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If someone were to ask you whether you're a salesperson, you probably wouldn't answer in the affirmative if there's not some sort of "sales" terminology in your job title. If you're interviewing for a job, though, you'd better believe you're "in sales." It doesn't matter if you're a software engineer, a logistics director or a graphic designer. You're in sales. And you need to be good at it.

In an interview setting, you're the product. You must convince the hiring manager you're the product he needs...the best candidate for the job...and you need to know how to close the deal.

So - how would you rate your skills as a salesperson?

If sales isn't your day to day job, then it pays to borrow a few pages from the playbooks of successful salespeople. Study what makes them good at what they do, then polish those skills in yourself.

First: what is sales? It's knowing how to identify the needs and/or problems of the customer, and then providing the customer with information about the product that illustrates how it will address those needs or solve the problem.

Sound simple? It's not - or everyone would excel at it. Still, it's something everyone can learn. Let's look at the traits common to the best salespeople:

  • They know the product
  • They know every conceivable fact about the product. Not only that, they're extremely knowledgeable about their competitor's product. They understand the market.
  • They do their homework
  • Never does a successful salesperson walk into a meeting unprepared. In addition to thoroughly understanding the product, they've also studied the customer in depth.
  • They're accomplished communicators
  • They like people, and enjoy interacting with them. They avoid "hijacking" any conversation - and make sure to give the customer ample opportunity to speak. They know how to make people feel comfortable.
  • They understand the process and how to make it work for them

There are four steps:

1) Opening. This is the "ice breaking" step. The approach varies based upon whether this is a first time meeting or you already know the customer, but never would you dive right in to the meat of the conversation. Either way, it's incumbent on the salesperson to get the other person in the mood to talk. While doing so, you're keeping your agenda for the meeting in mind.

2) Questioning. This is key to success. No matter how much homework you've done prior to the meeting, there is always more you will glean from the customer during this conversation. (It's also a guaranteed method to get the ball rolling. People love to talk about themselves.) This is where you find out about the customer's problems, challenges and needs. Good salespeople listen carefully and use what they learn here - in addition to what they already know from their preparatory homework - in the next phase of the conversation.

3) Match product with needs. How will the product or service solve the problem or meet the need? Be specific. Paint a picture. Illustrate how the product has worked for other customers who have purchased it. Third party testimonials are very persuasive because they lend credibility to what you're saying.

4) Close. Ask for the order!

They don't skip any steps. Particularly the last one. The close is what separates the best salespeople from the rest of the pack. Many people are afraid to ask for the order, so they don't. The result? They walk away from a lot of potential business.

It should be easy to see how the sales process applies to the job interview.

First, you must be prepared, which means you need to have done your homework. You can't expect to walk into an interview unprepared and leave with an offer.

Let's start with the product (you): you've got to be ready to discuss, explain and elaborate on everything in your resume. Revenue goals, performance data - you name it - you'd better have it committed to memory and be prepared to talk about it. Thorough preparation also means you've comprehensively researched the hiring company.

Next, it's important that you're a good communicator. How's your eye contact? Your handshake? What about all those non-verbal indicators that are just as important as the words coming out of your mouth? How well do you listen? Do you know how to get the other person talking? Do you ask enough questions?

How effectively are you able to match the product with the customer's needs? Are you able to paint a convincing picture of how well the product (you) has performed for other customers (previous employers)? Remember - testimonials speak volumes. That means you need to be able to quantify what you've accomplished for other you've contributed to the bottom line...improved efficiency...and so forth.

As you're delivering this information, you must always keep in mind the hiring company's needs. That's the context you will use to paint your picture.

Finally, ask for the sale! Don't leave without attempting to move the process to the next step. It's important that you let the hiring manager know you're interested in the job and want to continue with the process. See if you can secure an invitation to come back for the next round of interviews...or find out what the next step might be...or what other information you can provide to the company. Whatever you do, don't just walk out the door.

So - embrace your inner salesperson, polish those skills, and put them to work for you the next time you interview!


Rebecca Metschke is the author of The Interview Edge, a comprehensive career guide for those who are serious about their careers. Gain a professional advantage using proven tips, tools and strategies that will help ensure you're as marketable as you can be.
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