Effectively Selling Yourself in a Job Search

Good sales people know the difference between features and benefits. Often that makes the difference between making a sale or conceding defeat to a competitor.

Likewise, effective job seekers must also know the difference. That knowledge often determines who gets an interview and ultimately who snags the job offer.

Sadly, most job seekers focus only on features when they should be talking about benefits. So what’s the crucial difference?

Features Tell. Features are facts, the list of items on your resume that describe you. They provide basic information — Who you are. Where you’ve worked. Dates you were there. Job titles. Accomplishments. Education. Community involvement.

Benefits Sell. Benefits convert features into relevant information. Benefits describe the value that a potential employer might find in one of your features. A hiring manager is always asking questions such as — So what? How is this relevant? Why should I care? What can you do for me?

Features and benefits are both important. To be effective, though, you must lead with benefits and then follow up with features.

As you’re talking about benefits, you’re actually making promises. In effect, you are saying to a prospective employer, “Here what I can do for you.” That gets attention. Once you’ve gotten attention, present supporting evidence. In other words, support your claim with a feature. In essence, you’re saying, “Here’s why I can confidently make such a promise.”

Think about how you are selling yourself. Do you communicate benefits on your resume? In your cover letter? In your LinkedIn profile?

Here’s an interesting exercise:  Take a salient feature from your resume and turn it into a benefit by answering, “Why would a prospective employer want to know that? What would I like him or her to do with that piece of information?”

The Case of the Volunteer Coordinator

I recently interviewed a woman who listed on her resume that she was the volunteer coordinator for her church. “Why do you want me to know that?” I asked. “I’m not hiring for a church volunteer coordinator position.”

The woman impressively began converting that feature into a benefit. She told me what she’d gained from that experience. She had learned to recruit, organize and motivate teams of diverse people. She talked about how that would benefit her next employer. She would have been more effective, however, had she led with those promises.

The Case of the NFL Cheerleader

Another bright young woman once asked me to help her market herself in a job search. She had just graduated from college and was looking for her first job. She was quite busy networking, but she was not getting much traction.

I diagnosed her problem early on—she was emotionally attached to a prominent feature on her resume. Unfortunately, she was unable to convert that feature into a benefit.

The feature? She was an NFL cheerleader and quite proud of it. In most conversations she would quickly tell people what she did on Sunday afternoons.

When she and I met for coffee I said, “Let’s assume I’m interviewing you for a job. Why would you want me to know you’re a cheerleader? I’m not hiring for any such positions, so why should I care?”

As anticipated, she didn’t have an answer.

Converting a feature into a benefit can be difficult. Seeing a feature from the perspective of an employer, though, can reframe the conversation.

To help the woman reframe her thinking, I took a blank sheet of paper and divided it into two columns. In the left column I listed all the features on her resume. In the right column I wrote out possible reasons why an employer might be interested. Our chart looked something like this:



Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader

By nature, I am positive and enthusiastic. I have a passion for sharing my enthusiasm with others, whether it’s at a stadium, around a conference table or in a client’s office. I can help you increase employee morale and client satisfaction.

GPA of 3.5

You have a very complex business, but I am a quick learner and enjoy grappling with tough, complex issues.

Proficient in Word, Excel & PowerPoint

I can hit the ground running. You won’t have to spend unnecessary time and money training me to use these basic office tools.

Volunteer at Habitat for Humanity

I am motivated by a deep desire to give more than I receive. As your employee, I would continually seek opportunities to take on extra responsibilities and be more involved.

Creative problem solver

I won’t waste your time by delegating upwards those things you’ve hired me to do. I will think through the issues, make appropriate decisions and confer with you on bigger problems (along with my recommendations).

Never throw out a feature and then leave it to a prospective employer to make the right assumptions. You must talk about how the feature will actually benefit him or her. Sell yourself effectively by talking about the benefits you can offer. Before you know it, you’ll have a job offer.

4 Responses to Effectively Selling Yourself in a Job Search

  1. Gayl Reinsch says:

    You definitely hit the bullseye with your Effectively Selling Yourself in the Job Search article about benefits vs. features. As a job searching nonprofit salesperson (my new descriptive term!) I agree your point about “what’s in it for them” is right on, Duane!

    • Duane Hallock says:

      A new, clever title sounds like a good way to get attention or spark an in-person conversation. Be careful, though, if you’re hoping to be found when a recruiter uses more traditional search terms when looking for someone with your qualifications.

  2. JoAnn Woody says:

    I like this…excellent suggestions for those out there in the job market – either actively looking or mulling the idea over in their mind.

    Another suggestion would be to take this newly developed approach, and practice using it. Get your resume updated to a format that utilizes this approach, and then practice talking your way through it. In the shower, cleaning the house, driving in the car…practice until you have analyzed all the possible angles you can imagine. Be sure to look at yourself in the mirror when making certain points — it helps reinforce good eye contact.

    Sound silly? Probably — but I have used this for a long time. Whether preparing for media interviews, presentations, or important meetings…I “imagine” I’m in the situation and work my way through it. I’m sure I’ve entertained my dogs very nicely, and any fellow drivers unfortunate to be stopped alongside me in traffic. (Although these days, they just assume you’re talking “hands free”…so go for it!)

    Plus — you get a feel for your own voice inflection when covering points. You might be surprised how many times you’ll rework how you phrase certain items, or debate yourself over just the right word to use.

    In any event – it will make you so much more comfortable talking about yourself. And that is also key to selling yourself to a prospective employer.

    • Duane Hallock says:

      JoAnn, I love your suggestion about practicing in a variety of situations. That doesn’t sound silly at all. Rehearsing for media interviews, presentations, etc. can make all the difference. It may feel silly at first, but in the end you’ll end up looking and sounding like the smart one.

      Thanks for the added thoughts, JoAnn. They expanded the conversation.

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