by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Every job-seeker can learn to close the deal with an employer.
Let’s assume your sales materials — also known as your resume and cover letter — have resulted in being called for an interview. Let’s re-imagine that interview as a sales call.
First some rationale for thinking of job-seeking as a sales process: “Would you expect a good salesperson to be reactive and passive, depending on [the customer] to ask the right questions to make the sale?” asks Eric Kramer, whose book, Active Interviewing, is an excellent resource for thinking of interviews as sales calls. “By thinking and acting like a salesperson,” Kramer writes, “a job candidate becomes an active participant in the interview as opposed to a passive participant hoping for the right questions.”
This article presents a job-seeker sales system I developed based on classical sales formulas. It’s an adaptation of the seven-step personal-selling process.
The first two steps in the process occur before you are invited to the interview. Before you can get an interview, you must Generate Leads, in other words, employers and positions to which you can apply. Our article, 10 Ways for Job-Seekers to Develop Job Leads, is a great starting point to generate those leads. The next pre-interview step is Qualifying Leads. For a job-seeker, qualifying leads means narrowing down your list of targets based on those employers and jobs for which you are the best fit. You’ll have the best chance of making the sale if you are well qualified and a good cultural fit for the employer. See our article, Uncovering an Employer’s Corporate Culture: A Critical Task.
But back to where we started. You’ve generated and qualified your leads, submitted your sales materials (resume, cover letter, perhaps an application) to them, and now you’ve been invited to make your sales pitch. My acronym for the system that encompasses the next five steps in the process for job-seekers is TARZO.
Here’s what the letters stand for, with an explanation for each following:
- T is for Tell Me … USP.
- A is for Analyze Needs.
- R is for Reveal Storied Solutions.
- Z is for Zap Objections.
- O is for Obtain Closure.
Tell Me … USP. One of the first things you want to do in the interview is make a short pitch for yourself to set the scene, to create a framework for how you fit in with the employer’s organization. This pitch should include your Unique Selling Proposition, a common term in marketing, sales, and advertising. Your USP is your capsule description of what makes you uniquely qualified for this job. What can you bring to this job that no one else can?
Your USP should be tweaked for every job you interview for. In the following example, the job-seeker highlights a particular skill, project management, that his research has told him is important to the employer:
I demonstrated my strong project-management skills when I led a project team in exceeding all expectations while implementing an outside vendor’s system for online scheduling, time/attendance, and payroll. Not only did we crush our two-month deadline, but we also reduced payroll discrepancies. We then slashed in half the time spent scheduling employees and resolving timesheet-related issues, and cut time devoted to reports. The icing on the cake was earning a special certificate from the vendor for improving efficiency.
How do you introduce your USP in a job interview? Early in the vast majority of interviews, the interviewer will ask, or rather demand, “Tell me about yourself.” That’s your opening for your pitch or USP. Here’s a succinct example that leaves a memorable impression (from our article, Closing the Job Interview, by Carole Martin):
“I have two skills that are distinctly different but that define my personality. I am a very good pianist and an excellent ‘computer guy.’ I’m known for my love of keyboards.”
What if the interviewer doesn’t ask you to tell about yourself? Whatever the interviewer’s first question is, begin your response with a phrase something like: “I would be happy to respond to your question, but would you mind if I tell you a little about myself first?” It would be a rare employer who would not allow you to do so.
Next step … Analyze Needs. Every good salesperson knows that he or she has to discuss the customer’s needs so he or she can explain how the product will meet those needs and solve the customer’s problems. But whether selling yourself or any other product, you would seem quite ignorant if you just walked into the sales call blindly and demanded, “Tell me what your needs are…” As Deborah Walker suggests in our article, The Job Interview as Sales Call Three Essential Interview Skills, you can ask questions like “”What do you see as the greatest challenge for this position?” and “What qualities do you see as most important for this position?”
But to truly delve into the employer’s needs, you have to have done some research.
You can find plenty of ways to research the employer’s needs. The easiest is to pull them right out of the job posting you’ve responded to. You can also talk to organizational insiders and ask them about the needs and problems. You can search online for news about the organization, especially if it’s large. See our Guide to Researching Companies, Industries, Countries, but remember to focus this part of your research on the employer’s current needs and problems.
One of the best ways to uncover needs and problems is through informational interviewing — the process of conducting interviews with employers, not for the purpose of getting a job, but for gathering information. See our Informational Interviewing Tutorial: A Key Networking Tool.
Armed with your research, you can clarify organizational needs and problems and discuss them with the interviewer in greater depth. Again, you may be wondering how to initiate this part of the conversation. Early on in the interview process, when you are asked a question, Kramer advises saying something like, “Would it be OK if we talked about the job requirements first so I can be more targeted with my answers?”
Then, you can introduce the needs discussion with a phrase something like…
I notice that the job posting for this position mentions that the new hire would be building a company Website; can you elaborate a bit on that need?
When I conducted an informational interview with your colleague Sally Smith a few months ago, she mentioned the difficulty the company has been having in meeting production schedules. Can you talk about that issue?
I’ll bet you’ve guessed what comes next. Once you’ve discussed what the organization really needs in the person hired for this position, it’s time to describe exactly how you can meet those needs.
I recommend you use story form to tell how you can meet needs and solve problems. Stories work because they are memorable, attention-getting, and perfect for making an emotional connection. See our article, Tell Me About Yourself: Storytelling that Propels Careers. A classic story formula is to describe the situation you found yourself in, tell the action you took to address the situation, and present the result.
Transitioning from the needs-analysis part of the interview into the part where you Reveal Storied Solutions, you might say something like:
“I know I can help you meet that need because I did the exact same thing for my previous employer” — and then tell the situation -> action -> result story of how you accomplished the same thing for your past employer.
Using the previous example about the problems meeting production schedules, you could say:
I can help you solve that problem because I did the same thing for my current employer. I’m the project manager at the company, where we had been falling farther and farther behind in our scheduling. [Here you’re describing the Situation.] I’ve developed a highly effective scheduling system. [You’re telling the Action you took.] We haven’t missed a deadline in 7 years [You’ve stated the Results you achieved.] You can finish by saying: “I’d love to bring the same scheduling system to your company.”
Once you’ve discussed several needs and Storied Solutions, as well as responded to the interviewer’s other questions, it’s time to find out what obstacles might prevent you from being hired. It’s crucial to identify and remove any doubts or questions an employer has about you, especially compared to other candidates.
This is the Zap Objections stage of the interview as sales call. As the interview winds down, the interviewer may reveal objections to hiring you, but that’s increasingly rare because employers are terrified to volunteer any information that might get them sued. But you can ask the interviewer outright, “Now that you know more about me, can you see any issues that would stand in the way of my success in this position?” or, as Walker suggests, “Is there any reason you wouldn’t consider inviting me back for second interview?” Here’s where the interviewer will probably voice any objections. He or she might say for example: “I’m concerned that you might be a job-hopper because you haven’t stayed very long in any of your jobs.”
You need to be ready by anticipating and countering objections the employer might raise.
What are some common objections an interviewer might bring up? They might include your seeming overqualified, not fitting into the team, or your having been fired from a past job. The lack of sufficient experience objection is a common one. My partner’s great dream after he got his master’s degree was to work in magazine publishing in New York City. When he interviewed for a marketing-research position at the New Yorker magazine, he was told they really wanted someone with more experience. He zapped that objection by describing his master’s thesis, which was a survey about how various magazines conducted market research. Although he did not get that job, he was hired soon after when a member of the market-research staff went on maternity leave. See our article, Closing the Sale and Overcoming Objections in the Job Interview, for more.
After zapping any objections, it’s time to obtain closure or Close the Sale. Experts differ on how direct job-seekers should be in closing the sale. Some say they miss opportunities if they don’t come right out and ask for the job. Others say a hard sell doesn’t work in this situation. In any case, a number of closings are possible. Here are examples, ranging from soft to hard sell.
“Trial” or soft closings:
- Can you tell me about the next steps in the hiring process?
- What’s your estimated timetable for when you’ll be making a hiring decision?
- Is there any other information that I can provide that would convince you that I am the right person for this job? — From our article, Closing the Job Interview, by Carole Martin.
- From what you have been telling me about this position, and from what I know about your company, I know that I have the right mix of experience and education to bring value to this position. Based on past experiences I can “ramp up” quickly and be on board with projects within the first few weeks. — From our article, Closing the Job Interview, by Carole Martin.
- I’d like to stay in touch and follow up with you in a week or two to see how the process is going and where I stand. How do you prefer that I communicate with you — email or phone? — From our article, Closing the Job Interview, by Carole Martin.
- What challenges would you have me tackle first on the job? — From our article, The Job Interview as Sales Call: Three Essential Interview Skills, by Deborah Walker.
- I’m excited to have learned through this meeting that my qualifications are an excellent fit for this position. Based on that knowledge, I’m enthusiastic about coming on board.
- I’m confident that I can hit the ground running in this job, and I believe I’ve shown my ability to do just that in all my past positions. When can I expect to learn of my status?
- I have long admired your organization and consider you in the forefront of the industry. The plans for the future you’ve outlined in this meeting simply affirm your position of leadership and vision. I want to be part of that vision — and part of your team — because I strive to excel in my career.
- [Use this one only if it’s true.] Although I recently received a job offer, I wanted to go ahead with today’s interview because, frankly, I’d prefer to work here. Today’s meeting has only confirmed my preference for your organization over the one that made me the offer. When are you likely to decide on a candidate?
- When would you like to schedule our next meeting? — From our article, The Job Interview as Sales Call: Three Essential Interview Skills, by Deborah Walker.
- When can I start?
- Perhaps I can show you that hiring me would be the right decision by offering to work on a probationary basis. I could make it easier for you to decide by demonstrating my skills in action. I am convinced you won’t regret taking my qualifications for a test drive.
- Are there any other materials I should bring when I come back for the second interview? — Adapted from our article, The Job Interview as Sales Call: Three Essential Interview Skills, by Deborah Walker.
Final Thoughts on the TARZO Interviewing Sales Process for Job-Seekers
And there you have the TARZO sales process for job-seekers. I am convinced you’ll have more job offers if you think of an interview as a sales call and use this process. Let’s all go out and TARZO!
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunt ng Terms.