Friday, October 25, 2013

The Job Hunt

The one thing great about sales is that usually when you attain over 100% of your quota the year before, you can count on job security for at least the following year.  If you have no chance of hitting your quota, you could get a head start on your job search, land another  position, and make a hasty exit before the boney hand holding the scythe of career death from HR catches up with you.  But in sales, nothing ever prepares you for being let go as a result of a corporate 're-org.'

With a 're-org', all bets are off.  Before you can take a breath, you find yourself at home, packaged off, instructed to take advantage of this golden transitional opportunityEven though you feel like a hockey player, on the bench, while the game is being decided on the ice, now you are being told to find another team.  Now you can supposedly go out and find your dream job.

But what if you had your dream job already?    The company you worked for was the biggest in the industry.  Their technical products were leading edge.  Being a rep for them carried clout.  So much clout, in fact, a mere mention of who you worked for, generally guaranteed a return phone call.  To your horror, the old adage which states, "you don't know what you've got till it's gone" had decided to drop by for a visit.   And it didn't look like it was ready to leave, any time soon.

Then the job hunt begins.    Posting your resume online, phone interviews followed by in-person interviews, can be a frustrating, very frustrating, experience.  Especially when you are in sales.   Because of your sales background you understand what the screening process is all about.  You know the how and why behind the questions you are being asked.  Your experience in face-to-face selling means you can tell when you are physically being read, and you can read your interviewer too.   You know early on in an interview when the interviewee is simply just going through the motions.  You can tell when the hiring manager is going into oversell mode in an endeavor to put lipstick on that pig of a position the company hasn't been able to successfully fill for the past two years.  You can also tell when the hiring manager regards you as a threat.  You've answered their questions too well, and hiring you, they think, might be putting their own career in jeopardy.  Many mid-level managers would rather hire someone with fewer skills and less experience, that they can control, rather than someone with competence and confidence enough to do the job on their own.  Such a hire might represent an unnecessary challenge.  And that's usually when they fire the kill shot.

The Kill Shot.  That one question the interviewer holds in reserve until that point in time when you think you've aced the interview and are ready to start negotiating your starting bonus.  It's that type of question you can't prepare for.  It's the type of question that clearly shows they've done done their homework, and they are now prepared to let you know they've found your Achilles heel.   

It started innocently enough.  With the first shot, the human resources representative asked me what I didn't like about my last employer.   Piece of cake right?  Obviously I didn't appreciate the fact they let me go.  No one ever does.  But I can understand from a corporate viewpoint why it was necessary.  I used this opportunity to interject that it had caught me by surprise since I had surpassed my quota from the year before.

The hiring manager nodded his head in agreement.  The human resources manager, then took her second shot.  I was asked why I liked working for my previous employer.   I had no problem with answering this question at all.  Global market leader, technical superiority over the competition, large customer base and top notch technical resources to draw upon when needed.  Since I was interviewing with a former competitor, there was a brief volley back and forth about technical specifics.

Then the hiring manager took the kill shot.  And I have to admit I didn't see it coming.  He started out by stating that he loved my passion for technology and for my previous employer, but then he asked me, if I was in his shoes, would I be worried about hiring someone who was so passionate about his competition.

I hesitated for just a split second, but then, I did it.  I looked up and to the left.  Up and to the left.  Up and to the left.   I couldn't stop myself.   I tried to respond as best I could by stating that my passion could be transferred to his company without any problems.  My competitive product knowledge, could be a real asset to his team.   And his current reps wouldn't have to worry about competing against me any more, if of course, we became team mates.   

I just couldn't bring myself to bad mouth my previous employer and I could see by the look in the hiring manager's eyes and the very subtle last inhale of exasperation, that he had already decided I wasn't going to get the job.  When our eyes met as we shook hands at the end of the interview, the hiring manager thanked me for my time, and the human resources manager complimented  me for handling the questions so 'professionally'.  In sales we call this a 'cushioning' statement.  We all knew I wasn't going to be offered the position.  I had been taken out by the triangulation of likes, dislikes and passion.

To those of you who are packing up early this Friday afternoon, and can't wait to get home early and get a head start on the weekend; be thankful for the sales job you have.  Never take it for granted.  Make the most of the opportunity you have right now, while you still can.   You just never know how long a good thing will last.  And remember too, there will always someone with passion, who is hungry and just waiting to be given another shot; who is looking over your shoulder, licking their chops. 

So stay on your toes.  Don't be caught flat-footed.