Powerfully Branding Yourself to Lose the Job Interview

Job SearchPersonal BrandingSuccess Strategies

In last week’s blog we examined how you can win at the face-to-face interview by effectively employing the “leading the witness” method/approach. This week we’ll take a look at how you can just as quickly and just as easily lose the interview if you unwittingly brand yourself as a “run-of-the mill,” “me-too” candidate.

To position this week’s blog, let’s first take a look at what today’s job market looks like:

Twenty-eight million job openings have been filled in the U.S. thus far in 2011. Yes, you read that correctly! The figure most people focus on, nearly exclusively, is the number of new jobs created, and there is a huge difference between new jobs created and openings actually being filled. Make no mistake about it, these openings are in real companies with real needs and these positions are being filled daily.

There are over 69 million job seekers in today’s job market (14 million unemployed and 55 million currently employed wanting a new opportunity). Unfortunately, most of these 69 million job seekers will not win one of the jobs currently being filled daily. Why? Because they powerfully and effectively brand themselves as “run-of-the-mill,” “me-too” candidates.

Branded to not be unique

Let me illustrate my point with an analogy. Suppose you are at an automobile dealership and find a car that you like, but you still want to do some more comparison shopping before making your final selection. So, you go down the street to another dealership and find a car you like just as well there. Now the issue becomes, how do you decide which vehicle to buy?

You go back to the first dealership and tell the salesperson, “I really like your car but I also like another one at the dealership down the street just as well. Tell me, why should I buy your car instead of the one down the street?”

The salesperson adopts his most earnest, sincere look, takes his right hand, balls it up into a fist and slaps his fist into the palm of his left hand and enthusiastically says, “I’ll tell you why you should buy my car instead of the one down the street. Mine has an engine, four tires and a gas pedal!”

You look at him, dumbfounded, and respond, “Huh? What? I don’t get it. How in the world does that differentiate your car from the one down the street? That one also has an engine, four tires and a gas pedal.”

And that of course is the message. The salesperson just branded his car as being exactly the same as the one you also liked down the street, or the ones to be found at every other dealership in existence, for that matter. This is precisely what happens day in and day out in interviews. Candidates constantly, and consistently, brand themselves as being just like every other candidate instead of being someone who is unique, different and better, someone a company will almost feel compelled to seriously consider hiring.

Let me give you an example from just this past week. Our firm is recruiting for a sales position for a Fortune 500 company. Our process goes like this: The recruiters in our firm proactively recruit passive talent by cold-calling in to competitive firms, as well as look for active talent by posting the job on the Internet. The recruiters review the possible candidates’ backgrounds, assess if they have the right skill sets, discuss motivations for a possible career change, review the position with the individual and determine his/her genuine level of interest, etc. If a possible candidate is indeed genuinely interested in the opportunity, and if the recruiter deems the person strong enough to move forward, they are scheduled for an interview with me. My role is then to determine if the candidate is strong enough to move forward by arranging a conversation with the hiring manager of the Fortune 500 Company.

One of the first questions I always ask a candidate is this: “What is it about you that differentiates you from all of the other sales professionals my client will consider for this position?” (And you can substitute any role you may have an interest in interviewing for— engineer, accountant, SAP programmer, etc.—for “sales professional.”)

photoLet me share some of the answers I received from six candidates I interviewed for this position this past week:

Candidate 1: “I am determined, motivated and know how to work from a home office.”

Candidate 2: “I can build relationships. I am a hard worker and I am motivated.”

Candidate 3: “I am a hunter and I am motivated by money.”

Candidate 4: “I am dedicated, honest and won’t do anything shady.”

Sound like good answers to you? Unfortunately, all four of these candidates powerfully, quickly and effectively branded themselves as simply average—they branded themselves as someone who is just like every other candidate! In other words, they branded themselves as having “an engine, four tires and a gas pedal!” Shouldn’t every sales professional be determined, motivated, be able to work from a home office, build relationships, be a hard worker, etc., etc., etc.? I think you get the point.

The fifth candidate answered the question this way:

Candidate 5: “Skip, I think what differentiates me are three things. First, my business acumen. No one is going to buy anything from me unless my product and service can either make them money or save them money, or ideally both. So I have to find out what the client’s issues are and how I can then translate what I am offering into a solution that will address and solve those issues, while at the same time, making them money or saving them money. Second, I have solid leadership skills. Sales situations are not always something that you can effectively do alone. I have to be able to be a leader and effectively facilitate teams. These teams can involve people from my own company as well as my client company. And finally, my technical skills. By truly understanding the technical aspects of my product and the application, I can ask the right probing questions to uncover the needs, wants and issues in a client’s facility.”

And candidate 6 also delivered a branding message that truly differentiated her from the rest. So obviously, candidates 1 thru 4 “lost the interview.” They are not being passed on to our Fortune 500 client for consideration.

As I write this on Friday afternoon, candidate 5, whom we will call Tim, is on a phone interview with the hiring manager of my Fortune 500 client company. This email from the hiring manager just popped up on my computer screen: “Skip, I am not through with my phone interview with Tim, but I can tell you already, he is someone we want to bring in for the final round of interviews. I will let him know that before we hang up.”

Just one of the crowd

How do you brand yourself: As someone with just “an engine, four tires and a gas pedal?” Or, do you brand yourself as someone with a “finely tuned, super-charged V8 engine, all-terrain tires, and one that offers unparalleled power and performance, while still offering great fuel economy?” As someone who can “outperform all other competitors regardless of marketplace conditions.”

Ask yourself this question: Which “car” would you be most likely to buy?


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.