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John F. Kennedy and the job search

February 18, 2011

From the title of this post, no doubt you’re thinking, “Where the heck is she going with this?”  I hope you’ll forgive me “adapting” one of history’s most famous quotes to make my point, but the other day I got to thinking about what’s “missing” when job seekers go out for a position.  As I’ve shared previously, 95% of the job seekers out there think getting an interview and landing a position is about selling yourself. Truly, however, it’s not.

The problem with trying to sell something is that it kicks in other people’s instinctive aversion to being sold.  The job search process is no different. If you believe the process is about your trying to convince a potential employer that they need to hire (buy) you, it can be a tough “sell.”  It’s not that they don’t like you or that you aren’t qualified, but so are the likely other multitudes of candidates that are all trying to “sell” themselves.

So, what should you do differently? Simple: don’t sell; increase demand. And that’s where John F. Kennedy comes in.

You see, Kennedy had it right when he stated in his inauguration speech, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  If you substitute the word “company” or “organization” for the word “country” you’ll likely see what I mean.

Instead of trying to match YOUR skills and abilities to that of the job you are interested in, turn it around.  Look at it from the employer’s perspective: what skills, abilities, special experience does the job require? Then, take a look at how what you have done in the past fits those needs. If you make a list of those “features” that you possess that serves the job, that’s a good first step. But it’s not enough. You need to do one more thing.

Remember the old marketing/sales saying that you “don’t sell features…sell benefits?”  Or, to use the classic example, “women don’t buy shoes…they buy style, fashion sense, comfort, elegance.”  In other words, it’s what they get out of the shoe that makes them buy, not the mere fact that it’s a shoe.

So what does this mean for your search? Well, say you’ve made a list of “features” you have that the job you’re after needs.  Now, think about those benefits — if it’s a sales position and you’ve been able to help grow sales at a previous job, that’s your “benefit.”  Yes, your “feature” may be that you have previous sales experience in a similar type organization as the one for which you are interviewing, but so may a dozen other candidates. Who has the “benefit” of growing sales 20/30/50%?  Or, how about a “benefit” of opening up a new distribution channel? See where I’m going?

Recently I was speaking to a woman who was looking for a job in customer service — her passion. She had been working in several industries for over 20 years…but as an executive assistant. When she was interviewing for Customer Service jobs she kept being told by the recruiters, “oh, you won’t want to do this for any length of time…you’ve never DONE customer service.” But she KNEW it’s what she wanted to do.

Hearing this story, I told her “But of course you’ve been doing customer service! As an executive-level assistant, you’ve had to serve all sorts of customers for years — both internal customers (employees, associates, her boss) and external (customers, vendors, suppliers, business alliances).”  I explained to her that her job was now to go through her resume and highlight what benefits her experience as an Executive Assistant brought to a company needing customer service help.

She had never thought of it that way before…and that’s the trick. Everyone is selling features when they should be selling benefits!  Or, to restate Kennedy, “What can you do for your company?”

You’ll discover that this approach turns the “selling” process into “helping the customer (recruiter/interviewer/employer) to buy.”  And that’s a very different value proposition.

Corinne Gregory is a speaker, author, business and social skills coach, and the President of SocialSmarts. Her latest book is “It’s Not Who You Know, It’s How You Treat Them: Five SocialSmarts Secrets Today’s Business Leaders Need to Stand Out and Be Successful” and can be ordered at

2 Comments leave one →
  1. David Anderson permalink
    February 19, 2011 10:05 am

    This article was excellent, timely, and useful to me, thank you, just used the ideas yesterday.

    • Corinne Gregory permalink*
      February 19, 2011 10:19 am

      Glad it helped! There’ll be more along these lines, too, based on the book and the workshop that goes with it.

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