4 Ways to Sell Yourself to Your Next Employer

Businessmen shaking hands
By Arnie Fertig

Pitchmen are everywhere with messages like this: "Buy this product for only $19.99 a month!" Don't worry yourself about the postage, handling and sales tax. They don't want you to focus on how much the product will really cost when you are all finished paying for it.

But this is only one of many kinds of marketing messages that confront us wherever we turn. The nature of the message is always changing, depending on what's being pitched:
  • This product has a lifetime guarantee. It will last forever!
  • Use it once, and throw it away.
  • This is a green product. When you are done, recycle it!
  • Your life will be somehow better because you buy this!
  • Check out this product's "in" color or style for this season.
  • This product's classic nature will never go out of style.
  • If you wonder how much it costs, this product isn't for you! (snobbish decadence)
In order to be successful, a marketer has to have the right pitch for the right audience. After all, presumably Warren Buffett and Bill Gates worry less about making their monthly payments than the overall quality of the products they buy. And no matter how it is marketed, a low-income worker is unlikely to buy a personal jet.

There is a moral to this for the job hunter. You are marketing yourself to potential employers. And just as consumers have individual needs, priorities, and marketing soft spots, so do employers.

When you take the time to understand your target employer's needs and priorities for its workforce, you can then provide appropriate customized messaging from your first outreach to the time you sign that employment offer.

In particular, pay heed to these kinds value propositions job hunters can offer:

1. Changing, up-to-date skills: Some products stay the same year after year, while others continually change to reflect new formulas, ingredients, gizmos and functions. In the workplace, however, not much is done today the way it was a decade ago.

You are pitching the work you will produce. In order to bolster productivity, save time, boost output and increase revenue, your skills must be the "latest and greatest." You should demonstrate a current set of skills on your résumé and document that your licenses and certifications are recent and relevant.

2. Price. Whether you are buying a food processor or hiring an employee, you likely have a budget and will be concerned about the cost. When you go to the store, you automatically look for sale signs and price stickers to evaluate how closely you want to examine and consider the product on the shelf.

Similarly, when an employer is evaluating candidates, it's only natural to want to know their relative cost. Hence, the question is often posed in the first phone screen interview: "What are your salary expectations?"

Don't assume, however, that in every case employers are seeking the cheapest candidate. Employers fall all over the lot when it comes to compensation levels. That's why a similar position will garner different compensation levels from various companies. Some are value shoppers, while others have their own strategic reasons for wanting to pay above or even at the top of the salary scale.

An internal recruiter once revealed to this writer that he routinely rejects candidates, because their salary aspirations are far too modest! That gives all the more reason to try to assess a realistic salary expectation at any given company before giving a number that is too high or too low.

3. Commitment. We live in a "throw away" society. All kinds of things that used to last for many years are now sold with the expectation that they'll be thrown away after even a single use. Still, some things are heirloom quality and are sold that way.

Gone are the days when people stayed with their companies from very early in their careers until retirement. Still, there are widely differing practices and expectations among companies and workers. When you are marketing yourself to an employer, it's important to understand how it views its own labor force.

Are you heading toward a startup company populated by young workers who move from company to company every year or so? Or are you in talks with one that wants and expects a longer-term commitment on the part of the people they hire? Take pains not to portray yourself in a way that doesn't mirror a company's general workforce population.

4. Product Differentiation: For almost everything, consumers can find alternative products and ways to buy them. The marketer's holy grail is product differentiation. They will take pains to show just one significant way their product is better than the competition – even when all of them do pretty much the same thing, in more or less the same way.

It is important for you to differentiate yourself from your competition, too! When you say, "I'm a [job title/job function] person with X years of experience," you are inviting people to lump you in with everyone else like you. Your personal brand should highlight something that only you can claim for yourself and relates to your particular nature and level of accomplishment.

When you hone your message based on the value you represent, you'll resonate with the right employer and land the job that will let you thrive.

Happy hunting!

Arnie Fertig, MPA, is passionate about helping his Jobhuntercoach clients advance their careers by transforming frantic "I'll apply to anything" searches into focused hunts for "great fit" opportunities. He brings to each client the extensive knowledge he gained when working in HR staffing and managing his boutique recruiting firm.
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