In 2014, I'm giving away every secret I know for getting ahead. Land the job you want, succeed once you're there, rapidly get promoted, and start your own company when you're ready.

Chapter Seven Putting It All Together

How to take your image, portfolio and rolodex and turn them into the perfect job.

We’ve spent considerable time laying out the three pillars of a successful Personal Position. You should now know exactly how to create an image, back it up through your work, and spread the word through a powerful network of contacts. But if you’re like many other students, you’re asking me, “How do I use all of this stuff to actually land a job?”

The truth is that you now have in your control everything you need to become the cream of the crop in your class. Any employer in the country would be lucky to have you. But you still need to take everything you’ve done and condense it into a compelling marketing program for yourself. The good news is that if you’ve done the things we’ve spent the past 100 or so pages talking about, this part will be a lot more fun than it otherwise could have been.

You’re in Sales

Let’s get one thing straight immediately – you are a salesman. Or woman. It doesn’t matter what your degree was in, what internships you had or what you’d like to be when you grow up. Your job is to effectively sell yourself to your potential employer in an effective and compelling way.

The standard, run-of-the-mill resume doesn’t do that. As we’ve already discussed, the traditional practice of preparing your resume using a Microsoft Word template and mailing it out with a form cover letter to thousands of companies is extremely time consuming and ineffective. In most cases, all you receive back is a modest pile of template rejection letters, and those from the 1% of companies that take the courtesy to let you know they’ve placed your resume in the trash can.

Think about everything you appreciate in an interaction. You appreciate it when people are interested in you. If you were to have a conversation with someone who had the exact same conversation with 50 other people in the past week, you’d probably feel like this person was wasting your time. They don’t care about you, so why should you care about them?

Think about it another way. In nearly all forms of marketing, the less of a relationship that exists, the more dismal the response rate. Direct marketing typically ends up in the trash can, and companies are ecstatic to receive more than a 1% response rate.

Cold calling is the exact same way. Telemarketers are known for their thick skin, but they’re also anonymous people pushing products they didn’t make on old people who don’t know any better. You’re situation is much different – you’re selling yourself. They know your name, and they know what you want. It’s very tough to have a thick skin when 100 companies have rejected you.

I had a conversation with a good friend who headed out to Los Angeles to find fame and fortune. Unfortunately, the poor guy couldn’t find a job to save his life. He was lucky enough to realize the importance of becoming a Bright Red Package, but not before it was too late to do much about it. As a result, he was left trying to sell his mediocre product in a tight market, with little luck.

I don’t want you to have the same experience. That’s why you need to realize in a very real way the one principle that will help you throughout this process: you are a salesperson.

If you’ve followed the advice outlined in this book, you’re fortunate. You have a pretty good product – one that you believe in and that others believe in as well. But you still must sell yourself effectively if you’re going to turn all the hard work into a job.

Clutter Revisited

Companies constantly complain about “clutter” and their inability to effectively reach their target audiences. They have the same problem job applicants are having – their messages aren’t compelling and relevant enough to warrant the consumer’s attention.

There was a time when success in business simply meant to do the same thing as everyone else but spend more money. The folks with the deepest pockets could hit the customer over the head with their advertising mallet enough times to leave a mark on the customer’s brain. The mantra was repetition – if we reach them enough, they’ll eventually buy.

You don’t have that luxury. You can’t simply send your form resume to a company a few dozen times and hope they eventually buy. In the employment game, with very few exceptions, you truly do have one chance to make a first impression. The likelihood that the template resume and cover letter will do that for you is tiny.

Which brings us back to our rule – as a salesperson, you have to sell more effectively than your buddies, and more effectively than the thousands of other students competing for the job you want. You need to continue the process you began when you started reading this book – you need to continue being a Bright Red Package that everyone wants to open.

Your First Step: Identify Your Targets

Your first step in the process is a process of selection. It would be silly for a marketer to try to market a new product to the whole world. They need to create a strong position – one that is distinctive and powerfully relevant to a particular audience. Put another way, the process of positioning should also be a process of targeting an audience.

We didn’t go into this earlier for a reason. When you started out, I wanted you to determine your position based on what your natural strengths are. I wanted you to identify what you think you would love doing and what you think you would be the best in the world at. I didn’t want you thinking about a particular company you’d want to work for, because you’d be encouraged to try and mold yourself into whatever that company wants. And odds are you’d either fail or be unhappy.

Too many people take a job because it’s with a particular company rather than taking the job they would love. I almost did it myself. I convinced myself that I should go into advertising in New York because of the prestige and the excitement. But I was completely ignoring my natural strengths – entrepreneurial instincts, a high tolerance for failure, and an extreme desire for independence. I was fortunate enough to be slapped to my senses – the day before I moved to New York without a job or a clue. It was probably the best decision I ever made.

So you have a position that is based upon your unique strengths and talents. And you’ve spent the past few years cementing that position in the minds of those who know you. Now you have to identify companies that you believe will be most receptive to your position, and would serve as the ideal fit for your particular strengths.

In order to accomplish this, it is imperative that you spend some time giving yourself a reality check. You need to think long and hard about what your goals are for your professional and personal life. For every single person who be¬comes the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, there are literally tens of thousands of people with similar goals who never get there. That isn’t to say that you can’t do it – particularly if you continue to apply the Bright Red Package framework, I believe with everything within me that you can accomplish more in your career than most people would dream of. But even if you do, you might not be happy.

When I was a T.A. for a business class in college, I was fortunate enough to meet a number of CEOs from some of the biggest companies in the country. As we’d sit and eat dinner together, I’d always ask the same question: “How are you able to balance the demands of your job with your family life?” The answers were pretty sobering:

“My kids understand how important my work is to me.”

“I don’t.”

“The divorce is pending.”

That semester made me reconsider my own goals of world domination and massive wealth. I eventually altered my professional goals in the interest of a future that allowed for a family life and the pursuit of other goals.

Some folks have suggested that this should be the first thing you do before you begin the process of becoming a Bright Red Package. I disagree. One of the greatest benefits of becoming a Bright Red Package is the jump in confidence. I’ve witnessed people who were afraid to give an oral report to five people end their college careers by speaking to thousands at graduation. I’ve seen people who didn’t think they could do anything discover and unleash their unique abilities in a way that surprised even themselves. People are right – college is the perfect opportunity to discover who you are and what you’re capable of. Becoming a Bright Red Package is one of the best ways I’ve seen to do so.

It also puts people in control of their own lives. No longer are they scared to death about what they’re going to do when they graduate. They have all the tools they need to find a great job – and they get to choose what to do with it. I landed a job handling the marketing responsibilities for a small business, and then made the leap to start my own. I honestly don’t know if I could have had the confidence to do so if I hadn’t spent the time becoming a Bright Red Package. I knew I could get a job with almost anyone, and made the choice to create my own. That’s the point – becoming a Bright Red Package gives you the power to choose.

The point is that whatever you choose to do, becoming a Bright Red Package gives you skills you can use in any situation. It gives you options. Many people who decide on one career end up changing their minds later. Choosing to waste your years in school because you don’t think you want to work at McKinsey is foolish, and puts you at a severe handicap if you ever do change your mind.

So we’ve agreed upon the importance of becoming a Bright Red Package regardless of your career path. You still need to identify what you’d like to do when you graduate, and to do so you need to ask some questions. The following were some questions others have asked during their reality checks:

  • What’s more important to me: prestige or freedom?
  • Do I want to move up the career ladder or create my own?
  • How important is my family life? My physical health? My friends? Would I have the time I’d need to give each its proper priority in my schedule?
  • Would any specific jobs conflict with my spiritual beliefs or morals?
  • Most companies in large markets won’t consider me unless I have already moved there. Am I willing to make a move to a new community without a job already in hand?
  • What is the typical career path for this line of work? Would I be fulfilled if I spent 20 years in this field?
  • What are my financial needs going to be? Will this particular career support those needs?

Take some time to answer these questions, as well as any others that might come up during your reality check. Doing so in advance will help you avoid bad situations later.

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can begin to identify specific companies that would fit your strengths, goals and personal needs. I would suggest building a couple of lists. The lists will consist of companies that are within your area, and one or two lists of companies in communities you would love to live in.

Most companies have a relatively drawn out interview process. They require three or four rounds of interviews before making a hiring decision. The entire process can take up to a couple months in extreme cases. Unless you’re particularly blessed with family fortune, it is unrealistic that you’ll be able to visit companies spread all over the country. Limiting your list to one or two locations will allow you to schedule interviews in groups, and will make issues related to accommodations less of a headache.

As I mentioned above, if you absolutely have your heart set on a particular city, you might want to move there be¬forehand. Companies like to know that a candidate is avail¬able on their terms, and will often reject a candidate with an out-of-town address. An alternative could be to set up a P.O. Box in that town, or put the address of a relative living in that community. But if you know it’s the only place you want to be, consider making the plunge and moving out there. It might be a little scary, but can also be a ton of fun.

With each list, try and identify 25-40 companies that would fit your Personal Position and at first glance seem to have a culture that you’d like to be a part of. Again, don’t go by name recognition – someone who goes to Anderson Consulting because of the name yet hates stressful situations will be miserable. Look for where you’d be happy.

This is going to require some ego swallowing in certain cases. You might wonder what people will think if you take a job with “Ed’s Steel Fixtures.” But it’s better to be in a job you’ll love than one with an important or flashy name.

How do you identify these companies? Spend some time on the Internet looking at corporate websites to get a feel for their culture. Call their receptionist and spend a few minutes asking them what the company is like. Ask around town. Look at Fortune’s annual guide of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. You don’t have to spend considerable time on this process, and most companies will be eliminated before you start – a creative, free-spirited person will likely rule out working for stodgy banks or accounting firms.

While you shouldn’t consider a company solely on its name, you also shouldn’t rule a company out for the same reason. If they have a culture that fits your strengths and values, then by all means go ahead and apply. And if there’s a company that you’ve wanted to work for since you were a kid, don’t feel like you have to rule them out automatically. But if their culture is obviously in conflict with your goals, you need to consider going in another direction.

At the end of this process, you should have a list of companies that you would be happy to work for. These companies are targeted according to what really matters – your goals, values and your Personal Position. This way no matter where you end up, you’ll be a happy camper.

Tap Your Network

In the past few years, you’ve come to know professors, your parent’s friends, your friend’s parents, folks at your internships, members of the media, authors and business owners. You have found a number of mentors, and have constructed your own Personal Board. You’ve put them into your contact management system, taken them to lunch, stroked their egos by asking for advice, sent them interesting articles, and in many cases became pretty good friends. And you’ve hopefully been very good about giving back much more than you’ve received. The foundation has been properly laid – now comes the time to utilize this amazing resource.

The vast majority of jobs are found through networking. Most will never show up on Monster, or on your university career services website, or in the paper. That’s because the first thing an executive does when looking for a job to fill is go through their network. They ask their friends and acquaintances if there’s anyone who would fit the job description. Even after the job is sent to the human resources department, the proactive search continues for a candidate available through their network.

The reason is simple – just like you are more likely to buy a product from a recommendation given to you by a trusted friend, so too are employers to consider a candidate who is being vouched for by someone they know. That’s the reality of the situation – to a large extent, it really is about who you know. But you don’t have to worry, because you have a strong network in place.

Talking to your network about your marketing plan shouldn’t be difficult – after all, you’ve spent considerable time getting to know these people and helping them out during your years in school. They all know you’re graduating, and they all know that people who graduate are hoping to find gainful employment once they’ve received their degree.

If you’re as sharp as I think you are, you have realized you’re going to approach your contacts in a slightly different way than most folks would. Most students, and most people looking for work, simply go through their rolodex and call everyone they know asking if anyone knows of a job opening. They aren’t picky – they want any nibble they can get.

But not you. You’re a Bright Red Package. You’ve spent all this time preparing yourself for this process. You should be one of the best and brightest candidates out there.

The first question you need to ask your network is if they would be willing to write you a letter or recommendation. This letter should be generalized enough to appeal to any company on your list, but powerful enough to make an impact. If you’ve truly become a Bright Red Package, these people will not only be happy to oblige, but will probably provide you with a pretty glowing recommendation.

This recommendation will be useful in a variety of ways. If you decide to put together a web site as part of your Personal Marketing materials, you can use segments of their recommendations to serve as “testimonials.” You will also be using these recommendations as a central part of your marketing plan, which we’ll get to a little later.

If nothing else, they give you terrific insight into your mes¬sage and your position from the standpoint of your audience. One of the things we do with our business clients is spend time asking their customers what kinds of things they say when talking to others about the company. By understanding the specific language and key selling points customers use when successfully selling your company, you can refine your marketing messages to tell the same story.

The same principle applies in your job search. These testimonials will help crystallize your selling proposition as described by your network. These letters can show you insights about your Personal Position that might be stronger or more important than others. The process will help you identify the most compelling components of your marketing message.

Try to get as many of these letters as possible. You don’t have to use all of them – in fact, having more at your disposal will allow you to pick and choose the most compelling ones.

After receiving your letters, you ask the big question. But rather than sounding desperate and asking it they know anyone who has a job opening, you’re going to ask them if they know of anyone who knows someone at one of your target companies. It doesn’t matter who they are – it could be their neighbor whose cousin works there. All that matters right now is that you find someone at the company. It might take a couple of connections to do so, but you’ll find that in most cases you’ll know someone who knows someone who knows someone at most of the companies on your list.

Don’t worry if they can’t find anyone right away. Give them time to think about it. If necessary, follow up with them with a brief and cheerful reminder. And it goes without saying that you send everyone a thank you note or similar Bright Red Package gift for their help, whether it proves fruitful or not.

Some folks just won’t know anyone. You need to be careful not to let such an event harm the relationship. You might feel as though they haven’t really tried to help you, or feel like the process was a colossal waste of time. Please don’t make that mistake. Just because they can’t help you right now doesn’t mean they won’t be able to later on. And even if they don’t, make sure you don’t lose sight of the first principle of networking – it’s not about what you get from them.

After taking the time to contact your network, you will most likely have someone from each company (perhaps a couple) whom you can contact. Now you begin developing your plan for contacting these folks.

Putting Yourself in the Best Position to Secure an Interview

As you begin the process of getting into companies, you will have one primary goal. You want to create as much leverage as possible for yourself. Leverage is one of the most important yet overlooked concepts in sales.

Here’s your plan: once you find a contact inside the company, call them up and ask to buy them a cup of coffee. During coffee you find out information about their company’s culture, why they enjoy (or don’t enjoy) working there, etc. In the course of conversation, try to find out the name of the person you would be most likely to work for. When you identify the person, casually ask your if they think the person would mind you contacting them. Don’t worry about asking if they’re hiring – if they are, it will surely come up in the natural course of conversation. All you want right now is a name. When you’re done, send the person a nice thank you note, book, or other gift. Also include your resume – don’t ask for a job, but send it so they have an understanding of what you’ve done and what your skills are (we’ll talk about your resume in a bit.)

Go on each of these coffee meetings before you contact someone for an interview. What you’re looking for are the names of each person who would make a hiring decision at your target companies. If you’re like most people, your target companies are going to be in a similar industry and therefore competitors to each other. This is the ideal situation for creating leverage.

What you’re trying to do is create leverage that would compel the person to contact you. At the end of this process you should have someone within the company who’s suggested you contact them, which will provide you with a third party willing to vouch for you, albeit at a rather superficial level. You will also have the intention of contacting their peers at competing companies, which will naturally activate their competition bug. If you’re a talented person who other people in the company like and who is in demand from their competition, they will be more inclined to meet you.

All you need now is to have a clue what you’re talking about.

Research: Your Secret Weapon

The person (or company) that takes the time to research their “customer” will beat the thousands of people who are too lazy to do their legwork.

If you’ve openly embraced the Bright Red Package philosophy, you’re going to immediately see the value in the suggestions I’m about to give you.

In every marketing class I had in school, we were responsible for completing a rather large group project, usually involving the release of a new product or service and testing its market viability. Without fail, my groups received extremely high marks. It wasn’t because we were smarter than the other kids; we were successful because our research was top-notch. While most groups would stumble through the market research portion of their projects, interviewing ten of their friends and most likely feeding them the answers they wanted to receive, our groups went to extraordinary lengths. We would interview over 100 people, braving the elements of the cold Boulder winters standing outside grocery stores asking people to take our surveys. We’d follow these up with comprehensive focus groups and in-depth interviews. And we weren’t afraid to pull the plug – on one of our projects the research showed that it was just a crappy idea. Our professor was impressed – we were the first group he had ever taught that decided to kill their product.

To make a long story short, I fell in love with research as a tool for competitive advantage. And this small advantage became glaring when considered in the context of a job hunt. The simple truth is that none, if any, of your competition will go to the efforts that you will.

What kind of information are you looking for, and how do you obtain it? This is where things get fun. Once you’ve determined your target companies, I would suggest the following:

  • Call the company and ask for any annual reports, sales literature, product information, etc.
    A ton of this information will be available on their corporate website. If you call and the receptionist gives you a hard time, tell them you’re a student working on a project. You sneaky devil. Pour through the information, paying careful attention to financial information that seems either terrific or dismal. Write down a couple key points on every major product.

  • Continue to scour the internet for any press releases, interviews given by company executives, etc. Use the databases we’ve discussed to find any article mentions. Print them out and read them, marking interesting comments with a highlighter.
  • If it is feasible, become their customer. Call their 800 number and experience their customer service process. Look for any service or product features that you think stand out.
  • Talk to other people who have used the product. Ask friends and family about their respective experiences, and ask for complete honesty. Take notes.
  • Try and get into their supply chain. See if you can find a supplier or distributor and ask them about the company. Take notes.
  • Find out who does their marketing (many companies use an outside agency.) Ask to speak with the company’s ac¬count rep and talk with them. Ask where you can see any of their marketing messages. One client of mine used this method to look at a target company’s entire ad reel.
  • Call the company and ask to speak with someone in the department you’d like to be in. Ask if you can grab a cup of coffee with them. Ask them what it’s like to work there. Take notes. Even better, shadow them for a few hours during their workday.
  • Take some time to visit their competitors as well. At the very least, look them on the Internet. Look for the different companies’ competitive position in the industry. Look for respective strengths and weaknesses. Take notes!

I know all of this seems like a lot of work. That’s because it is. But the work is well worth it. You might even become more knowledgeable about the company than the person you’ll be interviewed by. Not that you’re going to point that out.

Making Contact

You’ve targeted the companies that would be most receptive to your Personal Position, received glowing letters of recommendation from your Personal Rolodex, found your initial contacts within the company, successfully identified the proper person to contact within the company, and have scads of research in your arsenal. You’re now ready to make contact.

Just like everything else in this process, you’re going to contact them in a slightly different manner. Rather than shooting them your resume, you’re going to send them what’s called an impact letter, along with a couple of your best recommendations from people your contact would likely recognize.

Why would you not send your resume? After all, you’ve spent all this time becoming a Bright Red Package, and your resume is better than your peers. You’ve done some pretty cool things, and you want to let them know about it. What could be wrong with that?

The problem is that your resume is about you. It’s all about your accomplishments, your goals, your work. And the person you’re contacting doesn’t care about you. At least not yet.

You’ve noticed that this process doesn’t involve finding companies that are openly looking for new applicants. You’re contacting someone that may or may not need someone new. They think that they’re perfectly happy with the way things are, and don’t need you. And in spite of what you think, your resume isn’t going to convince them that 1) they need someone new and 2) you’re it.

You’ve got to think like a salesperson. And the best salespeople in the world know that the prospect doesn’t care about them. The prospect is dealing with their own issues, their own problems. They don’t know you exist and they don’t know they need you. It’s your job as a salesperson to convince them that you’re valuable.

Salespeople that talk about themselves don’t accomplish this. Neither does a resume. What works in both cases is an acute understanding of the prospect. You need to show that you know their problems and have concrete ideas for solving them.

That is what the impact letter is intended to accomplish. The letter is supposed to demonstrate your uniqueness. It is supposed to show that you understand, more than an outsider should and perhaps more than current employees, the problems the company faces.

An impact letter can take multiple forms. The executive recruiting company I worked for generated a significant amount of business helping high-level executives make the transition to a new company. The key piece of their program involved helping these executives write impact letters. The letters always opened up with a clever introduction. Just as the headline for an advertisement is carefully crafted to entice the reader to want to learn more, the opening paragraph of their impact letters were designed to make the employer want to keep reading.

Another method is to use the research they’ve conducted on the company and identify a couple of specific ways they can leverage their skills to improve the company. This is a pretty difficult process, but as someone who wants to demonstrate their talents as a Bright Red Package, there’s no better way than by identifying opportunities or weaknesses and offering suggestions to help fix them.

This is where a lot of students trip up. They don’t think that they have anything to offer, in spite of all the amazing work they’ve done while in school. They don’t think that they are in a position to suggest anything to an employer. But showing your research and your ability to pinpoint specific problems and ways to address them makes you look like the Bright Red Package you want to be.

I know this sounds a bit fuzzy. The best way to explain this type of letter is through example, so here is an example letter to get your brain working and show what we’re talking about:

Dear Mr. Allen:

Ms. Windsor, an assistant marketing director with your company, suggested I contact you. You have a terrific company and I’ve read some great things about you. I was particularly impressed with your 12% growth rate this year, which doubled your industry average.

In conducting some research on your company, which included speaking with a number of your customers and suppliers, I’ve identified a couple of areas that could help your company continue to grow at its phenomenal rate.

1. At stores where your product is displayed using your own promotional materials, sales are roughly 60% higher than at stores where your promotional materials are lacking. Convincing your other retail partners to use your promotional materials in a similar fashion could lead to significant increases in revenues.

2. I Identified 35 search terms you are currently paying for via Google’s pay-per-click engine. However, only 6 of these appear in the top 3 listings, which generate 80% of visitors. A number of these keywords can be moved to a top 3 position for less than a nickel more per click.

3. A number of customers I spoke with suggested that your company provided them with the best customer service they’ve experienced. However, your sales and promotional literature never mentions your service component. Talking about your superior service might boost the impact of your advertising.

4. Four out of the five salespeople I talked to failed to ask me for the sale, a tactic which has been proven to increase sales effectiveness by over 40%. Training on asking for the order would likely help your salespeople become even more effective.

I would love to get together with you to discuss ways to easily implement these improvements to your marketing process. I’ve attached a couple of letters from people who’ve worked with me in the past. If I don’t hear from you in the next 10 days I will call to set up a time that would work for you.

Warmest Regards,

Englebert Humperdink

P.S. One of your distributors had a suggestion for cutting delivery times by 15%. It’s a pretty cool idea.

If you examine the letter closely, you’ll see that it accomplishes a number of tasks. It gives you third-party validation, explaining that someone from their own company suggested you talk to them. It clearly demonstrates your knowledge, both of the company and of your particular field of expertise. It entices them with specific numbers and suggestions, as opposed to vague generalizations. It points them to your glowing letters of recommendation. And it finishes with an additional teaser, making them even more eager to find out more.

Compare a letter like this to the standard cover letter full of vague buzzwords and a narcissistic language. Letters like that are embarrassing for you to write and boring for people to read. With a letter like this, you don’t have to explain how smart you are – you’re showing them. And most importantly, you’re answering their most important question: What’s in it for them?

This isn’t an easy letter to write, and requires a large chunk of time researching and applying what you’ve learned while you’ve been in school. But sending out 10 customized letters like this will always work better than the Shopping Mall approach. And I promise you the people who agree to meet with you will have an favorable opinion of you when the interview rolls around.

Interview Them

I talked earlier about my favorite class project, the book about meeting women. The book devoted a healthy amount of time discussing the first date. For men a first date is little more than a casual opportunity to get to know someone new and have some fun. But while the innocent male spends his time cracking jokes and admiring his date’s beauty, the woman is testing the guy. For most women, the first date is an interview.

Women are generally more in tune with who they are and what they want than men are. The guy that makes it to the date has already passed the attractiveness test: now he has to survive the interview. The only problem is that he hasn’t the slightest idea what’s on the woman’s list of criteria. The only thing he can be sure of is that she wants someone who will listen and take an interest in her.

Given this fact, I suggested turning the tables on the woman. Turn her into the candidate and ask her questions about her and her life. Whenever she tries to ask him a question, I suggested giving a quick and witty response and resuming control of the date as soon as possible. Doing so not only takes the pressure off of the man to answer correctly but also demonstrates to the woman that the guy listens and cares about her needs. This was one of the best suggestions I gave in a book that was largely pulled out from you-know-where.

Guess what? The same logic applies to your job interview. You can ask current employees what the interview process is like, but the truth is that you have no real way of knowing in advance what the interviewer is looking for. Each person who interviews you has a different idea about what the company needs, each of which is viewed through their lens of what’s important in the world.

They make things even more complicated by having different interview styles. Some folks ask questions about your background. Some choose to ask psychological questions, or questions about your ability to work in team situations. Still others ask you completely random questions like how many gas stations you think there are in the country. While each of these techniques are beneficial to the person interviewing you, they are enough to drive you crazy. You don’t know what to expect. There’s a reason why so many books on interviewing skills are released every year. Because know one really has a handle on how to do it right every time.

I don’t either. That’s why I choose to avoid it altogether. The strategy is the same that I advised men to do on a first date. Understand that what everyone is looking for in a mate or in a job applicant is someone who understands them, listens to them and is genuinely concerned with their needs. You can use this understanding to give them what they want by interviewing them.

Every interview you participate in should consist of you asking them thoughtful questions, and then listening intently to their answers. While most candidates are eager to explain why they’re perfect for a job when they don’t really know what the job is or what will be expected of them, you’re coming across differently. You’re coming across as someone who isn’t trying to convince them of anything, but as some¬one looking for a mutually beneficial situation. By asking thoughtful questions about the company and the job, you’re trying to discover whether there’s a role in the company that you can help fill or an opportunity you can help capitalize on. It will be the only interview the employer will have like it. It will be an interview fit for a Bright Red Package.

In order to have for an interview like this to go well, it is necessary that you prepare thoroughly. Remember that you’re a salesperson, and the best salespeople always prepare diligently for any sales call they make. They write down their main talking points, their answers to likely objections, and their intended outcome. We’re going to do the same thing.

You need to spend time coming up with questions that will demonstrate your expertise and your interest in the company. To do this you’re going to need to consult the research you conducted. You need to know their financial situation, their product line, their competitive landscape. You need to know as much as you can about the company.

Start off with general questions to get a big-picture understanding of the company. Ask questions like, “What is the one thing that the company does better than anything else?” These will show that you aren’t making any presuppositions about the company’s situation, which will demonstrate humility and an eagerness to learn.

However, you need to avoid overly generalized questions or questions that you should already know – questions like “What is your mission?” or “What do you sell?” will most likely shorten the interview considerably.
Your next set of questions should get into specifics, and should be prefaced with research you’ve uncovered. Here are a few examples:

“I read in last months issue of BusinessWeek that your company is considering opening a division that caters to semiconductor firms. What is the appeal of that particular industry?”

“Acme Distribution, which I understand is one of your competing firms, recently launched a repositioning campaign. Why do you think they’re doing so, and is it something your company should be concerned about?”

“Your patent on XYZ’s product is expiring next year. Does that represent a threat to your company in terms of competing products, or do you feel your market position is strong enough to fend off new competitors?”

Whenever you have an interview, remember to take notes. You spent time researching and asking these questions be¬cause you’re genuinely interested in securing a position with this company. By taking notes you show the individual interviewing you that you’re not simply asking questions to try and impress them.

Your final set of questions should relate to the job itself. Again, your questions should be geared toward what the company is looking for, not what you’re looking for. A few examples would include:

“What are the most important things you are looking for from someone at this position?”

“What kinds of things have made people unsuccessful at this position in the past?”

“What kind of performance would satisfy you? What kind of performance would make you say WOW!?”

“What are your biggest concerns about the position?”

“If we were talking three years from now, what would have to happen between now and then for you to be happy?”

If you come into the interview prepared to turn the tables, you’ll find the process will be a much smoother one. This isn’t to suggest that no one is going to ask you anything, or even that they won’t try and surprise you with one of those crazy, “If Jen is driving east in a green Camero at 55 miles per hour, and Lisa is traveling west in a red Miata at 60 miles per hour, and if Lisa is eating a 20 ounce bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, how many miles will Lisa have to work out on the treadmill before she’s 2/3 the weight she was when she was 4/5 the weight of Jen?” questions. You should still be prepared. But given that you’ve come with me this far, and that you read that sentence all the way through, I know you’re not the kind of person to leave anything to chance.

Oh, and the answer is 4 hours, 17 minutes.

Pulling Out All The Stops: The Leave-Behind

This is my favorite part of the whole process. Imagine you’re sitting down with a marketing director and are being interviewed for a position with his company. You’ve spent the past half hour interviewing him, and have responded to his questions in a poised and confident manner. The guy is sure to have a reasonably favorable opinion of you already.

He asks if you have any other questions, and you say, “No, I think we’ve covered most of the issues I have related to the position. However, before I go, I wanted to give you some¬thing. To give you an idea of the kind of work I do, I’ve put together a small report on the results of the survey I took of your customers. There are some pretty interesting things in there.”

You take out of your satchel or briefcase a nicely bound, full color report. The layout is obviously the work of someone who knows what they’re doing. You casually say, “I hope you don’t mind, but I exercised a bit of creativity with the design. I’ve done some freelance design work during school.”

What do you think the individual interviewing you is going to think? One of two things – either he is desperately afraid of talented people and perceives it as the threat, in which case you’d never want to work for him anyway, or he thinks to himself, “This has got to be the most remarkable candidate I’ve ever met!”

The leave-behind might be the most effective tool in your entire marketing arsenal. The impact letter may warm them up to meeting you, and the interview may give them a positive disposition towards you. But the leave behind tells them that you are truly going to be a superstar.

The leave-behind can take numerous forms. It could be an analysis of their competitive landscape. It could be a market research report on their industry. Use your imagination. What’s important is that is shows in no uncertain terms that you really know your field of interest and are willing to go above the call of duty for the benefit of the company.

Does the leave behind always work? Of course not. Some people have to hire the boss’s kid. But in most cases you’ll find the leave behind to a powerful addition to your arsenal.

But of course, we’re not quite done yet.

Your Resume – The Closer

After you leave the interview, you zip them off a thank you card the same day. You then go home and write a nice cover letter that is based on the interview you just had. You mail the cover letter along with your resume.

Your resume is going to be designed specifically for the company. Your resume is going to remind them of a few things you’ve already talked about, but if you conducted your interview properly (that is, you focused it on them and their needs,) a lot of your accomplishments will be new to them. Which is what we want.

There are roughly 30 million different books on resume writing, which is why I’m going to only touch the subject lightly. There are a couple of things that I would suggest that are different than most resume advice. But for the most part you’re going to follow a similar format.

Get rid of the objective. Seriously. An objective is just a bunch of useless phraseology. Everyone knows your objective is to get a job. So don’t waste your time.

Try to use specifics, hard facts and numbers whenever possible. Vague generalizations don’t impress – hard data does. With every internship, job or organization, try to provide concrete deliverables and measurements of success.

You can include relevant coursework if you want, in the interest of being thorough. But I don’t believe it’s necessary. If you graduated with a degree in Management, it’s going to be assumed that you’ve taken operations classes. Don’t waste valuable resume space telling people something they already know.

Speaking of valuable space, keep your resume to one page. Period. You’ve just graduated from college. No one is going to take you seriously if you hand them a multi-page resume; they’re going to think you have a ridiculous ego.. Condensing the resume to one page also forces you to include only your best work. During my time in school, I kept my resume to one page no matter how many things I did. Whenever I did something more impressive than what was currently on my resume, I’d bump the least impressive thing off. This strategy helped me determine exactly what I needed to do each year – beat the current items on my resume.

Include a small personal section. Limit it to a couple of things that are genuinely interesting and unique about you. Were you an Eagle Scout? Have you been trained formally as a chef? Champion fencer? Won the Nobel Peace Prize? By all means include them – you never know when one of these things will lead to an unexpected connection with the person hiring you.

Design can once again be a terrific ally when you create your resume. I’ve helped a number of my clients give their resumes a professional finish. We don’t deviate much from the standard resume outline – I’ve found that simple enhancements such as your choice of fonts or the subtle use of color can enhance the quality of the final product.

Subsequent Interviews

Depending on the company, a successful first interview will lead to a second. And a third. And a fourth. There’s a very good reason for this – the company wants to make sure that all parties directly affected by your hire think you’re going to make a solid candidate.

If you’ve done everything we’ve talked about, it’s a relative certainty that you’ve gotten this far. Some student might think that they can coast through the follow-up interviews en route to a corner office. Not so. While your major cards have been shown, you still have a few hundred pages of research at your disposal, and will show up to each meeting with a fresh supply of interesting questions.

It’s true – the second and third interviews are going to be similar to interviews given to everyone else. But you have to understand that the other candidates have similarly shown all of their cards too, and their hands aren’t likely to be as good as yours. You have great recommendations from your professors, mentors, individuals within the company, and now the person who interviewed you in the first round. They’ve taken a look at your resume and your amazing leave-behind before you sit down with them, which means they are most likely as psyched about you as their peers. All you have to do is avoid blowing it.

At this stage of the game, the question is no longer whether or not you can do the job – you’ve proved that far more effectively than they could have possibly imagined. Now the question is whether they enjoy working with you. They want to hire you, but first need to make sure that you’re going to mesh with the folks already working there.

The key word is respect. You need to show that you respect the person interviewing you, the company, and people in general. People want a smarty-pants, but only if they are a respectful smarty-pants. How do you demonstrate respect? Again, there are countless books on the subject, but the keys are pretty simple. Don’t cut the person off in the middle of a sentence. Listen to what they have to say, encouraging them to continue talking with supportive statements and body language. Look them in the eye, but don’t stare. And you’re young, which means it’s never a bad idea to say sir and madam.

Since you’ve laid the foundation properly and systematically, you are likely one of their top candidates. The skills you’ve picked up during your process of becoming a Bright Red Package will ensure that the subsequent interviews go just as well as the first. And, of course, you’re going to follow each interview with a prompt, handwritten thank you letter.

Congratulations

In all likelihood, the company you’re talking to has never met a candidate like you. You’re confident, respectful, and know very clearly your personal strengths. You have ably demonstrated how these strengths will be of use to the company. You’ve shown that you do your research, and that you know the company’s situation and unique needs. And your amazing Personal Portfolio, coupled with the stellar recommendations from your Personal Rolodex, let the company know that you can walk the walk. The only thing left for you to do is to accept your position, and begin putting the same effort into becoming a superstar for the company that you invested in becoming a Bright Red Package in the first place.