By Barbara Schultz
Covid-19 has turned the supply and demand equation upside down for many parts of the economy and, definitely, for employment and job search.
As job opportunities contract, you will need a different approach to face an ever-expanding pool of competing job candidates.
In today’s job market, you may need to dive into the shark tank to be considered for that next opportunity.
Never aspired to "swim with the sharks," always avoided those dangerous waters? Get creative with a fresh mind set towards interviewing and consider lessons learned from the TV show, "Shark Tank."
Okay, a slight variation on the theme. "Shark Tank" is all about how to sell products to an investor, but in this case, you will be selling your services to an employer.
Regardless if you are selling a product or service, be prepared to demonstrate your unique business proposition.
Contestants on the show often describe their product in terms of "there’s nothing like it on the market." For your job search, transition from simply articulating a litany of things you have done over your career to presenting a portfolio of unique, value-added offerings.
Get ready to prove it with your entire career profile, i.e., the knowledge, skills, abilities, education, and accomplishments, but don’t stop there.
It’s not just what you know, it’s also who you know. Optimize the power of your social capital and share your entire posse of people who may be of interest to a future employer: candidate referrals, vetted vendors, consultants, and industry leaders you know are capable of cutting through red tape as advocates, legislators, and influencers.
Consider: You have an entire galaxy of people in your world -- use that galaxy to your advantage. Highlight your relevant achievements.
You have been on IT teams over the course of your career and have assisted the sales force in countless RFPs and implementations of CRM systems.
The interviewer asks: "We are about to replace our CRM system. What unique skills would you bring to help us get this project over the line?"
Rather than simply referring to your technical skills or years of experience, you answer in this way:
"Over the years, I have built strong relationships with a number of reputable software providers and worked with them to ensure a swift and complete response is given to our RFPs.
When it comes to negotiating price, I have been at the table to get the best possible deal.
While I know the features and benefits of several systems, more importantly, I have built a reputation of working with the vendors not just as salespeople, but also as business partners. I have always believed in optimizing my network."
There are typically four investors on "Shark Tank," each with different backgrounds, expertise, and perspectives.
To succeed in gaining the support of the Sharks, the contestants making presentations must understand the needs and interests of the investors. They tailor their pitches to the targeted audience.
To succeed, job seekers must use the same strategy, focused on their audience.
Here is a real scene of an actual episode in which contestants promoted a portable outdoor kitchen for camping.
Although the product was suitable for the great outdoors, one of the investors was Matt Higgins, vice chairman of the Miami Dolphins.
Knowing his background, the contestant’s focus of the product’s use pivoted from camping to tailgating, appealing to a different -- but appropriate -- set of consumers, in the sporting event sector.
Great strategic move resulting in the contestants winning him over as their investor!
For your job search, the interviewers are the investors. To win the job, you must focus on their needs as the successful "Shark Tank" participant did.
In the work world, a set of interviewers will assess your fit compared to their needs.
A panel may be composed of HR, the hiring manager, team members, and possibly the head of a department with whom there would be significant interface.
Do your homework in advance of the interview and gather all the intelligence about your panel of judges from social media, your network connections, outside recruiters, as well as current employees, if available.
Even if you have limited access to information about the interviewers before the meeting, you may know their titles or departments and can then make some assumptions regarding their areas of interest. Listen for cues during the interview and respond accordingly.
Consider: You are one of the finalists vying for the HR director position and are facing a panel interview.
The plant manager will be on that panel and while you don’t know his name, you do a search on LinkedIn before the interview and identify him, noting that he has just written an article about the importance of a safety culture.
Understanding this is top of mind for him, here’s how you respond to his question, "What are the critical impacts HR can have on operations?"
Here is the perfect opportunity to respond:
"While there are many aspects of HR that are important from hiring the right people to keeping the company legally-compliant. If employees don’t feel safe coming to work each day, nothing else matters.
I noticed you wrote an article on the topic, and we have the same point of view. I have worked at plants that focused more on imposing safety rules but never really changed mind sets about the value of safety.I would join you as an advocate and help make a safety practice become a safety habit."
Music to the plant manager’s ears!
Contestants on "Shark Tank" display their wares and literally place them in the hands of the investor panel, enabling them to touch and see how their products work.
In this new age of virtual interviewing, you may be asked to present a PowerPoint. Capture this great opportunity to help your interviewers visualize your services. Practice and work out any technical glitches before the live show.
Do not wait for an interview to build a visible portfolio of your expertise and accomplishments.
Take advantage of the space provided in your LinkedIn profile and appeal to more of the interviewer’s senses by posting presentations, videos, and authored articles.
Consider: An operations executive promotes himself as a thought leader by authoring an article and posting it to LinkedIn.
While he has received accolades as the designer of Centers of Excellence, he takes the spotlight off himself and highlights the importance of employee-driven teams. Do not under-estimate the power of this branding tool. It affords an impactful perspective of your values, is free and easily accessible to recruiters and HR.
Up your game by using SlideShare for hosting PowerPoint presentations. Share your industry expertise, summarize best practices, or highlight a specific "how to" in some topical subject, e.g., how to survive the pandemic within your business sector.
Continue to build your reputation and promote your brand with compelling visual content provided through this powerful tool.
Focus on the "What’s in it for Me" (a.k.a., "WIIFM") factor. The "me" is the employer in this case.
The Sharks listen to the contestant's pitch, consider their risks and rewards, and then put forward an offer. And their offer will be in the form of a dollar investment or line of credit to help generate revenue and company growth for which they will expect a certain percent return on their investment, equity in the company, royalties, etc.
An employer is also prepared to invest in you -- with time (lead time to get results), money (compensation), and resources (people, equipment, space, etc.).
The interviewers will be carefully assessing their expected return on that investment if they hire you. Show them your value, during -- and after -- the interview.
The return, for the employer, will be represented by sales generated, customers retained, process improvements delivered, results in elevating company’s reputation /culture, etc., along with a turn-around time (payback period), or whatever benefits are appropriate for the job. Interviewers are also seeking a clear path leading to that payback.
Time is generally limited to an hour per interviewer, posing a challenge to fully plumb the solution to the payback.
Use the time immediately following the interview to resolve an identified problem by creating a written, 90-day plan detailing what YOU would do, and send it to the panel of interviewers. The plan serves to lessen the risk factor for the company, illustrates the reward potential, and serves as a great example of your strategic thinking and writing skills.
Consider: Assume you are interviewing for a controller position and come from a similar industry with the requisite skills and experience. The potential employer has indicated during the interview of a recent asset purchase which includes facilities but not the employees.
Following the interview, you reflect on the downsizing your current employer is experiencing and realize your other asset is the ability to quickly add a staff of competent accountants to address their staffing needs.
Assemble a plan that includes the potential for quickly bringing on a number of employees. Include an inventory of their knowledge, skills, and abilities that match the employer's needs, approximate payroll costs, and potential savings by eliminating recruiting costs. Emphasize the benefit of hiring a cohesive team who can hit the ground running and ensure business continuity.
Great way to answer the WIIFM question!
On the TV show, one Shark makes an offer, may duel with the other Sharks to invest in your product, or all four may say no. They will consider sales of your product already made, potential for future revenue, practicality of your product, market penetration, etc.
Know the worth of your services being offered by gathering compensation information for your position, within your industry and in context of your geographic area (geography may lessen in importance with the increase in remote jobs). Are you prepared to substantiate the claim, "There’s no one else like me on the market?" You will be if you have prepared your value proposition.
The Sharks refer to a contestant’s request for funding as "The Ask" and here’s how it plays out in a work setting. Have a range in mind for base salary but also consider the total rewards (variable pay, benefits, perquisites).
Consider: Should you receive an offer that does not meet your requirements, have a counter prepared, but one that is grounded in reality.
Here is a sample response to an offer:
"I am really excited for the opportunity to work for your organization and believe in your mission. I have reviewed your offer and respect that you have compensation guidelines, but would like to make a proposal.
The base salary is lower than I expected. Would you be willing to consider a mid-year salary review? I have some milestones I have put together to support an increase if you have any room in your budget to consider it."
Perhaps the company’s payroll budget cannot flex, so you suggest a contract option like expanded vacation time, remote working options, or eliminating the employer’s long-term commitment and employer-related costs (FICA match, benefits, etc.). It’s a short-term solution for you which has long-term potential for both you and the employer.
If neither solution works for you or the employer, thank them for their time, and request to connect on LinkedIn. You have established a connection and will want to keep it going.
The bottom line IS the bottom line, and a future employer will be assessing your ability to impact theirs. Get ready to demonstrate how the employer will get a return on investment by clearly articulating the value you will deliver. Protect your bottom line. Research competitive compensation in your industry. Consider the total rewards being offered and compare them to your personal financial needs.
Your priority, first and foremost, must be all about what you can do for them before they will offer what they can do for you. Properly set those priorities and you just may get one of those Sharks to bite.
Barbara Schultz is an HR executive, career coach, writer, and co-author of Adulting Made Easy(er): Navigating from Campus to Career. Barbara has held senior HR leadership roles in entrepreneurial settings and gives a unique perspective to job seekers from a life spent on the "other side of the desk." She is also the owner of CareerStager.com, helping people successfully navigate their careers. Follow Barbara on LinkedIn.