After weeks of pursuing a prospective client, eventually I had persuaded the Managing Director to meet us. We were to arrive at 8am sharp on Monday morning. He would give us fifteen minutes.
My colleague and I arrived a little early, having battled a barrage of rush hour commuters and pouring rain. It was a big pitch for me at that then- early stage of my career and I was ready.
He kept us waiting… and waiting and waiting. Eventually, he burst into the room. I stood up, proffered my hand and began to speak: “Good mor -”
He interrupted me immediately and wafted my hand away. “I. HATE. RECRUITMENT. CONSULTANTS” he bellowed in our faces. I almost fell over.
I’m afraid the red mist descended.
“And I hate being kept waiting for forty-five minutes, so let’s make the best of a bad situation and get on with it, shall we?” I replied.
He looked completely taken aback. His jaw dropped. I swallowed. He blinked. My colleague looked nervously at me.
After what seemed like an eternity, the client sat back, roared with laughter and gave us a full hour. We walked away from that meeting having won a big sole agency account for our company. I’m sure he won’t mind me telling the story, in fact I might even send him this article!
That was a real watershed moment for me; whilst I’m not suggesting that being rude to anyone, especially a new client is in any way ever a good idea (and I recognise I definitely got lucky on that occasion!), I did realise the power of being myself – rather than a sycophantic version of me that I thought he wanted to hear – and that selling isn’t about always sticking to a script. I learned that people respond to confidence, self-worth and authenticity.
Selling yourself at work
A lot of the job seekers I meet don’t like the concept of selling, but the reality is that it’s a necessary part of every job. Everyone is selling themselves the whole time, unwittingly or not, whenever they communicate in the workplace: when they’re asking recruiters to represent them, communicating with colleagues, asking their boss to take on that big project, smashing that interview for the job they want, winning a pitch with new clients or furthering their careers through promotion.
They’re trying to instil confidence in the other party that they’re “the one”, and it’s those candidates, the ones who understand themselves and are therefore “authentic” in that context that get ahead time and again.
I recently watched Brené Brown’s excellent TED talk on vulnerability at work and wrote a short piece about it on LinkedIn which a lot of people have engaged with. In this context, her message is that authenticity breeds trust, an essential tool for anyone who wants to succeed in any selling situation. Of course, there any many different versions of success; for some, success means having a really good work/life balance or doing something they love, for some it’s all about a job title or remuneration. As recruiters we meet a lot of people who have that nailed, but also an awful lot of people who, to the outside world, appear to have it all – a high flying career, huge salaries – yet feel unfulfilled and at a career crossroads.
The whole team at Sidekicks believes passionately in the candidates we represent and our role is to help those candidates to understand who they are, what makes them tick, what they want out of their career and how to get there. Since that rainy (regrettable) day, I have never felt like I am selling to anyone, but instead empowering those of my candidates who are unfulfilled and help them to overcome a problem. Almost always the life they’ve built doesn’t feel authentic to them and is based on other people’s expectations of what success is. They are understanding what success means to them and who they really are. In short, they’re beginning to own their own brand which means they can sell themselves effectively to reach the fulfilment they’re seeking.
What employers want
All of my clients look for the same attributes in a potential employee: a self starter, proactive, muck-in, inquisitive, full of initiative, passionate about what the company does. Simple, right, if you can sell your ability to be those things? Not always, as we know that the personality dynamic between a candidate and their boss comes into play in a big way when hiring decisions are made.
The key, I believe, to finding work that fulfils you and enjoying your career is to work in an environment and with people where your real or authentic self can thrive, where being yourself won’t feel like selling.
To find this you need to know yourself objectively and inside out so you can spot a great opportunity when it presents itself: always ask for feedback, talk to your friends and relatives, conduct a SWOT analysis, take a detailed personality test (16personalities is great, free and very insightful), aim to understand what you’re REALLY good at, and consider the things that you’re not so great at and take this forward. When you next come across a situation where you’re selling yourself, you’ll feel that you’re doing the opposite and just being honest, you’ll be confident in what you’re saying, you’ll build rapport easily with your boss, client or company that you’re a good match for, and you’ll be successful, whatever that means to you.