Selling yourself in a buyer's market

By Val Leveson

Because of the economic downturn, finding a new job has become more difficult.

So says Tom O'Neil of

"Our business is up 25 per cent. There are more people getting into the market. Selling yourself as the best candidate has become even more important than ever."

O'Neil says you have to tell an employer why you're better than anyone else for a job.

"It's a race - there are no prizes for coming second. You need to have a CV that shows your achievements."

O'Neil points out that you may not be the best person for the job you're applying for, but you have to sell yourself to your best potential.

"Your CV must really jump out from the rest. Certainly there must be no spelling mistakes, no errors and you must be providing a solution to a problem - the problem being the position the company is trying to fill, the job advertisement."

In the interview you need to communicate three things that the company has asked for, says O'Neil.

"Make sure you mention the things in the ad - and how you are the solution - twice during the interview. This reminds your interviewer that you are the one the company is looking for."

Communicate these things clearly and succinctly. If the interviewer asks you to tell him or her something about yourself, use the opportunity to answer the ad. For example, say you're excellent at customer service, or you have strong interpersonal skills.

At the end of the interview, ask for the job, O'Neil suggests.

"Just say you're keen on the opportunity. Sometimes if you behave too aloof or professional it comes off as being rude or lacking warmth. Yes, you don't want to seem desperate, but do show you're interested in the job."

He suggests that you contact the employer soon after the interview.

"After the interview, send an email saying something like: 'Dear Lisa, thanks for the opportunity to meet with you - I am very enthusiastic about the position on offer and I hope to have the opportunity to discuss things further.' This brings you on top of the list again - on top of the interviewer's mind."

O'Neil says it's important to make sure that your reference contacts are current and that you don't have to choose your previous boss as a reference. You could use someone you work with in a voluntary organisation or the marketing manager in your previous company.

O'Neil contributed to the 2009 version of What Color is Your Parachute, which deals with job hunting in hard times.

Nicola Pohlen, one of the founders of Pohlen Kean Limited, an executive recruitment and human resource consulting company, says she hesitates at the term "selling yourself".

"The reason I hesitate is it's more important to present yourself appropriately," she says.

"Demonstrate the skills you have. There are some people who are really good at selling themselves, but then you scratch beneath the surface and there is nothing much there. There must be depth behind what you are presenting and you must be able to demonstrate that depth.

"If you are in a more competitive market, you need to show your skills and demonstrate how they can add value to an organisation."

Pohlen says that if you're looking for a new opportunity, you need to take it on as a project.

"Your career is one of the most important things in your life - it doesn't help to be too casual about it. You need to create some structure.

"Looking for a job is activity-based - the more practice you have, the more success you achieve. The more activity in looking for something, the more options arise. Use all your contacts.

"Go to recruiters, get your direct networks going. Look at companies you would be interested in working for and organise an introduction.

"Look at your project being funnel-shaped. When you start you have to look broadly, but as you continue you narrow things down."

Pohlen says you may click with some recruiters but not others: "That's fine. You'll probably find that the ones you click with are the ones who refer you to people who are more aligned with you.

"If you don't click with someone, move on. Acknowledge the funnel effect - start broadly and then narrow things down."

When being interviewed, Pohlen strongly suggests active listening.

"Is the company being realistic in what they're wanting? Is this an opportunity that you want to take up? Look at the culture of the place - is it an environment that you'll thrive in? Can you deliver what they're asking for?"

Pohlen says that being honest with yourself is all-important, and knowing what your needs are in a job is paramount.

"If a company tells you there is no opportunity, how about suggesting a project and explain how contracting to the company may be the option rather than a permanent role?

"Be careful how you package this though. You don't want to seem to be saying that you know the company's needs better than its management.

"In an appropriate way ask questions - tease out an idea. After discussion, say: 'This is how I can add value.' Often projects become permanent positions."

Pohlen says the importance of the CV is in portraying background and skills.

"Give balanced, relevant information for what you're applying for. Don't give too much - you don't want to be overshadowed by details. List key skills and value for the role you want. Also don't just outline what responsibility you've had - mention achievements.

"You want the CV to get you to the next stage: the interview. If yours continually does not, phone the companies you have sent it to and ask why."

In the interview, Pohlen says, it's critical that you have researched the prospective employer. Also, always take an interview seriously, and even if you think you may not accept the job, do the best that you can in the interview.

"Always present yourself and behave as if you want the job. After all, if you are offered it and refuse, the company may offer you a role that you feel is more suitable. Also, if you behave badly in an interview or are not properly prepared, you don't know who's going to be at your interviewer's dinner table ... "


Herald Jobs has five copies of What Colour is Your Parachute 2009 - A Practical Manual for Job Hunters and Career Changers to give away. Email your contact details to The winners will be drawn on Friday, October 10

- NZ Herald

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