Alex Freund, principal of Landing Expert Career Coaching, is an expert at selling himself.
Perhaps the first sign of this talent came at age 25, when this Romanian-born Israeli decided to move to the United States with his wife and matriculate at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. This was despite what most people would consider insurmountable obstacles: he had not been accepted; his English was poor; and he had no money.
As a kid, things were a little different. Freund’s father was second in command in a Romanian shoe factory that made half of all the shoes there. In the 1950s his family had a car with a chauffeur. When the family moved to Israel his father had to learn a new language and culture, and used his accounting to earn a living.
But in the 1970s he and his wife liquidated their assets and with the proceeds bought one-way tickets to New York City. From there they took a Greyhound bus to Ithaca, where Freund walked into the school and told the receptionist he wanted to become a student. “I’ll never forget her face,” says Freund. “She looked at me like I fell from the moon.”
She quickly pulled herself together and listed the hurdles he was facing: the semester had already begun; he would have to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language; he would have to complete the application and have an interview; and, of course, he had to be accepted. When she asked Freund what he would do in the meantime, he responded, “I will take a room and wait.”
Two months later he had his acceptance in hand and managed to graduate with a B average and an excellent job offer — although it took at least 10 years to pay off his student loans. “I was either very dumb or very courageous,” he says, looking back, “but I was definitely one of the two.”
Freund also helps other people sell themselves, and he is speaking on “Finding the Right Job, Right Now,” on Monday, November 17, at 7 p.m. at the Princeton Library. The session is free. For information, call 609-924-9528.
Although Freund got a good job after earning his bachelor’s in business and hotel administration from Cornell in 1974, by 1977 he was facing one of several job transitions in his life. He had been working in New Hampshire and read in the Wall Street Journal about a three-day seminar in Parsippany on how to find a job. “I didn’t know how many times I would be in transition,” he recalls. “I thought that if I learn the principles once, I will have them for a lifetime.”
What he learned was to market himself as a product, and soon after some Cornell friends who were professors at the University of New Hampshire asked him to talk to 40 graduate students about how to market themselves. “There’s no such course in college,” says Freund. “They teach everything except what happens when the diploma is in hand.”
After years of a successful career that included stints at Honeywell, Sanofi-Aventis, and Tyco International, Freund reached a point where he could no longer find employment. He started helping friends and acquaintances find jobs. When people would say, “You’re so good; why don’t you take money?” Freund would answer, “Because they’re friends.”
With a little more encouragement, he decided that indeed he could ask for money for his career coaching, but money or not, he loves what he does. “The ability to be able to alter somebody’s life in a meaningful way by providing tools to go out and become competitive in the marketplace — this is enormous; it’s so powerful,” he says.
When people are told they have no job after a certain date, a feeling of paralysis takes over. What they need at that point are the tools that will make them competitive, and Freund offers a number of tips that should help a candidate come out on top:
Don’t give in to your instincts. When people are fired, the first thing they often do is list in their minds all the influential people they can call for help. Freund’s advice? “Stop. Don’t. Because you won’t have a second chance to tell them in the right way what you want to tell them.” First relax, become emotionally stable, and put a marketing plan together. Then when you’re ready, seek help.
Talk shop. During the interview, talk about your career, not your personal life. When people hear the deceptively simple phrase, “Tell me about yourself,” many do not understand that a hiring manager is not interested in their children or their hobbies.
Freund suggests describing who you are as a professional in three or four sentences. Including your professional background, title, general scope and responsibilities of your work, how many dollars you managed, and how many people are on your staff. Also, specify what benefit you brought to your organization and give an example.
Be brief. Probably the number one problem that job candidates have is rambling, says Freund, both because of tension and being insufficiently prepared for the interview. “It’s the kiss of death,” says Freund. “The hiring manager politely looks in your eyes, but his mind is somewhere else. Be focused and brief; if he needs more information, he will not be bashful to ask.”
Find out what problems the hiring manager needs to solve. After the interview has progressed a bit, Freund suggests saying, “Now that you know a little about me, may I ask, ‘What would the hired candidate be doing the first three months on the job?’” This question is really asking, ‘What are your priorities?’”
When the hiring manager responds with a short list, Freund urges candidates to break out in a smile ear to ear and say, “That’s music to my ears,” then talk about how they have solved similar problems in the past and been commended for doing so.
Quote other people. “Never pat yourself on the back,” suggests Freund. Instead quote other people about your capabilities, for example, “My boss’s boss gave me bonus for doing X because she hadn’t seen anything like this in her entire career.” Only then do you become credible, says Freund.
Avoid standard interview traps. Know that hiring managers have ways to get certain types of information that is illegal to ask about directly. Sometimes, for example, a hiring manager will walk into the office and say, “Oh, my back,” and when he sits down, will sigh in relief.
Freund observes, “You as a candidate might be inclined to say, ‘Oh, I know very well what a backache is,’” and without meaning to, you’ve let slip that you have back issues. Another common ploy is, “Sorry I’m a little late; I had to go to my son’s play at school.” Says Freund, “You’re prepared to sympathize and make a comment that you have children.”
Be aware of all the players. The chief financial officer may hold the purse strings and reject a candidate who is too expensive. Candidates sent by a recruiter walk in the door with the additional cost of one-third of the first year’s salary that will go to the recruiter. Even receptionists may pay a role, passing on their observations of a waiting candidate who asked inappropriate questions. But on the positive side, having a recommendation from a trusted source can have a huge influence on a hiring manager.
Send a follow-up letter. A director of a hospital in New Hampshire where Freund once worked told him, “Alex, you interviewed well, but so did others. But when you sent a follow-up letter — that made the decision.” This letter, says Freund, gives you an opportunity not just to say thank you, but to highlight what you can do for them, where you are strong, and how you can help them.
In the end, the choice of a job candidate often comes down to fit. Although the law prohibits discrimination, hiring managers will be looking for people who fit into their organizations. If it is a brand-new startup with a small group of employees between ages 26 and 32, the 50-year-old with lots of experience will not be selected.
But “fit” has a positive side, too. Freund recently spoke to a job candidate who noticed a picture on the wall of the hiring manager standing adjacent to a bike. “Eighty percent of their conversation was about biking and 20 percent about qualifications,” says Freund. “But, guess what? He was hired because there was a fit.”