Going on an Interview? Watch ABC’s ‘Shark Tank!’

Personal Branding

Want some good advice on how to gain an added measure of preparation for an upcoming job interview? Watch ABC’s Shark Tank! This “reality” TV show, which features a panel of five wealthy entrepreneurs (“sharks”) considering investment proposals presented by a group of would-be entrepreneurs, can strongly and powerfully elevate your awareness and genuine appreciation for today’s true business environment. It will make unmistakably clear what is really important to the ultimate decision-makers in business today: Making money! That’s the driving force in any business today! Fail to grasp and thoroughly understand this fact and you are doomed to fail in today’s job market – whether you currently have a job or are looking for a new one.

As I’ve said many times before, in many different forums, the chances that a job candidate—any job candidate!—will be seriously considered for any open position in business today relates directly and immediately to how well (or how poorly) the candidate brands himself/herself as being able to accomplish one or the other (or both) of these goals:

  • Make the company money
  • Save the company money

If you don’t quickly and immediately brand yourself as being able to accomplish either (or both) of these goals, in today’s extremely unforgiving job market, your candidacy will effectively be over before it even begins.

Let’s take a look at how a typical segment of Shark Tank unfolds and see what you can learn from watching the show.

Would-be entrepreneur (WBE) one (after presenting his idea to the panel)

One of the “Sharks”: That is a GREAT idea! So how much do you want?

WBE One: $30,000 for a 20% stake.

“Shark”: What are your total sales?

WBE One: $15,000.

“Shark”: Over what period of time?

WBE One: Three years.

“Shark”: Wait a minute! $30,000 for a 20% stake means you are valuing your business at $150,000. Yet, sales are averaging just $5,000 a year?! I’m out!

Obviously, WBE One doesn’t grasp the fact that, in business, it is one’s track record of past performance that is always used as a predictor of future success, not one’s potential. In this scenario, past performance does not assure the investor (“shark”) that he will get a solid ROI (return on investment).

WBE two (after presenting her idea to the panel)

Another “Shark”: So, what’s the market potential for your idea?

WBE Two: 45 million people.

“Shark”: Tell me about the marketing you have done.

WBE Two: I haven’t done any marketing yet.

“Shark”: So, you have this idea, but don’t have any idea what people think of your idea? Count me out!

WBE Two doesn’t realize that when asking someone for money (whether it be from an investor or from a potential employer) fact-based marketing is critical. Without hard evidence that this idea will make money, the idea is just a fantasy and people aren’t betting on fantasies in this economy.

WBE three (after presenting his idea to the panel)

Another “Shark”: I like your attitude. I like your enthusiasm. Both are important for any successful businessperson. But these attributes are a necessity in business today, and thus, are a given. They don’t differentiate you from anyone else. My question is this: How is your business going to grow?

WBE Three: By marketing the product and advertising? (As the famous author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar would say, this answer is a “wandering generality” not a “meaningful specific.”)

“Shark”: That isn’t answering the question. That is vague. Specifically, how are you going to market and advertise?

WBE Three: I will sort out those details after I get the funding.

“Shark”: There is a long and winding road between a great idea and a business. You haven’t laid out that road yet, as far as I’m concerned. I’m out.

Unfortunately, WBE Three didn’t fare all that well, either, did he? In today’s job market, going into the final interview with a business plan often means the difference between getting the job and not getting it. I call this plan an “impact plan” and we work with all of our candidates in creating one.

WBE four (after presenting his idea to the panel)

Another “Shark”: I am a businesswoman. I invest money in order to make money. If I want to donate to a charity, I will do that separately. Based upon what you have told me, if I gave you money, I would, in essence, be donating to a charity, not investing in a business because you haven’t told me how you are going to create a business. Count me out on this one.

Well, I’m sure that by this time you get the idea. Each of the would-be entrepreneurs, while they may in fact have had some good “business” ideas, and have come across as confident, articulate, enthusiastic, optimistic and professional, they also clearly demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that they weren’t adequately prepared to clearly and unequivocally demonstrate how their concepts would “make money.” The “hope” was there, but not the evidence.

We hear and read in the news media comments such as this: “Business is sitting on a trillion in cash. They need to use some of that money to hire people.” From an altruistic point of view, that may indeed be true. But the brutal reality is this: Businesses are in business for just one reason and one reason only. To make money! And that certainly isn’t going to change in the current economic climate. So, when you interview, remember, you have just one shot. Let me repeat that: When you interview, you have just one shot! So, the only question, really, is: Can you brand yourself as someone who can “make a company money” or “save a company money” (or both)? If you can’t, you won’t be hired.

Candidates often tell me, “Skip, it is easy to show someone how you can ‘make them money’ if you are in sales. So how do you brand yourself as being able to ‘make a company money’ or ‘save a company money’ if you are not in sales?” First, let me say this. All too often even top salespeople fail to quantify their performance, thus they don’t get hired. Let me give you some specific examples, however, of how people interviewing for non-sales positions can powerfully demonstrate their economic value to a hiring manager.

If you are, say, an engineer, what have you done to improve a design, improve productivity or improve quality? Weak answer: “I redesigned the production line for widget A.” Strong answer: “I redesigned the production line for widget A. In doing so, we increased throughput by 7% and decreased scrap 2%. The entire project cost $350,000 and the first year return was $500,000.”

Or, let’s suppose that you are an accountant. What, specifically, have you done to “make a company money” or “save a company money?” Weak answer: “I was able to get all of the reports done on time.” Strong answer: “I was able to improve DSO from 45 days to 37 days by setting up a system for initiating contact with customers regarding their invoice five days before the due date.” (Note: DSO is “days sales outstanding.” It represents how quickly a company collects its outstanding receivables. By quickly turning sales into cash, a company has the chance to put the cash to use again—ideally, to reinvest and make more sales!) This accountant is clearly and unequivocally illustrating how he or she can “make a company money!”

In today’s challenging job market, let me assure you that hiring managers, like the “sharks” featured above, don’t want “generalities” or “good sounding” phrases from job candidates. They want specifics! Recall that one of the “sharks” asked one of the would-be entrepreneurs, “What are your total sales?” If I am a hiring manager, and I am going to be paying you (or the successful candidate) $30,000 in salary plus commission, you can bet your life I will want to know, “What are your sales?” I’ll also want to know something specific about your track record of proven performance? I do not just want to hear that you can sell. I want specific, concrete examples of sales successes!

So before going on that interview, watch ABC’s Shark Tank. You will be glad you did!


Skip Freeman is the author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.