I was on a career panel this week with Tim Harris Executive VP of the Lakers. We were presenting to a bunch of students at UCLA who want to know what they are going to do with their Sociology degrees. Tim and I were both Sociology majors.
Sociology, like a lot of social science or liberal arts educations truly enables graduates to do whatever they want to do. And we discussed these virtues. These are hollow words to those who expected a clear career decision to come out of their classes (including those nagging parents). Those with educations understand well that an undergrad degree is the platform, the foundation on which a career is built. But I digress….
Tim and I tried to share some thoughts, and suggestions about life after the degree and how to approach the choices and chances ahead.
Tim did something brilliant. He asked, "How many of you want to go into sales, cold calling, and marketing a product?" Predictably, there was an awkward pause and one hand shot up and another one sheepishly raised her hand halfway. Then Tim, said, "You all have to go into sales and cold call, because that is what you have to do to get a job!" He went on to say that marketing oneself is your number one product and if you can't do that you won't be successful. You could feel the regret rush into the room. The regret of not answering the question correctly. But also the regret of being ill-prepared to "sell" oneself.
We know that there is a big difference between passive marketing and selling. When supply exceeds demand you have to separate yourself by actively pursuing the opportunities. Waiting for a response or hoping you get one is plain ole lazy and ineffective.
Real selling and marketing require great messaging, preparation, networking, research, and courage—fearlessness. Many younger job/career seekers think the job search is a video game. Apply online, fill out apps, send e-mails. They avoid human contact and the effort it takes to talk to people, to get feedback and help. Surprise! The interview requires you to log off and literally face your future!
The basic elements of your sales strategy:
- Your job and career goals. What are your targeted industries, employers, and missions without regard to job openings? Where do you want to work?
- A great resume and cover letter. Is your resume ready for primetime?
- A confident story about who you are and where you are going.
- A kitchen cabinet, your personal board of directors or advisors. Who is mentoring and or guiding you on a regular basis?
Real sales people develop relationships. They do their homework. They research their prospects to see if and how there is a fit. They talk to people at all levels to get a read on the company and in this case the potential supervisor. They even mystery shop these employers to see how the company does things. And they get referred by influential and trusted colleagues so the candidate gets the attention in the screening process, a shot at an interview and gets hired.
The most effective selling starts way before the job search and lasts well after. Keeping your brand fresh and in demand is critical. Makes your selling during a job search so much easier.
In truth, there is little if any cold calling–that is contacting total strangers for jobs. Yes your interview may be with "strangers" but the process of getting the interview is alot more warm calling. Engaging your network in your search, referrals, references, and insights will be invaluable. Getting people you know to help you.
Yes, there are always those who over sell and take things to the extreme. Like anything, use your judgment and discretion on how aggressive you want to be. But the vast majority of candidates are under sold, under marketed, and the employer is under-whelmed.
This is Tim's point. Of course you need to have the gumption and guts to sell yourself, but you have to be smart about your approach. Selling isn't just about the ASK. It is about the the preparation for the ASK–your preparation and preparing the employer for your candidacy.
If you really want a job or to work at a particular place, you have to differentiate your candidacy from the masses. We assume you have the skills and competencies. But how will you differentiate yourself? Your passion. Your knowledge of the position and company–most people don't do any homework. Who refers you and your references– who you know and who knows you. Outside validation is comforting to the employer. All of this has to be part of your sales package and approach.
If you aren't willing to sell by putting in the effort and time, then don't bother applying. Those that sell will shine and those who think that their specialness will ooze out of their online app or resume have a rude awakening.
Tim Harris is absloutely correct. Prepare and psych yourself up to sell! Push yourself to embrace the part of your job search that gets you out from behind the computer. Selling will increase your chances that new doors will open and opportunities will present themselves.
Thanks for reading. John