When you think about it, closing a sales deal and scoring a job offer really aren’t that different from one another. In both cases, you have to identify the right contacts, thoughtfully reach out to them and convince them that you, above all others, are the right person to help them solve their problems. The only difference is, while salespeople pitch prospects on a product or service, job seekers are pitching prospective companies on themselves as a candidate.
Given the parallels between the two, job seekers can learn a lot from salespeople. In fact, there are a number tips, tricks and best practices that have emerged in the sales world over the years that those in the market for a new job should keep in mind as they start submitting applications.
We reached out to a handful of sales and career experts for their favorite examples of sales techniques that can also be applied to the job search — try them out today to set yourself apart from the competition!
1. Do Your Homework
Whether you’re trying to sell a product or apply for a job, you need to take the time to do some research on the opportunity at hand first.
“No salesperson would ever call into a prospect without thoroughly researching the company and tailoring their approach. Your job search should be no different,” says Jeff Monaghan, Marketing Lead at staffing firm Akraya, Inc. “Your resume, cover letter and any emails you send should have content specific to the company and position you are applying for.”
Novice job seekers and salespeople often think this will take longer, but a generic mass blast will yield far less results than an informed, targeted approach.
“In my 20 years in the staffing business, I can tell you that you will get better results taking the time to customize 10 resumes and cover letters than submitting 30 that are generic. You might spend more time on the 10, but it will result in a shorter amount of overall time to land that perfect job,” Monaghan adds.
2. Go to the Decision-Maker
Salespeople often talk about prospects in terms of gatekeepers versus decision-makers. Decision-makers are those who will have the ultimate say in whether or not they will purchase a product or service, while a gatekeeper is somebody who serves as an obstacle in the path to the decision-maker (think: an Executive Assistant compared to a CEO). In order to streamline the process, salespeople often try to reach out to the decision-makers from the get-go.
For job seekers, “recruiters are gatekeepers,” Monaghan says. Sure, they source and screen candidates, but they rarely have the final say in the hiring process. For that, you need to reach out to the hiring manager (or above).
“Figure out who runs the department of the job you are applying for and email them directly. Can’t figure out who that person is? Go even higher. Are you applying for a marketing position? Check the website to see who the VP of Marketing is and email them directly,” Monaghan advises. “Chrome extensions like Hunter will help you find email addresses. Just make sure your email is short and to the point and really showcases why you’d be a great fit. The VP will likely refer you to the manager. You have now been referred to the decision maker and are on your way.”
3. Use SPIN Selling
One strategy savvy salespeople use is the SPIN technique: (Situation, Problem, Implication, Needs-payoff). This is a way of engaging a prospect by identifying what their pain points are, and discussing how you can address them.
“SPIN selling is a proven sales methodology and is based off a comprehensive study of over 35,000 sales calls,” says life and career coach Nick Hatter. Hatter recommends that job seekers wishing to leverage this technique “ask the company what the situation is with the role, what are their key problems as a company and how those problems affect the company (eg. time, money, stress, etc.). Then ask them how the company could benefit if those problems could be solved. Finally, ask them that if you could help solve those problems, what would stop them from hiring you.”
4. Mirror Your Interviewer
One thing the best salespeople and the most effective job seekers have in common: they both prioritize building relationships with others. As the old saying goes, it’s not about what you know — it’s about who you know. One easy hack for developing an instant rapport with your interviewer is to “mirror” them.
“Mirroring is a technique in which one person actively adopts the behaviors and mannerisms of another person, attempting to become their mirror image. It is based on the premise that individuals subconsciously trust and like people that exhibit similar qualities,” says Mollie Moric, career advisor and hiring manager at ResumeGenius.
This isn’t to say you need to change your entire personality, but even something as small as mimicking an interviewer’s hand gesture or repeating a phrase you hear them say can earn you points.
“If done successfully, candidates form a bond with the interviewer that will make them more likely to be selected from a long list of interviewees. This is an especially helpful technique when candidates are looking for a way to stand out in a crowd of equally qualified and personable competitors,” Moric adds.
5. Compliment the Company
Another classic way of endearing yourself to a sales prospect is complimenting them. After all, people do business with who they like, and it’s pretty hard not to like someone who makes you feel good about yourself. However, you need to make sure it comes from a genuine place.
“Flattery really can sell — as long as it is sincere. Perhaps the company did an impressive project a few years ago, or maybe they have a high profile client or they have a prestigious award. Tell them how you’re really impressed by the company because of it, and what you loved about it,” Hatter recommends. “Directors, C-Level and founders love this kind of flattery, as they feel they can take some of the credit for it given they operate at such high levels. It also shows you’ve done your research on the company, and you’re not just applying for ‘yet another job,’ which makes them feel more special.”
6. Share Your Success Stories
Many companies with an active sales presence will highlight case studies on their websites to show prospects how they’ve been able to help similar clients in the past, which in turn allows prospects to envision how the company might be able to help them. As a job seeker, you won’t be expected to produce case studies, but you can share anecdotes that illustrate your prior success.
“Just as salespeople tell of how their product or service has solved a problem for X number of customers, or how it saved them on average X dollars per year, show how you have advanced company objectives for your previous employers and clients,” recommends Christopher K. Lee, career consultant and founder of Purpose Redeemed. “Tell stories, and where possible, quantify them to show the scale of your work. At the end of the day, most employers (indeed, most people) are risk-averse. You want to make them feel confident that hiring you is undoubtedly the right decision.”
7. Make It a Two-Way Conversation
Sure, companies want to get to know you — but you should also show that you want to get to know them.
“Top sales pros listen to their prospects more than they do talk at their prospects. Creating this conversational attribute is unlocked by informed curiosity and asking questions,” says Zac Kerr, VP of Business Development at Sales Rabbit.
This is especially important to keep in mind when your interviewer inevitably asks if you have any questions for them.
“Use online research to arrive at a few questions that are from your heart and mind, so when asked they are felt, not just heard. Then, when the interviewer responds, be ready to ask another question that unfolds or unpacks more detail about what they just said,” Kerr adds. “An easy method to quickly formulate questions on the fly as to ask a what, why, when how question, i.e. ‘What caused that to happen? Why did you feel that way? What did you do about it? How long did that last?’”
8. Follow Up
It might not be the most creative or fun task, but following up with a prospect can (and often does) mean the difference between radio silence and a successful sale — and the same is true for job seekers.
“Follow-up emails offer an opportunity for candidates to ensure their application has been received, thank an interviewer for their time, reiterate their enthusiasm for the role and restate what makes them an ideal candidate for the position,” Moric explains.
“There are two scenarios in which it is appropriate for a candidate to use follow-up correspondence to communicate with a hiring manager. The first is if a candidate has not received a response one week after a company has stopped accepting applications for the position. In this instance, the candidate should send a follow-up email confirming their application has been received and restating their interest in the position,” Moric continues. “Second, a candidate should send a follow-up correspondence within twenty-four hours of receiving an interview. In this instance, many hiring managers use follow-up correspondences after an interview (or lack thereof) as a way of actively assessing a candidate’s proactive work ethic.”
While there’s no universal way to guarantee that you get a job offer, there certainly are a number of things you can do to improve your odds. Who knows? Using these tried-and-true sales techniques might just help you get that much closer to your dream job.