The Ultimate IT Professional’s Guide to Conducting an Online Job Search (Part III – Sales)

June 10, 2013 by . 6 comments

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Note: This is Part III of a three part series; it is recommended that you read Part I – The Basics & Part II – Marketing first. 

A quick Re-cap

I previously defined the Job search Sales phase as “Direct contact with a potential employer where, building on your marketing, you sell yourself as the perfect candidate for the job”. This is everything you do from the moment you get a person on the phone discussing a specific opportunity and afterward.

Also previously stated is that the Sales process looks something like this:

Sales

  1. Develop\fine tune a targeted sales pitch for each response (These are no longer leads, These are now Opportunities)
  2. Make first (direct) contact.
  3. Recruiters\HR
  4. Phone screen(s)
  5. In Person Interview(s)
  6. The Offer
  7. Negotiation
  8. Postmortem


Sales is a direct extension of marketing, the key to success in the sales phase is to back up everything you said thus far and then surpass it. If a potential employer is talking to you, it’s because he is interested what you said thus far and wants to hear more. Specifically they have two questions they want answered:

  1. Do you really live up to your “hype”? i.e. What you claimed as part of your marketing.
  2. Do you meet all the unwritten requirements?

Most interviewers suck at interviewing, I mean they just really stink at it. By that I mean they simply have no clue as to what they are doing. And when I say “Most” I mean “All”. When it comes to interviewing nobody knows what the f* they are doing. They rarely put any effort in choosing the right questions to ask, and don’t spend any time thinking about what they expect to learn about the candidate by asking those question. They will routinely interview 5 people (ask each of them and entirely different set of questions) then pick the “Guy who worked for Google”, even though they build POS Systems because obviously “Google is better at picking good people then we are”. They ask questions about skills that can be learned in less time than it takes to answer the question, Then disqualify the applicant for answering incorrectly (because they failed “the test”, this is a direct result of not thinking about what to ask and why).

Interviews are conducted by people with no training and no (or little) planning. Unfortunately this is just a fact of life; there is not much you can do about it. You are going to interview for jobs, and you will be rejected for no good reasons. Understanding this is critical, accept it as fact; and don’t let it affect your confidence.

The hiring process can be summed up as follows: Phone screen\ interview a bunch of people based off their marketing material, and then go with your Gut. (It’s a well-documented fact that employers will choose drinking buddies over talent). As flawed as this process is, it actually works surprisingly well.

Getting back to the two questions: Question one is an honesty check asking “Is this person lying?”. For question two, the interviewer doesn’t even know what the unwritten requirements are, and isn’t even conscious he is asking himself this question. These two may look like different things but they are not, simply stated likeability is the single most important unwritten requirement. If the interviewers like you, and clearly see that you meet all the written and unwritten requirements, you will get the Job (because their Gut will tell them that you are the right person for the job). Nobody likes a liar and nobody hires people they don’t like. Well most people don’t like liars…

<StupidStoryAboutIntentionallyHiringALiar>

While working for a professional services consulting firm, I was asked to help out with the technical assessment of a candidate. So I join the VP, practice manager and the candidate in the conference room and told the candidate “I want to get a good understanding of your level of knowledge of the different aspects of product X, so I am going to ask you a whole bunch of questions where you will get things wrong, that’s ok, nobody could know all this, don’t let it throw you off.” Asking him about one particular advanced feature of the product, I asked him “Have you ever configured feature X”, the candidate responded “Many times!” I say “Great, tell me how the feature works”, he then proceeded to give me a very plausible answer, good if I was asking him to design such a feature, yet entirely wrong in terms of how it actually worked, making it clear that he never configure or even used this feature, not once.

After the interview, in discussions with the VP and the practice manager, I expressed by concerns of the candidates ability (and audacity) to lie with such confidence.  To my surprise their reaction was “That’s what consultants do!! He’s a natural!” he was offered the job and accepted. (I eventually became good friends with the candidate as we worked very closely together. He’s a good honest guy overall) this is the kind of thing people talk about when they talk about “Cultural Fit”.  The VP and practice manager simply liked him.

</StupidStoryAboutIntentionallyHiringALiar>

The important thing to remember about unwritten requirements is that just because you may not be asked about them doesn’t mean you won’t be judged on those requirements (Subconsciously by the interview’s gut). If these requirements are not addressed at all, it will count as a strike against you. This is particularly true if another candidate does address them directly, forcing them out of the interviewer’s subconscious.

So what are the Unwritten Requirements?

Here is a list of the most common unwritten requirements:

  1. Likeability – Likability, nobody hires people they don’t like
  2. Honesty – We already covered why this is so important.
  3. Communication Skills – Solid Communication skills are a MUST.
  4. Confidence – being confidant demonstrates your ability to do the work. It also goes a long way to likeability.
  5. Enthusiasm for the Job – Nobody wants to work with a miserable f*. Also if you like your job you are more likely to stick around a few years
  6. Salary- Will you be happy with the salary?
  7. Cultural Fit – This is very similar to Likeability, but extends to the working environment. (ie. Structured vs unstructured environments)

The rest of the unwritten requirements vary from job to job, you should be able to figure most of them out when you are analyzing the requirements to put together your elevator pitch (See Part II), the rest you’ll have to figure out along the way.

Make first (direct) contact.\Recruiters\HR

First direct contact is really a transition phase between Marketing and Sales, I discussed most of what you need to know previously. Everything previously stated stills hold true: you have 3 basic goals: (See Parts I & II)

  1. Learn more about the position
  2. Pitch your elevator pitch
  3. Discuss next steps.

If you are dealing with a Recruiter

Dealing with recruiters is a marketing activity; treat it as such, that means you need to focus on efficiency. Never go out of your way to meet a recruiter in person. If they insist, offer a Skype interview, if they turn that down, politely tell them you just don’t have the time, and pass on the opportunity. (If they offer to come to you, accept)

If you are dealing with HR

Remember your 3 basic Goals; this should get you a phone screen with the hiring manager. Send a thank you letter to HR personal after speaking with them.

The Phone Screen

The phone screen is conducted by the hiring manager or a member of his\her team. This is the true start of the sales process. Insist on a phone screen even if you are offered an in person interview off the bat. (Say something like “Would it be possible to have a brief conversation with the hiring manager prior to coming in? I think that will go a long way in making the in person interview more productive.” – I have never had someone say “No” to this.) The Phone screens serve two purposes:

  1. Confirm what you heard from the recruiter and \or HR, and determine if you are still interested
  2. Prime the Interviewer for the in person interview

Get Confirmation of the details: The recruiter’s and HR’s goal is to get the position filled. The hiring manager’s goal is to get the position filled with a qualified candidate (in terms of written and unwritten requirements). Because qualified is something only the hiring manager cares about, often the Recruiter and HR “fudge” things to get you more interested. For example recruiters will tell you there is tremendous room for growth, or lie about travel requirements thereby increasing your Enthusiasm for the Job (an unwritten requirement) this is the time to set the record straight.Remember you are screening them too, if you are not happy with what you are hearing don’t waste your time with an in person interview.

Priming: The fact of the matter is that external forces effect how people think of you. If you are being interviewed 20 min after the interviewer got a raise, he\she will be in a good mood, and that good feeling will be somewhat transferred to you. If the interviewer just got reamed out by his\her boss because the server crashed and now the interviewer has to waste 20 min talking to “another looser candidate” you haven’t got a shot in hell of landing that job.

By priming the interviewer during the phone screen you are taking control of the interviewer’s first impression of you. He\she can’t see you so all his\her superficial biases are out, and he\she is left with nothing to judge you on except for content under your control (Assuming you don’t have a heavy accent).  Now that you control the picture, you can push the messages you want to get through: you have the expertise and experience they are looking for (your elevator pitch), and you are a great person to work with (your likability). You want to leave them excited about your candidacy and looking forward to meeting you in person. (Priming goes a long way in effecting someone’s Gut feelings toward you)

While on the subject of priming and likeability, here’s a Random tip: : Lighten the mood from hello, and keep the energy level up. Because of basic phone protocol, 98% of phone interviews start with “How are you doing?” This is great chance to lighten the mood, answer with “Great!” followed by some silly anecdote explaining the “Greatness of the day”, that gets the interviewer smiling. Score #1 on the likability scale plus puts the interviewer in a happy mind set.

Send a thank you letter after the Phone Screen.

The in Person Interview

If you did your job right during the phone screen they should be excited to meet you in person.

Here are my best Interviewing Tips: (Many of these also apply to the Phone Screen)

  1. Dress Like an Oracle DBA – (Unfortunately some people still don’t get this)
  2. The night before, review the requirements and all your notes, go through each and every requirement and think about how you experience can be transferred to meet that requirement. Research the company’s and understand their business model. that the Take your Elevator Pitch expand that out into a comprehensive Pitch covering every single written and unwritten requirement. If you don’t have a solid answer to how your experience relates to a requirement you had advanced notice of, shame on you, there is no excuse for this.
  3. Know who you will be interviewing with : Research them (Check LinkedIn and Google them). Know their role in the company. That will tell you who are the real the decision makers are. It will also tell you who cares about which requirements. (I.e. The technical people will be judging your technical skill, Business people what to know that you understand the industry and that you are someone the can work with. Your would me manager wants to know the he can put you in front of a business user\client without having to worry you embarrassing him)
  4. Build a Targeted story: At some time during the interview you will be asked to “Tell us about yourself”, be prepared for this, you should be able to start at the bottom of your resume and tell the story of your career, at each stop along the way (Every job change, every role change, every promotion) tell how you grew as a professional better preparing you for the job you are currently interviewing for.  For every position you should explain how that experience relates to the job you are applying for. (targeting specific written and unwritten requirements, the full bullet list created as part of your marketing strategy will come in handy here)        
  5. Bring Print outs of everything.
    • The job ad
    • The cover letter you sent
    • Copies of your resume on resume paper
    • A copy of the Email that has the interview location and time
  6. Arrive early, stop at a Cafe and review the requirements and your pitch, make sure you can pronounce everyones names, use the bathroom, chew some gum, and relax your nerves. Arrive at the interview location 5-10 min early.
  7. Let them talk first, again tweak your pitch, if necessary
    • Start high level and go into details when asked.
    • Details are the key to believability and they show your breath of knowledge. This is how you showcase what you can do for them
    • Ask question that demonstrate your understand the business they are in, and that you know what they are looking.
  8. Reinforce likeability
    • Smile and joke a bit, mock there procedures if you can pull it off!
  9. Ooze confidence, borderline cocky. This demonstrates talent and adds likability.
  10. Communicate clearly. If needed ask for a few moments “To find the right words” (Avoid thinking sounds, “umm”, “err”, “uhh”, “Like, you know”.. it’s better to pause silently, this takes some practice)
  11. Focus on the written (core) requirements but also remember the unwritten requirements
  12. Think about the intent of every question; ask yourself “what are they really asking here”?
    • Answer both the question and the Intent, if you don’t know, ask what the intent is.
    • If you answer only the intent you look like a Politician avoiding the question, also you may be wrong about the questions intent.
    • Example: if the interviewer is asking “At your last job did you use Erwin?” The interview is really asking “We use Erwin here, how comfortable are you with it?” – Infer your experience (SPIN Selling) Remember your Bullet List! (Again see Part II.)
  13. Understand the Difference between Elimination Questions & Qualifying Questions
    i. Elimination Questions – The sole purpose of these is to eliminate you as a candidate.
    • Answer briefly, details can only hurt you.
    • Example: “Why did you leave your last job?”
    • Most technical questions are Elimination questions. All “Have you ever” Type questions are Elimination questions
    ii.      Qualifying questions
    • Here details are your Friend! Remember- Details are the key to believability and they show your breath of knowledge. This is how you showcase what you can do for them.
    • All “Have would you” Type questions are Qualifying questions
  14. Watch out for Trap Questions – These questions leave you with no clue as to what is the “Right” answer, the key here is to identify the intent of the question and then infer your experience. (Again see Part II!)
    • Example “What Methodology did you use on your last project?” –Correct Answer “We use Methodology Y, What do you use here?” – “We use X”, – “We Considered Methodology X but it wasn’t the right fit for us because of ABC, Methodology Y fit better because of XYZ. I did use Methodology X a few years back when I was …” – Trap avoided, and you get to showcase you knowledge of different methodologies!!
  15. Wrap it up!
    • Ask for the Job! – Express Interest
    • Reiterate why you feel you are a strong candidate – remember your elevator pitch!
    • Thank them
  16. Ask about Concerns – Toward the end of the interview ask “Do you have any concerns about my Candidacy?”, This gives you an opportunity to address those concerns directly, plus this info is invaluable during your postmortem analysis. (If you don’t get this info during the interview, you will never get it.)
  17. Ask about Next steps
  18. Send a thank you letter

If you are unemployed

There is a horrible trend now days, where employers think that if you are unemployed you must be an untalented lousy employee. This has gotten so bad that here in NYC a law was passed making it illegal to reject a candidate because he\she is unemployed. Studies have shown that employers are more likely to hold long term unemployment against you then they would a criminal record. I hate to say it, but I think IT shops are the worst offenders. This is a despicable practice and truth be told employment status does not gauge talent or work ethic in any way. Because of this, if you are recently unemployed and it is feasible I recommend you lie about being unemployed. I know I’m going to take flak for this, I don’t care; I think lying is justified in this case.

The Offer

Congratulations! If you did a proper job qualifying the lead the offer should be in the ball park of what you expected. If it’s not, you need to reevaluate your lead qualification process.

Negotiation

See: Managing your Career in IT

Postmortem

As I stated above you will not be offered every job you interview for. That’s ok, the key is to understand why, learn from your mistakes and adjust. This holds true for just about everything in life.

Recommended Reading
The Hoboken Chicken Emergency

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Filed under Career Management

6 Comments

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  • Carson63000 says:

    Excellent piece but I would caution against taking the dress code advice too literally when pursuing IT jobs. This is a topic that was discussed on Programmers Stackexchange and more recently the Workplace Stackexchange a few times, and there is a strong body of opinion that if you fail to read the tone of a more casual workplace, showing up for an interview in suit, tie and shiny shoes can genuinely hurt your chances.

    You make the point yourself – nobody hires people they don’t like. Cultural fit matters. And dressing like a bank manager when being interviewed by tech leads with wild beards, shorts and t-shirts is a fast track to being branded a poor fit.

    The first rule of dressing for an interview: there is no “one size fits all”, you need to know something about the workplace and target it appropriately.

    • Garan says:

      Very true; It’s instantly possible to tell who is there for the interview by their clothing (I wear polo shirts and cargo pants/jeans to work, they were wearing a white shirt, tie, slacks and nice shoes).

  • Ansan Bravo says:

    hi thanks for your blog,

    this information is not only beneficial but also time consuming formula for all of us who are outside india and wants these types of documents. anyways, thanks again God bless you!

  • This is a complete article on how to get a sales job by online by it professionals. Lengthy article but well explained worth to read it, especially by sales and marketing peoples

  • Garan says:

    I was just skimming you article, and coincidentally it’s helped me refine the methods I’m using to find a new tech support guy (and, funnily enough, we build POS systems) and we actually have been somewhat “relying on our gut”. Admittedly, when we ask a question about networking two computers we got an answer of “Umm, with a CAT5 cable?” This is someone we’d be asking to set up a customer’s computer. They’d need to be able to explain, in layman’s terms, what hardware they’d need to link two computers over a network, and they demonstrated that they couldn’t. Actually, on that subject: Any time someone is applying to any form of occupation where they need to deal with laymen, they should always be able to explain what they are doing in terms the customer can understand. I can’t recall how many times I’ve tried to get a customer to do something before finally figuring out he didn’t understand one of my instructions.

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