Job Interviews and Sales Presentations
What can giving an effective sales presentation teach about performing well in a job interview?
Delivering a sales presentation and having a job interview may not seem that similar, but in actuality the comparisons are many. Does the feeling of being under harsh scrutiny sound familiar? The mild panic? Sweating palms? The need to persuade somebody to choose what you have to offer?
Here at m62, we are experts at preparing sales presentations and have helped our clients to win billions of dollars worth of deals. A job interview is all about selling yourself – making it the ultimate sales presentation. We’ve identified a systematic process that we use time-and-again to help our clients present effectively. The process works, and now we’re sharing it with you. The following tips are key lessons on how to both win over an audience, and on how to impress a potential employer. Use them to sell a product, or to sell yourself. If you know somebody looking for a job please pass them this article, and see if it helps.
Consider the importance of your presentation: surely it justifies more than knocking-up a few PowerPoint slides on the plane there? Your audience will be able to tell if you are simply rehashing old material. The time involved in making sure your presentation is completely suited to the client is often gravely miscalculated. Spend longer than you think you’ll need (hours, not minutes) – and practice, practice, practice! If you don’t have time to prepare properly for every prospect, consider pitching for less, but putting more time into each pitch.
Similarly, it is painfully obvious when someone hasn’t taken the time to prepare for a job interview. The majority of candidates seriously underestimate the time required to prepare; you should be setting aside ten hours for every interview, not thirty minutes. Apply for fewer positions, but give each application the time and attention to craft an effective response.
Do the research
Check the website; make some calls (if appropriate). Look into your prospect’s background. What are they looking for? What could you convince them they are looking for? Is there anything, perhaps a recent business deal or public announcement, you could use in your presentation? It’s amazing, but even in this day and age, with so much information publicly available, sales people still walk into meetings with prospects without having done any proper research.
The same goes for a job interview. Learn as much as you can about the company you wish to work for, and the sort of things they do. Has the founder written a book? Read a copy. Do they publish white papers on their website? Analyse them. Do they give webinars? Attend one. Most importantly: read the job description! It actually tells you what they expect of you.
Think from the audience’s point of view
What are they looking for? Why should they want to do business with you? If you are pitching to a company who are looking to expand into Asia, talk about how you can help them with your Asian distribution partners. If you are selling to a company that is focused on the environment, describe how your company would help them continue to reduce their carbon footprint. This sounds obvious – but presenting 20 slides about your company’s history really isn’t seeing things from the audience’s point of view.
Make sure to really get beneath the surface of what your prospect is saying, and work out what is truly important to that company. Don’t take everything at face value – lots of companies say they are focused on the environment, but only some really are. Most importantly, don’t simply include lots of irrelevant facts that you think they might like to know: chances are, they won’t.
At most interviews, prospective employers have an idea of the kind of candidate they wish to hire. They describe this person in their advertisements and other materials. So, use the job description to find out what the employer is looking for, and then spend time working out exactly how you can prove that you meet the requirements. If the job you are applying for requires someone with good people skills, think of past experiences you could use to demonstrate this – and then make sure you’re amiable on the day…
Have a clear value proposition
Messages can get lost in translation during a presentation. So many presenters try to say too much, and thus end up saying nothing at all. Consider what you can offer to a prospective client and then group and prioritise. Consider listing the five greatest benefits you offer to the prospect as your value proposition. Any less and you run the risk of leaving out something important; any more and your audience will struggle to remember. Tailor your entire presentation around these five points and relate everything you say back to one of them. Don’t simply ramble: stay clear and focused.
Likewise in a job interview, have clear ideas as to what you could bring to the company if you were hired. Identify the key things your prospective employers are looking for and focus your interview on demonstrating how you offer these things. Don’t claim to be brilliant at absolutely everything; you won’t be able to devote nearly enough time to each point, and your interviewer is unlikely to believe you anyway.
Provide relevant proof
Think of your benefit statements and consider how you can provide evidence that each of these can be delivered. If one of your company’s main points in a pitch is that you can deliver a project quickly, produce a case study in which you did just that in the past. The key is to only use information or evidence that is relevant. Don’t distract the audience with an off-topic story that doesn’t aid your argument, however funny you think it is.
The same is just as true in a job interview. If one of the key skills you are advertising to a prospective employer is a good writing ability, bring an example of some of your work with you. Filling your CV with information about how you waited tables for five years is unlikely to improve your chances of getting a job in journalism, but demonstrating A-grades in English and time editing the student paper just might!
First impressions count – yet decisions are rarely made there and then. After a sales presentation it is likely that the audience will delay a discussion, often reporting back to a higher power before coming to an ultimate decision. Be memorable – but for the right reasons. For a good example, watch Bill Gates’ presentation on malaria at TED – even though we wouldn’t recommend letting mosquitoes into the boardroom unless you can afford good lawyers.
Job interviews are often conducted one after another and you could be right in the middle of a long list of potential candidates – how are you going to ensure that you are remembered? Use relevant stories to demonstrate your good points – these are much more likely to be remembered than just a list of your qualities. In practice, this means thinking of, and writing down, a few stories to illustrate each point in your value proposition. Having these stories to hand well in advance will encourage a conversational style, and a memorable job interview performance.
Don’t get defensive over questions
See questions as an opportunity, not an attack. Think about what is being asked of you, and then link everything back to your value proposition. This is a chance to further impress your audience with relevant information, so make the most of it. Interviewers almost always manage to come up with a question you’d never have thought of, so don’t be thrown off if you don’t immediately have an answer. Think about how to use the question as a hook upon which to sell, and then answer. Questions should be answered quickly. Don’t ramble.
When preparing for a job interview, create a list of potential questions you could be asked, and decide for each one how it relates back to your value proposition. Job interviews are mostly in the form of question and answer, so unless you focus on turning answers into a chance to sell yourself, you may fall into the trap of simply rambling.
If an interviewer asks how you work under pressure, don’t panic that they’re trying to catch you out – instead, provide an example in which you performed brilliantly at the eleventh hour (using one of your pre-prepared stories that prove your value proposition), thus proving that you’re dependable and quick-thinking. Whatever is asked of you, see it is an opportunity to state a strength, not cover up a weakness.
Job interviews and sales presentations aren’t all that different. Do the research, sell yourself – and you are far more likely to succeed.
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Angela Norton, Project Manager, Idis
m62 was the best of all the companies we looked at because there’s a great deal of intelligence behind the presentation theory, and it seemed to make absolute sense – both in terms of theory, and in what we were trying to achieve.