When the Medium is the Message

Most of the time, the skills it takes to do the job are very different from the skills it takes to get the job. That’s why the job search is harrowing for so many professionals. “I’m an accountant, for goodness sake – and now I’m expected to sell myself.” For many candidates, the process feels foreign. But in almost every job search, there is one component that should be right in your wheelhouse; the skill you demonstrate there will not only make your search more successful, but demonstrate your skill to a future employer.

The medium becomes the message.

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Sales consultant and blogger Dave Brock writes that the most important question you must ask a candidate for a sales job is “Tell me how you prepared for this interview.” An interview is, of course, a sales call, and if a candidate did not prepare, chances are he is not serious. A serious candidate will talk about his research on the company, industry and trends, how he learned about the person he’d be meeting, and how he prepared good questions to ask.

I once had a sales professional looking for work ask me about how to get meetings with recruiters. “I just can’t seem to get any traction with my resume,” he said. “I have only had two quality interviews in the last six months. What advice do you have?”

My advice: think about another line of work. A salesman who can’t get a meeting with a potential buyer may not be at the top of his game. On the other hand, he may just be making a common mistake: thinking that selling himself is a very different process than selling a product.

Mark Vickers is a certified coach and speaker who helps individuals and companies improve communication. He believes that the key to success in sales – or any profession – is asking great questions. I agree, because being able to craft thoughtful and smart questions demonstartes three universal qualities that every employer wants: curiosity, interest in the work, and critical thinking.

Vickers says that the best questions are “you” focused, meaning that you are asking about the other person’s goals, wants and needs. Many interview candidates err by asking questions with a “me” focus, including questions about career advancement, benefits and working conditions. They may be important factors in your decision, but your first objective is to sell the company on you as a candidate.

That means focusing on what the company needs.

Your questions should reflect the research you’ve done on the company and the industry and genuine interest in what the job entails and the team needs most to succeed. Armed with that information, you’re more likely to win their trust – and perhaps an offer.

In Vickers’ book, Speaking is Selling, he lists the ways you can test whether you’ve shown enough value to your customer (or potential employer) to merit their trust:

  • Have I shown I understand them and where they are?
    Have I made myself relevant and relatable?
    Have I given them something early that resolves [their] issue, need or desire?
    Have I shown that I will bring long term value to them?

Great questions give you the ability to meet the employer where he is, and you’ll be more likely to close the sale.

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