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Savvy Job Hunters Could Learn A Thing or Two From TV Hosts

Have you ever left a job interview feeling frustrated because you didn't sell yourself well? That's how Traci Moshman once felt. "It just isn't my personality to sell myself. That's not how I was raised," she says.

While networking with contacts was a good learning experience, Ms. Moshman wasn't able to turn her meetings into job opportunities. So she resolved to overcome her shyness and capitalize on these contacts by trying to sell herself more effectively. Her determination paid off when she landed a challenging market-research position at A.C. Nielsen Co. in Syosset, N.Y.

To improve your sales ability, you can buy books or take a course at a local college. Or, you can learn from the pros by watching one or all of the television shopping channels. That's because good TV hosts use the same techniques as savvy job hunters. They:

  1. Are friendly, enthusiastic and likable without being overbearing;

  2. Know their audience;

  3. Do their research and know their product: its measurements, outcomes, sizes and how it affects those who use it;

  4. Can describe the product as it relates to the audience's needs;

  5. Use endorsements and recommendations;

  6. Know the merits and advantages of their product vs. other products;

  7. Discuss disadvantages by turning them into realistic advantages;

  8. Know when to listen;

  9. Use anecdotes to highlight key points, and

  10. Believe in themselves, and use body posture, smiles and voice intonation effectively.

"Good sales rapport is essential," says Scott Ambrose, a sales manager with Cleveland Steel Container Corp. in Quakertown, Pa. "You have to know your product, and the customer has to know what he or she is buying."

This adage is true no matter what you're selling, but few job hunters follow this advice. More often, they fail to communicate why they should be hired, are anxious rather than friendly, lack self-confidence and don't understand either their own skills or the company's needs. Remember, interviewing is selling. The sooner you equate the two, the more successful you'll be.

"Sometimes you have to take the bull by the horns," says Louis Lessig, an attorney in Camden, N.J., who tried to become more assertive during her most recent job search. "That's what I did at a state Bar Association meeting, and it led to an interview," she says.

Be Professional

Successful selling isn't hucksterism. It's the use of refined techniques that combine a positive attitude, knowledge and psychology in a way that appeals to your target audience. That's the approach used effectively by hosts selling everything from tennis bracelets to baseball cards on cable TV.

If an announcer were touting your attributes to thousands of prospective buyers, how would you want to be described? If the announcer said you're an excellent manager with years of experience, that's only a start, because most other candidates could be described the same way.

Instead, think of yourself as a diamond ring. In that case, what pitch would be most effective? If you tried to sell the ring by saying it fits on a finger and looks attractive, prospective buyers would yawn. There's nothing in that pitch that makes the ring stand out.

An experienced sales host might say:

  1. A real diamond is the ultimate status symbol;

  2. You owe it to yourself to own this ring since you've worked hard to deserve it;

  3. Look at the beauty, sparkle and shine.

The host could also mention how impressed others would be with your smart purchase at a reasonable price. The message to the buyer is that the product is prestigious, of superior quality and enhances the owner.

Now, adapt this pitch to job interviews with you as the product and salesperson. Point No. 1 could be the prestigious school you attended or your respected former employer, No. 2 your credentials and hard work and No. 3 the quality of your work.

It's the same for any product. Skeptical? Suppose you're trying to sell a simulated diamond instead. Here's how a television host would pitch it:

  1. You can't tell the difference from the real thing;

  2. You can get three times the size for the price;

  3. If you travel or enjoy outdoor activities, you don't have to worry about it getting lost or stolen.

Maybe you, too, are a simulated diamond. Perhaps you're a career changer or someone who isn't fully qualified for the job. Suppose you're applying for a position that requires an M.B.A., and you don't have one.

When developing a compelling argument to purchase either a real or fake diamond, the salesperson promotes the most important attributes of each piece. That's what you need to do when selling yourself in interviews. Whether you see yourself as real or simulated, be proud and state your best case for the job.

Follow the Lead

When reviewing your background, follow the announcer's lead:

  • Identify your assets in the context of what the employer seeks.

  • Don't apologize for a gap in your background or for weaknesses, but be careful not to call undue attention to them. (Do announcers ever apologize or use the word "fake"?)

  • Research the audience and company.

Know what makes you special, and develop stories that speak to your unique talents for the job.

Here's an example: A 48-year-old Philadelphia accountant with a broad background in real estate, manufacturing and hospital administration spent eight months looking for a new position after being laid off. His background:

  1. Excellent experience in diverse industries;

  2. Strong problem-solving skills. He can approach issues creatively by applying what he's learned in different industries;

  3. He never tires of learning, and keeps current with trends and news.

For a job in banking, the candidate positioned himself as having experience in other industries that helps him understand the risks of those fields. He explained that he'd learned innovative management techniques that he could bring to banking, and that he's able to speak the same language as clients from those industries.

Interviewers started seeing him as a candidate with strong credentials and contacts who's open to new ideas, has specialized knowledge and a willingness to learn.

Sell Yourself

To market your skills successfully, prepare to complete the following seven steps:

  1. Learn about your audience. List three skills that the prospective employer seeks in candidates. Do you have at least two? If not, you've lost your ability to relate.

  2. Cite an anecdote or story that addresses each of those skills.

  3. Think of your weaknesses. Start by finding an aspect of the prospective job you don't have. Can this weakness become a strength? If you're changing careers, does your previous field give you a new perspective for your next job? Have you become wiser or learned techniques that will help your prospective company?

  4. What aspect of your background is most critical to discuss with employers? What differentiates you from other candidates?

  5. Do you have a compelling reason for wanting this particular job?

  6. What interesting fact have you learned about your prospective employer?

  7. As with any successful sales pitch, testimonials help, so prepare your references well. Do they know the specifics of the job you're pursuing? Remember, their answers may change depending on the job title or field you're after, so keep them up to speed.

Practice your answers in front of a mirror. Do you smile appropriately? Are you enthusiastic? Believable? Genuine? Are you calm, or do you appear stressed? When interviewing, remember to listen carefully and show interest in what others say.

By understanding yourself, your skills and unique qualities, you'll develop an effective sales pitch. After all, you want to be the type of person that people trust to sell them a diamond.