Top 5 Mistakes Job Seekers Make When Selling Themselves

Selling…there it is, that word everyone loves to hate.

I’ve taught selling for a number of years in different industries, and am always amused at how many people think ‘selling’ is a four-letter word.

Amused because everyone sells. Kids, moms, employees, employers, socialists, capitalists and everything in between…everyone sells.

The truth is that selling is just like anything else…it’s not whether you do it, it’s how you do it.
And if you’re a job seeker, you have two options: learn to do it well enough so that you rise to the top of an employer’s list and win the job, or you avoid the topic and make amateur mistakes that cost you time, frustration and income.

So…what are the Top 5 Mistakes Job Seekers Make When Selling Themselves?

#5 – Not marketing enough: the problem with most people is that they think of job hunting as a ‘just in time’ exercise. Meaning every 4 years or so if they get restless, feel slighted by an employer or get let go for some reason, THEN they’ll market because they need to. Selling is excruciatingly painful if you don’t have enough leads. It’s pretty easy when you do.

Can I let you in on a little secret? Ours is becoming a “free agent nation.” The days of finding a job and working it for dozens of years is largely over, especially for professional and technical workers. There are a lot of reasons for that, but the biggest is the sheer cost of your expertise, and the fluctuating demand for it by any single employer. Large projects suck in large numbers of workers, and then spit them back out when the project ends and the system that was built goes into maintenance mode.

Essentially you should be marketing yourself constantly. Just like a small business, you don’t have to take every single piece of work that comes from your marketing, but by always having a source of leads, you maximize your value, and ensure your ability to move quickly if a company examines it’s P&L one day and decides you no longer should be on it.

#4 – Aiming at too big a target: just like amateur (read: broke) sales people who think they can sell to anyone, most job hunters think they can do any job that’s close.

Wrong – the fact is that of 100 of possible jobs you COULD do, someone will only hire you to do around 20 of them. Just like Pareto’s principle, you should focus on those…because 80% of your results will come from there.

Job seekers don’t do this because they’re afraid they’ll lose the ‘luck-out factor:’ that they’ll luck out and someone will call them.

Just remember that for every “yes” you imagine, there is an equal number of “no’s”…so if you say yes to stuffing your resume and cover letter with every imaginable skill set to play the ‘luck card’ then you say “no” to the ‘targeting card’ very loudly. You can’t have it both ways…if you play for everything, then you lose the ability to be distinct and 100% on target for the jobs you really DO match!

#3 – Not focusing on the buyer: someone, somewhere decided the primary purpose of a resume was historical documentation of our past. I love history, but frankly it just doesn’t sell.

If your resume focuses on YOU, then it’s not marketing at all, and after all: marketing is just selling in print. If you can’t figure out how to get inside your target market’s mind and address the issues they’re having right now, you’re an irrelevant 3 pages of very boring information.

You think the ‘buyer’ of your services will do the hard work for you and figure out the lines between his problem and your resume. They won’t. They’re sitting around waiting for someone to show up with a clear and compelling solution to the issues they’re facing. Do that and you’ll shoot to the top of the list.

#2 – Not preparing for the negatives: even if you’re the Brad Pitt of candidates in your job category, you’re still going to have to sell. Smart sales people recognize this…in the words of Robert Ringer (who wrote the classic marketing and sales work, “To Be or Not to Be Intimidated”), you need to have “a positive anticipation of a negative result.”

More directly, you need to figure out ahead of time what a potential employer will find objectionable or questionable about you and be prepared to deal with it.

Well! If you think that your good looks or wonderful personality will get you through, you’re kidding yourself. The market is VERY competitive right now, so if you aren’t prepared to instantly understand and address any questions about whether you fit the job, your place in the interview process can be gone in an instant.

Often it’s not even the content of the answer, but the tone and believability of it that will determine whether you’re in or out. All good “objection selling” methods teach you to honor the question, offer a positive answer, and then turn it back to the buyer to make sure it’s the question they really wanted to ask – often it’s not; it’s a prelude to what they really want to know.

A smart answer initiates more conversation and exploration of the need. A bad answer is dismissive or shuts the door on more conversation.

#1 – Selling for the yes: it’s painful to sit in an interview with someone who’s following some ‘legacy’ sales methodology. Those all tell you that it’s your job to get the sale no matter what – press, close hard, brush past objections…GO FOR THE SALE!

I use the term ‘legacy’ because that’s what these methods are: relics of a bygone age. If you think you can push someone into hiring you today (when there are hundreds of people in line for jobs) then you’re in for a long period of unemployment.

One sales guru I follow (Shameless Shamus Brown) calls this ‘selling for the yes.’ Frankly, it’s the kind of sales everyone is afraid of and hates when I say the word, “selling,” but many people try to do it despite the fact that they hate it.

Instead, you should be selling for the ‘no.’ Your job should be to go into the interview looking for the truth…which is that in many cases, the answer will be NO. For a very good reason. But if you go in looking for it, magical things happen: people relax, they trust your motive, they share more with you, they get to the questions they really want to ask, and they are willing to listen to your answers objectively.

The old method makes it a judo match, each of you trying to ‘throw’ the other person and win. It occasionally creates job offers, but often for jobs that are not a fit for either side.

The new method creates a discussion that often ends in collaboration and agreement…and job offers when the role is right.