The idea of “selling yourself” has been a fundamental step on the road of success for over 30 years. In 1969 Joe McGinniss wrote “The Selling of the President.” A national bestseller back then, it is still being used in university-level government classes to this day. It describes the then-unheard-of Madison Avenue approach to marketing and selling presidential candidate Richard Nixon to voters by using the same hard-sell method commonly used to sell sports cars, deodorant, and beer.
“It is a fact that searching for a job is really about selling yourself,” says Ruth Scott, who worked in sales and marketing for over two decades with Prudential, and who now serves as a volunteer with the Princeton Area Community Foundation. “It’s all about sales, networking, selling yourself through your resume, as well as presenting yourself well during the interview. These are the three key elements of landing a position.”
Scott speaks at the next meeting of JobSeekers, a networking and support group for those immersed in the job search, on Tuesday, July 25, at 7:30 p.m. at Trinity Church, at 33 Mercer Street. There is no charge. For more information call 609-924-2277.
Scott knows what employers look for in a job candidate. “Working with Prudential, basically, I was charged with selling, marketing, and servicing financial products to the consumer,” she says. “As a part of my job I’ve had deep experience in selecting, developing, and sometimes terminating staff. My experience really comes from the employer’s side. I know what to look for in an employee, how to match up skill sets, strengths, and opportunities to meet our needs.”
While some may bristle at the idea of presenting oneself to potential employers in the same way that, say, Budweiser is peddled to sports fans, Scott says that in a consumer society such as ours, it is important to show yourself to employers in the best light, as the best person for the position — and to do so quickly. “There isn’t anything really new about this,” says Scott. “In an environment where there are many skilled applicants for each position in the marketplace, you must learn to distinguish yourself from the rest of them.”
While for many jobseekers, time is of the essence, it is important to take the time to do things to your best advantage. Rather than sending out (or E-mailing) a blanket, all-purposes resume to a variety of potential employers (still a surprisingly common practice), Scott says that jobseekers up their chances for success by doing research on companies, corporations, market-trends, competitors, and business history, and customizing each resume to each employer.
“In a competitive job market, applicants need to be savvy,” she says. “When your competitors have similar backgrounds, skills, and experiences as you, then it is up to you to make the sale, so to speak, and fit yourself to what the employer is looking for.”
Of course, gaining an interview is the goal in creating a cover letter and resume. While it is no secret that making a positive impression is an important part of the interview process, Scott says that she has noticed a general tendency for interviewees to take a too casual approach to these vital documents. “I suppose it is due to the idea of business casual and the general casualness that corporate America operates today on some level,” she says. “But I have noticed a certain erosion of that kind of professionalism when compared to the 1980s and 1990s.”
She says that jobseekers can take advantage of this general trend by being more formal and professional looking than their competitors. She recommends that jobseekers set aside the concept of business casual and present themselves a bit more formally until after they have been hired for the job. “While it depends a bit on the kind of company you are interviewing with, it is better to err on the side of too formal than too casual,” she says. “Then you can adjust yourself to the general manner of doing things after you have been working there awhile.”
Born and raised in Lexington, Mississippi, Scott received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Illinois, Urbana. After working for Prudential from California to Maryland to New York and then New Jersey, she finally settled down in Princeton in 1996. She uses her corporate skills in her volunteer work by recruiting board members, fundraising, governance, and clarifying and working to realize its mission.
While a job search is rarely easy, it can be successful sooner if job seekers are smart about the process. Scott offers these tips:
Leave home. While some jobseekers are hesitant to get out of the house, staying at home won’t get you anywhere. Scott advises that networking can be a major part of the successful job search. “It is hard work, but you have to be vigilant about making contacts, as well as follow-ups and follow-throughs,” she says. “You never know who you are going to meet who may help you out. If you are perceived as a ‘do-er’ by people around you, that can lead to opportunities you would not have found any other way.”
Accentuate the positive. The resume and cover letter are your first tools to presenting yourself as the right person for the position. Be careful not to offer anything that will not present you in the most favorable light. View these tools as a kind of advertising technique similar to a car commercial or a soft drink ad.
Sports car commercials talk about the sleek ride you’ll have, but not about the miserable mileage you’ll get. Soda ads talk about how refreshing the drinks are on a hot summer day, not about how there is enough acid inside the bottle to disintegrate a nail.
Come across as a star. According to Scott, personal presence, displayed during an initial interview, can easily carry the day. “You only have one opportunity to make a good impression,” she says. “There are a lot of other things that you can get a second chance at, but that first interview isn’t one of them. Having confidence and the ability to communicate the qualities that a potential employer wants is the key to success.”
Leave money talk on the back burner. Many interviewees are simply confounded about the proper time to ask about salary and benefits. Scott recommends that jobseekers take a wait and see approach.
“If the salary range is not communicated upfront, and you feel that you are getting to the end of the interview and are feeling good about your prospects, it is appropriate to ask about salary,” she says. “Just make sure not to ask too early, before you have made a real connection and feel that a potential offer may be made.” Also, when discussing salary, it is better to refer to a general range rather than trying to lock down a specific number. “Almost everything is negotiable,” says Scott.
Always follow through. “I encourage jobseekers to make follow-up calls after sending in a resume or after an interview,” says Scott. “They will probably tell you to go away, that they are still in the interview process, and they are not prepared to speak to you. But it is still a good thing. I don’t think that you can be too assertive when you are trying to land that next job opportunity.”
Scott stresses that taking getting into a mindset of “selling yourself” to potential employers is the best way to mentally prepare for success.
“If you can put yourself in the employers’ shoes and see the needs that they have, then you can present yourself as the person who can fill their needs,” she says. It is as important now in 2006 as it was in 1968, even if you are not running for president.