. Salesperson have to be prepared to overcome these objections by listening, make it evident that you understand their concerns and respond with a solution or an alternative. There may be objections to your candidacy for the role you are seeking such as your limited experience or not the right education. Job seekers must deflect these objections and counter with compelling reason why you are the one for the job such as passion for the technology, industry or willingness to learn outside of the job. You need to demonstrate you are willing to do whatever it takes to get business or in this case solve their human resource problem. Just like in sales, it’s the seeker’s responsibility to follow up with employers. When you get turned down for a role it is important to view the circumstances as “it may not be the right time” instead of a rejection.
I hope you enjoyed this comparison, it was an epiphany the similarities in the mechanics of the processes. It brought new meaning to the phrase selling yourself. But in reality it should be of no surprise buying a product or service is usually an emotional decision. The truth is hiring is very much an emotional decision as well.