There is an entire industry dedicated to teaching the science of selling. Google “sales training,” and you get literally millions of hits. Selling is a serious and well-researched discipline. Unfortunately, job interviews have not gotten the same level of research and training. Fortunately, many sales skills and techniques are applicable to job interviews.
The typical job candidate reads interview tips, many of which are standard, common suggestions. Using a sales approach opens a large inventory of strategies and techniques that elevate the interview. It gives you added dimensions and skill sets to prepare for your interview, manage the interview, and follow through after your interview.
Applying a Sales Process to an Interview Helps You Understand What Is Going On
The hiring process follows many of the same steps as a sales process. However, many companies have a haphazard hiring process that makes understanding the job-interview process confusing. Even companies with an organized process do not communicate well with their candidates. (It’s interesting how many of these companies include good communication skills in their job descriptions!) In the face of confusion and lack of communication, candidates spend a great deal of time guessing about what’s going on.
Using a sales model can help you understand the process and the stage of the hiring cycle. During the initial interview (typically a phone screening), it is important to ask about the selection process. Questions include:
* How many people are involved in the hiring decision?
* Who are the decision-makers?
* What is the general availability of the individuals involved in the selection process?
* Who are the influencers?
* How many rounds of interviews are there?
* What is the selection timeframe?
* How many people are being interviewed?
* Are there internal candidates?
* How urgent is it to fill the position?
* If this is a new position, is there a budget for it?
* Does hiring for this position depend on landing new business?
* Are there multiple positions being filled, and is there a more senior position that needs to be filled first?
* How will communication with candidates be maintained?
* How should candidates follow up, with whom, and when?
When you have these answers, you can gauge how far along the selection process is by comparing it to a sales process. Have they selected their final candidate (vendor) list or are they still accepting resumes and phone-screening candidates? Have they scheduled interviews with other candidates (vendors) yet? Have they been through a round of interviews but did not identify a suitable candidate (vendor)? Are there internal candidates (competitors) that may have a competitive advantage? What is the timeframe for making a hiring (purchasing) decision? As a candidate, you may not get answers to all these questions, but asking the questions is important and will position you as a knowledgeable, sophisticated, and motivated candidate.
While in the interview, use the stages of a sales call outlined above to understand the progress of the interview. Is the interview in the warming-up, fact-finding, sales-presentation, or closing stage? By identifying the stage, you can manage transitions or make sure you haven’t missed or shortchanged a stage. For example, if the interviewer is asking you questions about your experience and has not given you enough information about the job, you may want to revisit the fact-finding stage. Also, there may be a good opening in the interview to move to the sales-presentation phase, at which point you can introduce your interview presentation. Identifying and labeling the stage of the interview will help orient you and provide a sense of where to guide the interview next. Even though the interviewer is ostensibly in control, by using the sales stages, you can influence the pace and direction of the interview.