How to Use Your Sales Skills in Your Next Job Interview
Matt Payne is a seasoned sales enablement executive, with extensive experience in software. A certified Command of the Message Facilitator, Force Management worked with Matt at Jama Software helping the company align the sales strategy with the organization’s growth goals. After leaving Jama, Matt continued his sales enablement experience for a customer data platform company.
Several years ago an engineer friend of mine was laid off and was trying to find work. After a few weeks of job searching, we met for coffee. I’ll never forget his serious, deadpan comment, “The skills that make me good at my job are the exact opposite skills needed for finding a job.”
Because of COVID-19, I’m one of the millions of people who were laid off this past month. Unlike my friend, I have discovered that the skills learned while being in sales are the perfect skills needed in my quest to find a job and those same skills can help you too. Here are a few tips that are making an impact in my current job hunt. You’ll see they’re very similar to great sales execution.
Use Your Prospecting Skills
Updating your LinkedIn profile, setting up job search filters, and leveraging your network for referrals is one of the first steps many of us take when finding a job. However, you can kick this tactic up a notch by applying the concept of a Champion.
In the sales world, we call “champions” people (in part) who have power, influence and sell on your behalf. Those concepts apply here. In this case, they can provide you some pivotal help to get you an interview and perhaps help sway the hiring manager to choose you over another candidate. The same way you may enable your champion in a sales process, you can also enable him/her to help you better in the job hunting process. Don’t just ask them to forward your resume. Help them understand your own value and differentiation that you can bring to an opportunity. A champion is valuable and in a job search their impact could be key to differentiating yourself from the competition and actually landing the job.
When I put out a call to my network for help, I had dozens of people provide leads and referrals for me, which led to interviews within my first week of being unemployed. Looking for a job is like fishing and while I am no fisherman, I do know that fishing with one pole isn’t as effective as using a line with multiple hooks in the water. Far too many salespeople (and job seekers) are single threaded in their prospecting. Cast a wide net. Just make sure you’re in the right water.
Sales people keep their pipeline full of leads by investing a good chunk of their time in prospecting. They know they don’t have the luxury of being single threaded, and in today’s job search you should use the same mentality.
Keep your pipeline full by using sales prospecting best practices:
- Use the digital tools available: Whether it’s free online skills assessments, interview prep tools, or other ways to boost your skill set or credibility, think of ways you can improve the alignment of your skills with the needs of the jobs you are hunting.
- Reach out to your network: Salespeople get introductions from friends and acquaintances and sell to them all the time. This is much easier if you have made a habit of adding value into your network. Make sure you’re enabling them to help you in the most effective way.
- Cast a wide net: Much like a sales deal, you never know what could become a valuable opportunity. So apply for everything that your research reveals might be a good fit, even if it’s a reach.
Deal With Rejection in a Positive Way
While looking for a job—especially during a pandemic—you will be ignored, brushed off and rejected every single day, which coincidentally is a reality for every salesperson.
One thing that has helped me face rejection is that I continue to search for jobs each day and look at each new job posting as a future possibility, even picturing myself in that role. When I get the rejection email, I am not as emotionally attached because I am always looking for new jobs and moving other opportunities forward. Unlike in sales, the good news in the job of selling yourself is that you just need to have one company make an offer. You don’t necessarily need multiple offers.
Stay motivated through rejection by using these sales best practices:
- Apply and job search daily: Salespeople are constantly reaching out to new prospects to move potential opportunities forward. Do the same so you can begin to build your own qualified pipeline.
- Stay visible: Salespeople stay active on LinkedIn with posts and comments to stay top of mind in their social network, build their brand and open up new prospecting opportunities. You can do the same. You don’t need to be emailing hiring managers repeatedly. Stay visible on social, where it matters.
- Always follow up: Salespeople aren’t afraid to follow up with a no decision deal, or someone who has said no before. It may just mean it’s not right now. They use those opportunities to keep the deal as a possibility and maintain a relationship. Keep your network pipeline filled with people who may be able to help, if not now, in the future.
Ask Good Discovery Questions
When looking for a job we often forget that we are interviewing our prospective companies, as much as they are interviewing us. While asking questions to fully understand the role and the culture of the team/company is important, I have learned that asking good discovery questions about what pain they are trying to solve with the role is equally important. Preparing specific discovery questions beforehand can help you uncover important information. What you uncover should allow you to find the right fit within a company and differentiate yourself from competition — so you can land the ideal job.
Using discovery questions to find the right fit within a company or role:
Asking questions about the history and/or challenges of the role or territory will encourage honest conversation that goes beyond the normal questions a job seeker asks. But, good, pre-planned discovery questions can also allow you to uncover pitfalls and red flags of specific roles and companies.
Saying no to a job opportunity is difficult to do in a normal time, and during rampant unemployment, it is almost impossible. But, keep in mind, saying yes to a company that has churned through salespeople over and over again will only set you up for failure, and land you right back where you are today.
Using discovery questions to beat the competition:
Stand out from the competition by preparing discovery questions that allow you to uncover an interviewer's required capabilities and positive business outcomes they’re hoping to achieve by filling the role. These factors go beyond what is on the job description. Your goal should be to ask questions that allow you to uncover the hiring manager’s priorities, which aren’t always clear.
When interviewing, ask questions about the hiring manager’s goals for the future. I like to ask, “Let’s say I’m hired for this position and in 6 months you are reviewing my performance — what are a couple of things that would make you think you made a good hire?”
In the interview process, try and understand the positive business outcomes they want this role to achieve. Before I pitch why I think they should hire me for the role, I want to be able to have all the facts so that I can make a business case based on their goals.
Prepare great questions for every interview by using sales discovery best practices:
- Do extensive online research: Spend time learning about positions and companies by checking LinkedIn titles and visiting company websites, not just job boards.
- Always, always, pre-call plan: Prepare for your interviews and calls like you would a sale by outlining key points and topics that you want to cover. Make sure you have them readily available so you can easily reference during a remote interview.
- Role play: Effective salespeople never walk into a sales call without practicing discovery questions and responses beforehand. Grab a friend, relative or even a mirror and plan time to practice what you’re going to ask.
Pitch Yourself in a Way That Aligns Your Skills to Hiring Manager Needs
The pitch is where you make your ask for the job in a way that allows you to stand out from competition. Do so by aligning your valuable skills to the positive business outcomes they’re looking for in this role. This is often how salespeople are able to charge premiums for their products, because they were able to align value to their solutions that couldn’t be found anywhere else.
Several years ago I was asked during an interview process to come in and give a 60 minute presentation on why I thought they should hire me. The challenge of championing myself for that long without coming across as a narcissist was difficult, but I approached it like I’ve done with the solutions I’ve sold as a salesperson.
I started with their job description, which was their list of requirements for the role. I listed each one of the 20 responsibilities and then grouped them by category. I went around the room asking each person to rank each category by priority from their perspective. I then proceeded to share how I would do each thing uniquely based on my StrengthsFinder and StandOut Assessment. All the while I sprinkled in proof points and recommendations from my past colleagues using LinkedIn endorsements. By the way, I was hired after the presentation.
Ask for the job and make an effective pitch by using the same steps we preach in Command of the Message:
- Use research to find out what benefits they’re looking to achieve by filling the role
- Ask discovery questions to uncover what their biggest value driver is within that list or elsewhere
- Articulate how your skill set can provide value based on the requirements THEY outlined
- Provide your proof
Have Command of Your Message
For those of you who've been through Command of the Message deliveries at your company, you can see how these actions align to the skill set that allows salespeople to close high value deals. Take what you can from those principles to differentiate yourself from the competition and articulate your value effectively in every job interview to make them count.
I wish the best of luck to everyone out there who has found themselves in the same position as I have for myself. And, for those of you unsure about where your job situation will be in a week, a month or more, keep these tips in mind and do what you can now to build a foundation you can lean on if an unfavorable situation arises.
What do I mean by that? Help others command their message right now. Send along their resumes, be a reference, share their LinkedIn posts/profiles or even just give them a LinkedIn endorsement. Be in someone’s corner today, and they just may be in your corner when you need them next. Reach out to old colleagues to see how they’re doing and stay connected now more than ever. Good luck!