By Skip Freeman
Want some help on preparing for a job interview? Watch ABC's "Shark Tank." This "reality" TV show, which features a panel of five wealthy entrepreneurs ( the sharks) considering investment proposals from would-be entrepreneurs, can give you a glimpse at today's business environment. It makes clear what's really important to the ultimate decision-makers in business today: Making money!
That's the driving force in any business today. Fail to grasp and thoroughly understand this fact and you are doomed to fail in the job market -- whether you currently have a job or need one.
As I've said before, the chances that a job candidate will be seriously considered for any open position in business relates to how well the candidate brands himself/herself as able to accomplish at least one of these:
- Make the company money.
- Save the company money.
If you don't immediately brand yourself as able to do that, your candidacy in today's extremely unforgiving job market will be over.
Let's take a look at how a typical segment of "Shark Tank" unfolds and see what you can learn from watching the TV show.
Would-Be Entrepreneur No. 1 (after presenting his idea to the panel)
One of the Sharks: "That is a GREAT idea! So how much do you want?"
WBE No. 1: "$30,000 for a 20 percent stake."
Shark: "What are your total sales?"
WBE No. 1: "$15,000."
Shark: "Over what period of time?"
WBE No. 1: "Three years."
Shark: Wait a minute! $30,000 for a 20 percent stake means you are valuing your business at $150,000. Yet, sales are averaging just $5,000 a year?! I'm out!
Obviously, WBE No. 1 doesn't grasp the fact that, in business, it is a track record of past performance that is always used as a predictor of future success, not potential. In this scenario, past performance does not assure the investor that he will get a solid ROI (return on investment).
WBE No. 2 (after presenting her idea to the panel)
Another Shark: "So what's the market potential for your idea?"
WBE No. 2: "Forty-five million people."
Shark: "Tell me about the marketing you have done."
WBE No. 2: "I haven't done any marketing yet."
Shark: "So, you have this idea, but don't have any idea what people think of your idea? Count me out!"
WBE No. 2 doesn't realize that when asking someone for money (whether it be from an investor or from a potential employer), fact-based marketing is critical. Without hard evidence that this idea will make money, the idea is just a fantasy and people aren't betting on fantasies in this economy.
WBE No. 3 (after presenting his idea to the panel)
Another Shark: "I like your attitude. I like your enthusiasm. Both are important for any successful businessperson. But these attributes are a necessity in business today, and thus, are a given. They don't differentiate you from anyone else. My question is this: How is your business going to grow?"
WBE No. 3: "By marketing the product and advertising." (As the famous author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar would say, this answer is a 'wandering generality' not a 'meaningful specific.')
Shark: "That isn't answering the question. That is vague. Specifically, how are you going to market and advertise?"
WBE No. 3: "I will sort out those details after I get the funding."
Shark: "There is a long and winding road between a great idea and a business. You haven't laid out that road yet, as far as I'm concerned. I'm out."
Unfortunately, WBE No. 3 didn't fare all that well, either, did he? In today's job market, going into the final interview with a business plan often means the difference between getting the job and not getting it. I call this plan an "impact plan" and we work with all of our candidates in creating one.
By this time you get the idea. While the would-be entrepreneurs may have had some good "business" ideas and come across as confident, articulate, enthusiastic, optimistic and professional, they weren't prepared to demonstrate how their concepts would "make money." The "hope" was there, but not the evidence.
We hear and read in the media such comments as: "Business is sitting on a trillion in cash. They need to use some of that money to hire people." From an altruistic point of view, that may be true. But the brutal reality is: Businesses are in business for just one reason -- to make money! And that certainly isn't going to change in the current economic climate.
So when you interview, remember that you have just one shot. Can you brand yourself as someone who can "make a company money" or "save a company money" (or both)? If you can't, you won't be hired.
Candidates often tell me, "It is easy to show someone how you can 'make them money' if you are in sales. So how do you brand yourself as being able to 'make a company money' or 'save a company money' if you are not in sales?"
Even top salespeople might fail to quantify their performance, and thus fail to get hired. But here's how those interviewing for non-sales positions can powerfully demonstrate their economic value to a hiring manager:
If you are an engineer, what have you done to improve a design, improve productivity or improve quality?
Weak answer: "I redesigned the production line for widget A."
Strong answer: "I redesigned the production line for widget A. In doing so, we increased throughput by 7 percent and decreased scrap 2 percent. The entire project cost $350,000 and the first-year return was $500,000."
Or suppose that you are an accountant. What have you done to "make a company money" or "save a company money?"
Weak answer: "I was able to get all of the reports done on time."
Strong answer: "I was able to improve DSO from 45 days to 37 days by setting up a system for initiating contact with customers regarding their invoice five days before the due date." (Note: DSO is "days sales outstanding." It represents how quickly a company collects its outstanding receivables.)
In today's challenging job market, hiring managers, like the "sharks" of "Shark Tank," don't want "generalities" or "good sounding" phrases from job candidates. They want specifics!
Skip Freeman is the author of " 'Headhunter' Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever!" and is the president and chief executive officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, Ga., metropolitan area executive search firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.
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