Month: July 2014

10 Proven Tips to Get the Job You Really Want

By Dave Stein, Sales Training Expert

There is good news and bad news. The good news is that good salespeople are landing better jobs than they had–jobs with higher pay potential and with the promise of career advancement based on achievement of performance goals. Direct sales is a good place to be right now. Why? It pays very well and, as far as I can see, direct selling jobs can’t be outsourced overseas.

There is bad news for many who are seeking out a new job in sales. Just as buyers have gotten better at buying, many managers and executives have gotten considerably better at hiring. Having been through the experience and cost of hiring the wrong people, possessing a higher degree of accountability and putting more focus on effectiveness and productivity, they are more determined to do it right.

I spend a fair amount of time assisting companies hire the right sales people. We don’t accomplish that by chance or through gut feel. We depend on a hiring process I’ve developed which includes, among other components, comprehensive job profiles, probing interview questions, and the formal training of a hiring team. I become part of the hiring team, performing many interviews with candidates for sales jobs–at the rep, support, management, and executive levels.

From my perspective as a hiring coach, influencer and recommender, here are 10 critical success factors for getting yourself hired:

1. Have a Plan
There are a good deal of similarities between seeking a new job and running a sales campaign. (When seeking a job, you’ll be doing a fair amount more buying than you do in your sales job, but you’ll still be doing a considerably amount of selling.) So, in keeping with my recommended format for a sales plan, the following should be the format of your plan to get the job:

Situation assessment: Ask yourself these questions: What are your skills, your experience, and your past performance against quota? What industries (or companies) are hiring? What are the hirer’s expectations (perhaps a “golden” Rolodex)? What compensation level is realistic to expect? What are your decision criteria? What are theirs? Are they employing a hiring process? If so, what are the steps? You will also need to assess your prospective employer’s industry and company, just as you would a prospect.

Objective: To be offered three positions on or about a specified date at a specified OTE (on-target earning) potential.

Strategy: What are you going to count upon to compel that executive to offer you the job you want for the pay you deserve?

Tactics: How are you going to manage it all? The interviews, differentiating yourself, timing, your current job, negotiations, reference checking, your due diligence, responses to the most common objections?

This same planning model is equally as applicable, on a smaller scale, to a single interview or other meeting with your targeted employer. Your ability to have an impact on the outcome of that interview is directly proportional to the amount of time you spend planning and preparing for the event.

2. Specify What Role You Are Seeking
One of the mistakes candidates make is in not being specific enough about what job they are interested in. I’ve seen job objectives at the top of candidate’s resumes where I couldn’t discern whether the candidate was interested in a job selling, in business development, sales management, or channel management. The shotgun approach doesn’t work. Hirers don’t want to compromise, and they don’t want generalists. The days of hiring a person and then finding the right place for them are over. Executives want the right candidate for a specific job. If you’ve got broad experience in a number of different areas, position that as added value which will make you even more qualified for the job for which you are applying.

One of my clients is currently looking for a very experienced sales rep. They do not need someone who is interested in a management position. Many of the candidates who want to be considered have sales management experience and it isn’t clear from their resumes whether they want a sales rep or sales manager position. My client doesn’t want to hire someone who isn’t 100% focused on selling. They don’t want someone who is just selling in order to “qualify” for a sales management job. So if a candidate doesn’t specify that they just want to sell, we are passing them by.

3. Clean Up Your Resume
Don’t lie on your resume. In my experience more than 60% of resumes of sales people do not accurately represent the facts about the candidate. That includes inflated titles, incorrect dates meant to cover gaps in employment, team accomplishments attributed solely to the candidate, etc. Lying or misrepresentation on a resume is immediate cause for rejection.

What do you do if there is a period during which you were between jobs? Explain it. Why did it happen? What did you learn from it? What will the benefit be for your next employer? It’s your job as a salesperson to effectively position yourself. Get to work cleaning up your resume and polishing your story. Leave no inconsistencies, holes, or doubts as to what you really accomplished, however big or small. Recruit a friend or associate to mentor you through the process.

A colleague and friend just started in a terrific new job as VP of an $80 million division. The job was definitely a reach, since he had never managed a business unit that large. He worked hard on effectively positioning the truth. Yes, he had not done this before, but he was more than ready for the challenge. In fact, this was the right time in his career for a move exactly like this. He was able to succinctly and compellingly discuss the advantages of hiring him over someone who might have appeared to be better qualified on paper. What might have been a disqualifier for someone else was turned into a reason for hiring him.

When I see the resume of a sales person or executive and there are no performance statistics, I am skeptical. Although smart executives know that the past doesn’t equal the future, they do know that a resume without performance stats probably means that salesperson doesn’t have a record of which they are proud. If you misrepresent how much you’ve sold and your prospective employer asks for your W-2s (earning and tax statements) for the past 5 years, you’re toast.

One more point about resumes. Presentation counts. Please, no typos, nothing fancy, no downloadable graphics, not too long, nothing irrelevant, and take the time to customize the resume for the job for which you are applying. I’m not saying that presentation counts more than past performance. I’m just saying it’s representative of you.

4. Learn about the Company with Whom You will be Interviewing
Winners would never think of making a sales call on a decision maker without having learned about that person’s company, their industry, and the person themselves. This is a practice that should be applied in a job seeking situation. Even if you are being pursued, if it’s worth an hour of your time to talk to someone from that company, it’s worth some more time to do a bit of research on that company, their industry, and the person or people with whom you will be speaking. This knowledge you gain will help you in other ways. You really don’t want to go work for the wrong company. So you’ve got to perform your due diligence. Dig into their history, management team, financial viability, culture, products and services, alliances, attrition (or lack thereof) of their sales staff, marketing capabilities, reputation in their industry, etc. Obviously, some of this can wait for the second interview. You don’t want to have to be explaining to your next potential employer why you made an uninformed decision going with a company that went belly-up shortly after you joined.

5. Timing
When I coach sales reps (and VPs of sales for that matter) who are seeking a new job, I tell them that one of their biggest challenges is going to be in doing their best to time their job offers so the most desirable ones all come in at the same time. That way the candidate can compare and contrast them according to their decision criteria, selecting the best one at that time. The alternative is to have an offer come in when you are in the midst of the interviewing cycle with what appears to be a more exciting opportunity. If you take job #1 without fully exploring job #2, you may be missing out on what could be a better opportunity. If you stall job #1, they may hire someone else and then you are left with job #2, which may not be as good as job #1 appeared to be. Something to think about in advance.

Another aspect of timing is to begin looking for a job while you still have your current one. When it comes to hiring sales people, you are inherently more marketable if you are currently employed. An ethical question comes into play here. Is it right to interview for another job when you are on your current employer’s payroll? For some, the answer to that question is that they got their current job while on their previous employer’s payroll, so it all works out. For others, making up any time spent on job searching is the answer. They work extra hours on the weekends, for example. Other people don’t worry about such things. They suggest it’s a cost of doing business for their employer. Ultimately that decision is yours, but I recommend making up any time spent on job searching.

6. Practice
I got some terrific advice many years ago when I was looking for a sales job: make certain your first interviews aren’t for your most promising opportunities. Interviewing, like any other skill, requires practice. If you haven’t interviewed for a while, take interviews with some companies that you don’t really believe you want to work for or wouldn’t likely hire you. You want to be as polished, confident, and comfortable as possible when the ideal interview comes along.

7. References
My clients understand the value of rigorous reference checks. You can ruin your chances of landing a job, not to mention your reputation and your relationship with a recruiter if a reference disputes claims you made on your resume or during the interview process. And don’t think that potential employers will only call the names you’ve provided. The savvy ones have contacts in the industry and may perform blind reference checking on you, as I often do.

Hirers also know that you are only going to list names of people who will provide a positive recommendation. Please don’t think that experienced executives are going to call one of those people, smile, and feel that they have all they need. That’s happening less and less.

8. Who is Selling and Who is Buying
The answer to this question is, “it depends”. There is almost always a degree of balance between hirer and candidate and buying and selling. Digging in a bit further: If you are relatively inexperienced or have a less than stellar resume, you may be selling a lot more than buying, at least early in the interview cycle. If you can really convince the hirer that you are right for the job, you can transition to a bit more of a selling mode. On the other hand, if you’ve been taking home $500k a year and are being recruited into a hot start-up you’re definitely starting out as a buyer. That could come to an abrupt halt when the recruiter tells you that there are two other candidates involved, each of whom made $750k. Now, if that job is as attractive as can be, you’re like to move into selling mode. Decide which mode you should be in at any given time and be effective in that role.

9. Position Your Negatives
Last year I rejected a VP of sales candidate for a client because the candidate couldn’t admit that he had any weaknesses (which when you think about it is a weakness in itself). Positioning a strength as a weakness doesn’t really work either. “One of my weaknesses is that I am too determined when it comes to winning business…” Statements like that provoke some interviewers into thinking, “What do you think, I’m stupid?”

Everyone has weaknesses. Spend some time determining in advance what yours are and what you are hopefully doing to improve yourself in those areas. If that’s the case, try something more like this. “You can tell by my track record that I’ve been a consistent performer. But I am always looking to improve. Right now I am focusing on improving my ability to read and interpret financial statements. I know that this will enable me to be even more credible in front of C-level executives.”

10. Add Value at Every Turn
I love interviewing candidates for sales positions where the candidate has done their homework and tells me something that I don’t know and that I believe my client doesn’t know either. I react in the same way your prospects react when you do that to them. I see value, the candidate has differentiated themselves, and I am interested in hearing more.

During an interview for a sales job for one of my clients, the candidate provided observations and very specific recommendations regarding how my client was positioning their offering in their market. He suggested that a lot of what he saw was good, but certain points could be made much more effectively, which, he added would help him and the other salespeople to sell more effectively. His comments made sense. I noted them in my debriefing document, which was sent to the VP of sales and other key executives. Having done this certainly contributed to that candidate getting hired.

If you are looking for a sales position and are winging it, consider adopting these recommendations above. They could make a world of difference in your career and your bank account.

10 Difficult Interview Questions

You’ve booked an interview based on your superior job search skills and your resume and cover letter! Now, you’ll have to answer a few interview questions…

In addition to standard questions about your experience and skills, during an interview you may receive some behavioral or situational questions in an interview…”tell me about a time when”. Here are 10 examples of challenging questions you may receive and strategies on developing great answers. Remember, when answering a question about a past experience or a tough situation, make sure your answers are objective and try your best to relate them to the job you’re interviewing for.

1) Tell me about a time when had a conflict with a co-worker, how did you resolve it?

Focus here on your role in resolving an issue and what you learned. Try to raise a concern that could be generalized to any work environment (scheduling, group work contributions) rather than something about you or a unique situation you may not be in again. Though you may have had an experience in the past that was a real crisis, take caution in raising these special situations. For example, drawing attention to a time when HR had to get involved is a very risky move!

2) Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a supervisor, how did you resolve it?

As with the previous, raise a concern that is common to many employee/supervisor relationships, such as prioritizing work or a time when a supervisor taught you something. This is a good time to show that you value direction and can be managed easily, rather than a time to display your independent streak.

3) How would you handle a situation in which a co-worker did not do their fair share of work?

Show your sense of cooperation here: clearly explain how you assessed that a co-worker was not contributing fairly and explain whether you managed this issue directly with your colleague, with management, or both and why.

4) Give me an example of a time when you misjudged someone.

This is an occasion to show modesty (that you may have judged someone unfairly) and also flexibility (that you changed your thinking). Focus on actions and outcomes here rather than personality traits.

5) Have you ever worked with someone you did not like? How did you handle it?

This is where objectivity really counts. Try to explain what you have learned about cooperation in the workplace, focus on the positive.

6) Tell me about a time you failed.

Here, the interviewer is seeking to understand your problem solving, planning or time management skills. Provide a simple example where you know what went wrong and how you would change your actions the next time around. You may have had some catastrophic failures in your career, but save these harrowing tales for your friends!

7) Tell me about a time when you made the wrong decision.

This question is a little different than discussing a time that you failed. Here, you should display your understanding of decision making and the steps involved in getting from point A to B. Explain a time that making a different choice could have changed the outcome of a project or presented new opportunities for growth for your team or company.

8) How do you manage conflicting priorities?

Priorities in the workplace can be determined in many ways, for example, by timelines, budgets or management/executive decisions and priorities. Describe how you assign priority to tasks given these restrictions and how you adjust to changing priorities.

9) Have you ever started something from scratch?

The interviewer may pose this question to learn more about your interests, motivations or learning styles. Start with any of these, but ensure that you reference a skill that can be used in the job you are applying to.

10) How many lifeboats were on the Titanic?

Questions like this are posed to learn about your problem solving skills, you don’t have to have the right answer, just explain how you would get to one!

In a couple of days, we’ll talk about questions you may ask in an interview, check it out!

Perfecting your Cover Letter

In addition to a user friendly, clutter free resume, in order to secure an interview and a great new job, you’ll need a cover letter. Here are a few tips for perfecting the cover letter:

1) Your cover letter should be brief: No more than a page, including: the date, address and email for you and the recipient, and salutation and closing lines.

2) Each paragraph should have only one purpose. That means that each paragraph should only communicate one theme or focus on a couple of connected ideas. This way, you can construct a cover letter using three or four paragraphs:

  • In the first paragraph, express your interest in the role using the exact title of the job you are applying to. Use two or three keywords to describe how your skills align with the requirements of the role.
  • Use the next one or two paragraphs (about four sentences each) to provide clear examples of how your experience, skills and accomplishments are relevant to the role. Use an active voice and simple language here.
  • Close in the final paragraph (the third or fourth) by expressing your desire to support the organization. You can also make a direct request for a meeting or an interview. If you are really succinct, you can repeat some key skills from the intro to tie the letter together.

3) Keep in mind that your cover letter should augment, not repeat, information from both your resume and the job description. This may sound like a tall order, so let’s look at one example. Let’s say a potential job requires:

  • 3 years of experience in Project Management,
  • Sound judgement,
  • The ability to meet multiple deadlines, and
  • Experience working effectively in a team.

Your resume should clearly show that you have the required number of years of experience in a particular field or business area. If it’s not immediately clear from dates of employment and job titles, list years of experience in a field in a summary at the top of your resume. Perhaps you say “delivered multiple complex products on time and on budget” under one or more job descriptions? If you’ve covered this, your cover letter should say something like:

Between 2006 and 2013, I led design and validation teams on multiple, concurrent projects to deliver more than a dozen software products. By initiating novel working relationships with both R&D and Sales & Marketing, my teams were able focus their efforts on unmet software needs. We fulfilled all department and client quality requirements, leading to successful and profitable market launches for each product.

4) Finally, if you have time, print a draft, set it aside and review it in a couple of hours or days. You’ll be surprised to see how much you can improve your writing when you give yourself some time to consolidate information.

Happy writing!