Are You a Salesperson? Can You Sell Yourself?

contributed by Dr. Stephen E Bangert, PhD

Interviewing is selling. It is more than answering questions, and it is more than bravado.

A number of years ago I taught a seminar to students about to graduate and who were preparing to interview. I worked with small groups of 10-12 and always began with a verbal test by asking: “How many of you want to be salespersons?” Given the composition of the groups, psychology and education majors, seldom did I see a hand go up. So I would ask the question a second time and perhaps a third time until “the lights went on.” I emphasized that interviewing was more than answering all the questions right and passing the test.   It was selling!.

Contrast this with the person who announces with bravado, “I can sell myself, just get me in front of people.” My response is to challenge them by asking: “So what is the message that you want others to hear?”

If they can answer this with a short, succinct response that highlights their strengths and experiences, and suggests what they are capable of contributing, I congratulate them for their exceptional abilities and wish them much success. But such people are a rarity. Most people need a lot of preparation to perform well in an interview.

Interviewing is selling. It is more than answering questions, and it is more than bravado.

To be successful in interviewing one must know the product he or she is selling.  This suggests knowledge of oneself; knowledge of one’s skills, experiences, accomplishments, characteristics and goals. And while most people would argue that they know themselves, they are hard pressed if challenged to identify four or five keys to their success. It takes some reflecting, delineating of skills and experiences, and developing a clear message that you want others to hear and take with them. It also requires the ability to convey this message with confidence.

In addition to having knowledge of self, it is quite valuable to have advanced knowledge of the position for which you are interviewing. Sometimes this is provided up front in the form of a job description. Oftentimes, however, you are faced with the ambiguous situation where the interviewer announces that there is no defined position yet they are generally interested in you. This may or may not be true. Typically a company has something in mind but they don’t wish to tip their hand; or perhaps the company is still in an exploratory stage and not clear themselves as to what all they need and how to structure the position within the organization. This latter situation is a dangerous one for the candidate, for it is all too easy to get caught up in the corporate politics and decision making. Yet in some cases, this latter situation can prove advantageous to the candidate if he or she is able to quickly understand the corporate needs and position themself as a solution.

In situations where you are not provided with a job description or where it is verbalized to you, it is necessary to draw that out from the interviewer. In some cases it is a simple matter of asking: “what is the position that you seek to fill?” In other cases you may need to do more probing. Perhaps it is not a matter of simply filling a position, rather it is a matter of addressing various corporate needs, or venturing into new territory for the company. These are the times that test your interviewing skills, your ability to think on your feet, your ability to engage the interviewer in a dialogue, and your ability to do some trial closing.

A third area that requires some preparation is gaining knowledge of the company and the audience or person interviewing you. If you are initiating the call or if you are returning a call from a company you can do some basic research, identifying the company size, industry, products, location, and so on. You would also like to determine the role and responsibility of the person calling you.

Information on the company will help you more fully assess your interest in a possible offer; and information about the interviewer will be an indicator of the likely focus and duration of the interview.

Once you have gathered information regarding yourself, the position, the company and the audience, you need to anticipate likely questions and situations that you may face throughout the interview process. It is advisable to actually write down a question and your likely response to it as further preparation, then read it aloud several times getting comfortable with how it sounds. You might want to pick up your editors pen and make some adjustments and then give it a further reading. The intent is not to memorize it but to be conversational with the message that you want others to hear. Some people find it helpful to practice their delivery in front of a mirror, or to video tape it for later critique.

Each of these above steps are essential preparations for interviewing.

So after you have gained insights of yourself, the position, the company, and the audience, when someone challenges you with the question: “Can you sell yourself?”, you can confidently answer:”YES!”

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