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Sales 101 in Job Interviews

By Ford R. Myers
President, Career Potential, LLC

The highlighted information below was excerpted from a recent article written by Marc Cenedella, Founder of The Ladders. It offers a perfect introduction to this month’s topic, “Sales 101 in Job Interviews.”

The most successful hot dog cart in New York City isn’t a hot dog cart at all. It’s “The Halal Guys,” a gyro, chicken and rice stand in midtown a couple blocks from Fox News and Radio City Music Hall. The line stretches all the way down the block, and it’s that way any time of day or night.

Now the thing that makes “The Halal Guys” special is the food and the service. They focus on their specialty and they’re quick to ask what you’d like. It makes sense because that’s the best way to make sure your customer is getting what they want.

You’ve experienced the same thing at restaurants and retail shops your whole life. The person behind the counter asks “how can I help you?” or “would you like fries with that?” or “what would you like today, Hon?”

The question seems so obvious to us because we’ve grown accustomed to it.

Which makes it strange that when you’re the one doing the selling or offering, and you’re sitting across from your customer, these simple questions so rarely pop into your head to ask.

Time after time, when we’re in the job search, or doing some purposeful networking, or fielding phone calls about job opportunities, we let flattery or nerves or anxiety get in the way of asking the obvious questions.

“What would you like?” is also the right question for you to ask your future bosses, prospective colleagues, and interested recruiters!

Now, you may be asking, “How does this information relate to my career situation?” Or, “How can I apply this key question to my job search and career management efforts?” Here’s how …

When I conduct seminars on interviewing, I make several important points right at the outset, including:

  • The interviewer doesn’t care that you’re unemployed or underemployed, and your needs are not of particular concern to her.
  • The interviewer (like most other people), is primarily concerned about her own needs and problems.
  • The interviewer is looking for someone who can offer solutions and make her job easier.
  • The interviewer doesn’t need more applicants. She’s looking for experts and thought leaders to make her department or company more successful.

The “bottom line “is this: The interview is not about you; it’s about the interviewer and her company!

Seminar attendees and clients sometimes say that “I’m being too harsh” when I stress these facts – but I don’t think so. What I’m trying to do is inject a shot of “reality” into their interviewing experience. I know that, unless candidates can flip their attitude and behavior to focus on the interviewer’s needs, they won’t stand-out or be selected for the job.

It’s “Sales 101.” Ask the customer what he wants and then provide it! Understand that your “customer” in this case is the interviewer. “Sales 101” also dictates that the better you know your customer, the better chance you have of winning his business (i.e., the job offer). It’s sad to say, but the majority of candidates make two terrible mistakes when they interview: (1) they don’t ask the interviewer exactly what she’s looking for; and (2) they don’t do adequate research on the company and the interviewer in advance.

In my interviewing workshops and when coaching my individual clients, I provide specific instructions on how to shift the conversation toward the needs of the interviewer. This is what I tell them … When you meet the interviewer, after you’ve had a few moments of friendly conversation, and when you’re about to “get down to business,” open your portfolio and take out your pen. Lean forward, look directly at the interviewer, and start the discussion by asking, “So, Ms. Jones, tell me, how may I be of service?” Or, “How can I be of most help to you, Ms. Jones?” Or, to paraphrase Mr. Cenedella again (see above), you can ask, “What are you looking for?” The specific wording is not as important as is the fact that you ask the question! How can you possibly address any customer’s needs if you don’t know what those needs are? Remember, this is “Sales 101.” (And please don’t rely on the job description to inform you of the interviewer’s specific needs, as those documents are often incorrect, incomplete or even irrelevant).

With that one initial question, you’ll effectively turn the focus of the interview from you and your needs to the interviewer and her needs. This question will immediately shift the dynamics of the conversation for the better, and you’ll instantly differentiate yourself from all the other candidates for the position.

Of course, as the interview continues, you’ll want to ask several questions based on the advance research you’ve done on the company and the interviewer. This will also make a very positive impression and distinguish you from other applicants.

When I make these suggestions to seminar participants or coaching clients, they often stare at me “like I’m crazy.” They ask, “You mean you actually want me to ask that question?” To which I reply, “Yes, exactly.” Then they ask, “But won’t I seem too controlling? Won’t the interviewer resent the fact that I’m asking the first question? Won’t this seem like a very strange question?” To which I reply, “No, probably not. The interviewer will more likely find your approach refreshing and helpful.”

In rare cases, an interviewer may “push back” and say something like, “What do you mean, how can you be of service? You’re here because you need a job, right?” At which point, I recommend that the candidate respond with, “Well, Mr. Smith, my understanding is that you have certain needs and challenges here at XYZ Company. With my 15 years of leadership experience in the industry, I offer many relevant skills and assets. I believe the purpose of today’s meeting is to determine if I’m the right person for the opportunity. If I am, then I’ll be happy to potentially work with you. But if it turns out that I’m not the right person, then I’ll be happy to refer you to someone else who could be a better fit. Either way, the important thing is that you find what you’re looking for, wouldn’t you agree? Now, let’s get started.” At this juncture, the candidate should start asking probing questions to explore and clarify the interviewer’s needs, while taking detailed notes.

“Sales 101” also implies that job seekers should “stay focused on the basics.” Nothing is more fundamental than asking the customer (interviewer) what she would like. “The Halal Guys” (mentioned above) apparently knew that this simple strategy would differentiate them from their competition, build their business and make them highly successful.

So, be like “The Halal Guys.” Ask the question! Strive to clearly understand the interviewer’s needs and problems, and then show how you can meet those needs and solve those problems. This will ensure that you’ll get the customer’s business – which, in this context, means landing the job!

About the Author:
Ford R. Myers is an award-winning career coach, speaker and author of the best-seller, Get The Job You Want, Even When No One’s Hiring. Ford’s firm helps clients take charge of their careers, create the work they love, and earn what they deserve! He has held senior consulting positions at three of the nation’s largest career service firms. Ford’s articles have appeared in thousands of publications and web sites, and he has been interviewed on every major television and radio network. Ford has also conducted presentations at hundreds of companies, associations and universities. Learn more at


FORD R. MYERS is an award-winning, nationally-known Career Coach, best-selling author and speaker. He is the President of Career Potential, LLC, a premier provider of career success services. Through powerful individual, corporate and government career programs, Ford has helped thousands of clients take charge of their careers, create the work they love, and earn what they deserve!

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