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More Proof that Business is Sexy – 3 Ways to Ball-out in Vegas on the Cheap

Vegas Baby!
Of course we all know that Sin City is the mecca for people in search of drinking, drugs, dining and debauchery, but did you also know that its the world’s best place to swing your silver tongue and get something for nothing more than confidence?

My absence from the hallowed grounds that are the pages of stokedonbusiness has come largely as a result of a business trip down to the place where anything can happen and nothing leaves, especially in your wallet. Conferences, networking gatherings and research had me tied up for most of the time, effectively thwarting any opportunity I had to dabble in the world famous Vegas delights, but I still had to eat and sleep. Fortunately for me, eating and sleeping are two of my top four favorite things to do, and if you’ve been following this blog you know that another favrorite pasttime is negotiating (I’ll allow you to use your imagination on the unmentioned favorite activity).

I was in heaven! Vegas does an amazing job of surrounding its visitors with a treasure trove of sparkles, temptations and desires, all at premium prices. The unspoken theme there is that everone wants to look like a baller, therefore the ultimate faux-pas is to ever appear cheap. For example, I watched (for professional purposes only) as a group of girls in their early twenties accepted coupons from a sidewalk promo guy to The Bank nightclub. They were obviously sold and walked directly to the front door where they stashed the coupons and paid the full $20 price tag for cover. Simply flashing the coupons would have saved them a total of $70, but they would rather part with the cash than damage their collective image.

I can empathize with that feeling, no one wants to look out of place, especially not in a venue where the primary goal is to see and be seen. There are ways, however to wheel deals and actually benefit your public perception while relieving the strain on your bank account:

1. The old $20 bill trick
The first concept to understand is that Vegas hates taking money off the table, but has no problem with adding perks to close a deal, especially if it means something extra in that person’s pocket. Figure out what you want and identify the gatekeepers to that goal – there’s almost always a poorly paid employee somewhere along the line who depends on the kindness of tourists to pay his bills. That’s why the most classic of all wheel-methods still works beautifully.

For those of you who have never heard of it, here’s how it works: Arrive at the check-in counter with a folded up bill pressed neatly against your driver’s license in your pocket. Giver your name to the clerk and wait for him to ask for I.D. When he does, pass the card and hidden bill to him while casually asking “Are there any complimentary room upgrades available today?”. Rumor has it that the trick has become so well understood that clerks who can’t bump you up will apoligize and return your cash. I say that it’s a rumor because no one I’ve talked to has ever heard of it failing. In my case, I went from a standard room in a wing packed with retirees and a 4th floor window to the parking lot, to a deluxe room with a king sized bed and a gorgeous view of the strip – all for 5 nights and all for $20.

vs.

2. Drink like a king for $5.10/hr
The majority of casino-floor bars are littered with Video Poker machines to entice patrons to do some gambling with their drinking, which is clearly a winning combination. Most places have a tiered comp system that allows bartenders to serve certain drinks to certain levels of players free of charge. In the case of Caesar’s Palace, regular $20 players are given standard beer, wine and house liquors. In order to justify the good stuff, the bartenders need to know that the “eye in the sky can see that you’re flashing some benjamins” as one server put it.

Given that, this wheel is as simple as it is easy. First, find a slot machine on the main floor. Any machine will do. Insert a $10 bill and cashout immediately. The machine will print a ticket that can be placed into another machine for credits, or cashed out at the cash cage. Place the ticket in your pocket and head to the bar. The ability to talk and get people on your side benefits every negotiation, and this one is no different. Upon arrival, engage the bartender in idle chatter about the recent game, the strip, My Little Pony, whatever gets him to come closer to you. While you’re talking, take out a minimum of 2 $100 bills and place them into the Video Poker machine in front of you, paying more attention to your conversation than to your money – the bartender will notice, whether you see it or not he’s trained to pay attention to that sort of thing. Now, order the most premium drink that you like and wait to be served. Before the bartender returns with your drink, cash out from your terminal and move to a nearby seat. Poket the $200 ticket that just printed and retrieve your $10 ticket from earlier on. Insert the $10 ticket and select the minimum amount to bet (typically $0.25). Start spinning the reels and mention your terrible luck as the bartender returns with your free drink.

Tipping is mandatory, and something that you can’t get away from in Vegas, especially if you want good service. Tip $1 every time that the bartender refills your drink, thanking him every time. This is where $4 of the $5.10/hr comes in. The other $1.10 is the expected loss rate that a Video Poker machine will take based per hours on 4 spins per minute and $0.25 bets. Played properly, Video Poker is one of the best games in Vegas for the player, and assuming that you order 4 $10 drinks per hour, can be very profitable.

3. Pay a little, get a lot at the world’s best restaurants
Some of the shadier casinos on the strip (O’Sheas, Bill’s, etc.) have ticket agents that sell last minute admissions to popular shows, tours and discounted meals at high-end restaurants. Simply buying a coupon and heading over to the restaurant will save you a ton of cash, but leave you looking like a chump when the bill comes. Instead, pick up one of these tickets, make reservations and head over to the restaurant at least 15 minutes before your table will be ready.

Ask to speak with the waiter who will be serving you and present him with your dilemma: you have these tickets that entitle you to a fixed menu at a discount, but would like to enjoy some of the finer items on the menu without letting the tickets go to waste. The waiter will likely propose that you hand over the tickets, order what you like and he simply knock 30-40% off your bill when the time comes. The benefit for him being that a larger gross bill will likely result in a larger tip and he can simply write the difference off as promo. If he doesn’t, slide a $10 bill between the tickets, hand them to him and propose 50%. He’ll likely counter with 30-40% aned you’re all set.

Instantly the $50 steak that you were dying to try becomes $30, and $90 bottles of wine become a more palatable $55. All of this, and when the bill comes you can proudly pay the much-reduced total and leave a healthy tip for the very helpful service staff.

For more Vegas tips, or to leave suggestions of your own, comment below.

It’s good to be back – check in again soon for more Stoked content and tips.

Marketing Yourself – Business Fashion is Important!

January 14, 2010 2 comments

I could rant (and often do) for hours about the garbage fashion decisions that many professional people make on a daily basis. But, you say, clothes aren’t important, right? People should judge me based on my work.


If you believe that then you also believe that all cars should look like plain white boxes and that customers will make the correct decision based on the performance and reliability of the vehicle.

You and I are plroducts that we are selling every day. To maximize our value we must therefore focus some time and attention on our marketing, i.e. our clothing. That being said, I will offer 4 simple tips that will significantly improve any wardrobe and position your personal brand higher than before.

1. Fit is Everything

The best possible advice I can offer is to go out and find an excellent tailor. Cheap Moores suits can look stellar if cut right, whereas I’ve seen $1500 Zegna suits that hang off shoulders and look like hand-me-downs. Keep in mind, I’m not (and would never) advocate that anyone wear a Moores suit, even as a bathrobe. Find a tailor who knows what he’s doing, have a chat about likes and dislikes, then take him everything you own. You’ll see in the following tips just how cheaply quality clothing can become your fashion staples with the help of a good tailor.

Alfani Suit - $300 at Macy's

Ralph Lauren - $1000+

2. Buy Quality
Quality suits that fit your six specific measurements can be tailored, and tailored again to match your body type specifically. With the knowledge of those measurements in your back pocket, a whole world of inexpensive possibilities opens up. The six to know (in order of importance) are: Shoulder width, chest width, neck size, arm length, waist size, and inseam. Of course, if any of those are significantly irregular for you, then it would jump to the top of your list.

A shirt, pants, blazer or suit that matches your measurements can often be had for a significant price reduction at blowout sales, consignment shops, and especially online. All of the measurements are a bit flexible and can be adjusted down except for the shoulder width. The shoulder measurement is absolutely non-negotiable. Anything else can be cut down, hemmed or taken in but the width is the width of the shoulders. The chest is tough to take in too, but it can be done.

For me, I am a 42r suit with 19″ shoulders. I can buy a suit that has a waist two inches too big, an inseam that is infinitely too long, or sleeves that hang down just a bit, but if it’s a 20″ shoulder I don’t even think twice.

Here’s a perfect example. There’s something just not right about this model. Most people with little suit experience will pick out that he doesn’t look great, but can’t say why. Have a look at his shoulders. The padding extends beyond his natural break, and the rest of the suit falls off of him the same way.

Ugh

3. Buy Used
There is absolutely nothing wrong with used dress clothing. No one has worn it to bed, it has usually barely been worn at all, and the prices are often 75-90% off retail. Just recently I picked up a Burberry suit off of a forum for $125 that retails at roughly $1500. After a $70 trip to my tailor, it is now one of my two favorite suits. Some of the best places to look are eBay (seriously), local consignment shops like Turnabout on Broadway, and http://www.stlyeforum.net (my personal favorite).

4. Finally, Know Your Colour Spectrum

Matching shirts to suits and ties to shirts is all about colour spectrums and once you get the basics down, you’ll never commit a tragedy such as this:

I’m optimistic that none of us on here would ever imagine rocking a pink and red tie with a yellow-beige shirt, so look at this poor slob as a cautionary tale.

Don’t be afraid of solids. Solid colour ties are easily the most under-used pattern out there. They’re classic, bold and unpretentious. They’re also very easy to work with.

As a general rule, the shirt should always be lighter than the tie. Given that, 2 closely related colours can work together. They can, but I find most incarnations of navy on soft blue, or kelly green on pale green to be a cop out. If in doubt, wear a white shirt. Otherwise, refer to the chart below. Colours that work together are directly across from each other; blue with red, yellow with lavender, etc.

For more on fashion do’s and dont’s, check back or find the fashion forums at style forum (linked above). Always remember though, sometimes the best dressed people are the ones who break all of the rules, and so are the worst.

Rules are For Pussies

Last-Minute Olympic Opportunities

The Olympics are coming and you, being a savvy young professional, are racking your brain for opportunities to take advantage of the globe-sized opportunity. You’re probably concerned that you’ve missed the boat. That either the startup time needed is too long or all of the good positions are taken. Not true!

With the amount of activity going on here in February, there simply aren’t enough people to fill all of the roles needed. The following are some potential opportunities that are still available for anyone with some aspiration and a bit of time:

Nasco Staffing Solutions.
They handle four major areas related to event marketing at the Olympics:

Production technical projects (audio/lighting/video technicians, riggers, set carpenters and stagehands)
Conferences and events (bilingual booth assistants, computer registration staff, hosts and transportation coordinators)
Promotions and marketing gigs (mascots, models, sales assistants and street promotion teams)
Food and beverage venues (banquet servers, bartenders, coat check and wait staff).

Check out their website for more information and contact info.

BBN3.com Is a boadband based journalism site. They’re looking for people interested in journalism and production. They’re lookign for off-camera people to do research and communications work.

Of course security is an option. If you have your BST certification and are looking for a lot of cash in a short period of time, check out www.bcwintergamessecurity.ca. It’s not much of a resume booster, but cash is king.

NEWAD will be putting hundreds of young energetic people of the ground in Vancouver and Whistler. Anyone interested in sales or marketing who could benefit from jamming thousands of face-to-face experiences into a couple of weeks should seriously consider this option.

Those are the companies pushing hard for people like us right now, but the list of sponsors is extensive, and I’d suggest contacting any one of them and asking about opportunities. The worst they can say is no.

Top 10 Cities for Young Business People

I found the following list on under30ceo.com. It’s very interesting how different regions can offer such different opportuinities. I have often thought about the potential benefits of moving to the states as a young business person. If it’s crossed your mind too, give the following a read:

10. Jacksonville

A surprise finalist on the Under30CEO Cities for Young Business People, Jacksonville with no state income tax catapulted itself into the top 10. A relatively cheap cost of living compared to others on the list, your money goes far in Jacksonville. This isn’t the Florida that you grandparents live in–average age of JAX is 35. Warm weather, beaches, what’s not to like?

9. Phoenix

You may have overlooked the fact that Phoenix is the 5th most populated city in the country or that Phoenix’s Arizona State University enrolls 90,000+ students. Phoenix has a beautiful backdrop and represents all four major sports with professional teams. Go shopping for your dream home at discounted prices as have dropped more than anywhere in the country.

8. Denver

An extremely active outdoor scene, whitewater kayaking within city limits, epic skiing a short drive, Denver is not only great for outdoor sports, but also a great spectator sport city. Coors Field spills out into the bar scene in the middle of bustling LoDo. “The Wall Street of the West” operations include Charles Schwab, Janus Capital, Oppenheimer Funds, and Western Union.

7. San Francisco

SF has an enormous entrepreneur scene, laid back California culture, and tons to see and do. Entrepreneur meetups, Stanford and Berkeley nearby the Bay Area has plenty of hungry business people. Don’t expect sunny California weather throughout the city–micro climates can be a 20*F difference on opposite sides of the city.

6. Portland, OR

Often overlooked in the Pacific Northwest, Portland boasts fantastic preservation of open spaces. Dry summers and temperate winters “The City of Roses” is a great place to start a business or meet your match. Come to Portland for the outdoors or the art/music scene.

5. Seattle

If you like Rock and Roll forget Cleveland, Seattle is the birthplace of Jimi and grunge. If you like studying the rapid expansion of coffee shops–Starbucks and Seattle’s Best have set the pace. Seattle is extremely wet; home of the Puget Sound, Seahawks and Mariners. If it wasn’t for the rain and earthquakes, Seattle would rank even higher.

4. Austin

Rising on the scene, Austin is not your typical Texas city. With something for everyone, Austin’s nightlife will accommodate University of Texas students, young professionals and the upscale crowd. Austin’s resistance to commercialization gives it the adopted slogan “Keep Austin Weird”.

3. New York

Want to conquer the world? Move to New York. It’s price tag kept it out of the #1 slot, but New York has so much to offer. By sheer size, things to do, people to meet and opportunities to seize New York is BIG. You can’t walk down the street in NY without hearing another language, meeting someone from out of town or seeing something bizarre. Take it piece by piece and think of your neighborhood as a city of its own.

2. Chicago

Cold as hell in the winter, but fun as hell in the summer. Where else in the world can you lay on the beach and look up at skyscrapers? Michigan Ave has impressive parks, shopping, restaurants and views of Lake Michigan. Go out Saturday mornings for beach volleyball, a run or bike on the boardwalk or just stay in bed hungover from your night out in Wrigleyville.

1. Boston

New England charm, 20+ higher learning institutions, fantastic history and plenty of neighborhood bars, Boston tops our list of Top 10 Cities for Young Business People. Less expensive than their rival New York, walk anywhere in the city without worry, there will be students and young professionals all over. When it’s sunny in Boston everyone is outside, pretending they were on Cape Cod. Hate them or love them, the Sox, Pats and Celtics make Boston a huge sports town.

Why Pay More? Negotiating Deals on Real-Life Purchases

December 30, 2009 4 comments

Whenever the subject of Cell Phone bills comes up, I am blown away at the exorbitant amounts that people pay to be able to talk and text to each other. Over the years I have developed some strategies that have helped me to drive down my cost, and I’ve managed to keep it low for so long that the posted rates seem to lose meaning. Friends often ask me how I managed to get the features that I have at the rates that I pay and family members have me call their service providers every time a contract comes up. Simply put, anyone can do it by using the basic sales techniques learned in the first year of business school. In order to illustrate this point, I’m going to walk through a recent experience that I had with Rogers and point out the little things that we can all do to knock significant chunks off of our phone bills, car prices or any mid-sized purchase.

I recently picked up one of the new iPhones for my personal use and, before committing to a purchase, spent a significant amount of effort looking for the best deal. One thing that I’ve learned in the past is that the best prices aren’t advertised, they are earned through research and careful negotiation. With that in mind, I set out to pick up information on Bell, Telus, Fido and Rogers. My personal Blackberry had been with Rogers, and I’ve always been happy with their customer service, so my goal going in was to get the best deal possible with Rogers before committing anywhere else.

The data plans were pretty similar everywhere I looked: some had bundles with talk time, some included voicemail, but they all ended up coming out to about $65/month with the features that I was looking for (200+ minutes, evenings+weekends, 500MB+ of data, unllimited texting).

Similarly, the devices were all priced in the same range with the 16GB 3GS coming in at around $800 and the 32GB at $900 without a plan. I had renewed my plan for three years only months before, so I was fairly certain that I couldn’t get a heavy discount based on a plan renew and I’d have to look at other options to bring the price down.

With the research done, I set my goals: I wanted to pay no more than $55/month for my basic needs, and max $65 if they were willing to throw in some free perks. Similarly, I was looking to get the phose itself in the neighborhood of $200-$300 and wasn’t willing to put up more than $300 regardless of the added bonuses.

I got through to a Rogers sales person quite quickly, which is a major reason that I wasnt to stick with them, and started with my positioning statement. I told her that I had recently received a work Blackberry from Telus and no longer needed my personal Blackberry but was interested in looking at the iPhone as an option. The positioning statement is key to the entire negotiating procvess because it sets a foundation that all of your further points will be built from.

The most common statement that I hear used is “I’m sick of your service and I want out”. We think that the Rogers employees will immediately grovel at our feet and give us anything we want to keep our business. Unfortunately that doesn’t work. The employees know that statement means one of two things: You’re telling the truth and there’s nothing they can do to change your mind, or you’re bluffing and by playing along they know you’ll eventually back down. A good positioning statement should be ambiguous enough that you give yourself flexibility later while clearly presenting your end-goal. In my case – I want information on an iPhone. Make not of the word  information. We’re not looking to buy, we just want information which the salesperson will see as an opportunity to turn a shopper into a buyer. What we know and they don’t is that we are already buyers, assuming that our magic number is reached.

Next, I presented the salesperson with a dilemma. I told her how much I love dealing with Rogers and the long history that we have together, but the deals that the other carriers are offering are just too good to justify staying. The dilemma is absolutely key. Rather than making abstract demands of the salesperson and creating a Me vs. Her debate, I recruited her onto my team as we worked together to find the solution to my puzzle. Now she is pumped to search out the best possible deals for me, rather than pushing back and giving ground only where she has to.

The salesperson walked me through the pricing options and told me very little more than I could have gained by reading the website. She has little power to negotiate, so when I explained that I would need to see something better because Telus’ prices made much more sense for me, she passed me on to a Customer Retention Representative. This is the same salesperson who handles potential cancellations.

I repeated my positioning statement and dilemma to the new salesperson, keeping in mind that she spends every day of her life dealing with irate, unreasonable callers. Given that, I sparked a little small talk in order to make her feel comfortable and further recruit her onto my team. It is important to communicate to the salesperson that your friendliness should not be mistaken for apathy and that you’re dead serious about overcoming your stated dilemma, which will ultimately end in a sale for her.

She tossed up a grapefruit in the beginning, mentioning that she could waive the service fee and give me a $100 credit on the purchase of my new phone. I shot it down hard, telling her that didn’t even come close to the fantastic deals that I could get elsewhere and we should keep trying. Most importantly – when a salesperson offers something write it down, it will definitiely be useful later. 30 Seconds into our conversation she had moved significantly closer from where she started and I hadn’t budged an inch.

Next, I got specific. The salesperson must be made aware of exactly which areas you want improved or else she will start swinging with bonuses like carry cases and headsets, none of which did I have any interest in. I told her plainly, if I switch to Telus, I’ll only have to put up $100, and even with this discount I’ll be out over $600, what can we do to fix that? For the next thirty seconds all I heards was typing on a keyboard – she was going to bat for me, trying everything she could think of to spin this deal. Finally she returned and said “Here’s what I can do: I can put you on a customer retention plan, which means that we’ve basically written you off and resigned you up as a new customer. You will then be eligible to receive the new plan discount which puts the 16GB at $199.”

Sweet. I just saved another $400. At this point I gave my teammate some positive reinforcement with a big “Thanks!” and “That’s awesome!” Remember, I don’t have to be a hardass and pretend that I’m not impressed; she’s on my team and we’re working together.

My salesperson had just started in on a close when I cut her off and said “Great, we’ve got the device settled, now let’s have a look at plans”. As humans we love victories and are extremely hesitant to throw away progress. In this case I presented the handset to her as a victory and urged her to press on forward, her only other option would be to toss it away and start from scratch.

Following the same pattern, I brought up features that I had liked from other companies and said specifically what I wanted to see in my plan. I included a couple of things that I’d like but weren’t really important to me so that they could be stripped out later. She tapped away on her keyboard and came back with a big fat figure that wasn’t even close to what I wanted.

I told her that wouldn’t work for me and that the competitiors were much lower, citing specific figures. “Is there any way that we can alter the plan to bring the price down?” I asked. More typing. She told me that she could strip out call forwarding, remove the cheap long distance and give me 3 months of unlimited data for a slightly better price. Again, I made sure to write these offers down.

I had done some research, so I knew that the 500MB data plan was $35 and my previous talk plan had been $25, but the combined package she was offering me was $70. I asked about seperating the two, leaving me on my old plan and just adding data in. That way, she said, we could get around all of the fringe fees and just plug the extras in manually, leaving me with just the base costs. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but I sure was glad to have an expert playing on my team who did. What’s the bottom line? I asked. The base cost for the data I wanted was $35/month, and my phone plan would stay the same, so my total plan would come to $60.

Almost there. I was happy with where we had gotten to – $199 for the phone and $60/month for my plan, but why not try for more? I can hear how excited she is getting, not just about making a sale, but also about helping someone out. Two last techniques: the call-back and the quivering quill.

The call-back involves bringing up an offer that was made much earlier in the conversation and has likely been forgotten by the sales person. I presented two by reminding her that she told me she could do this for me, and I’m very thankful – that would be the $100 hardware credit and waiving the service fee. Silence.

“Oh right… I did, didn’t I? I guess I have to get my supervisor to do an override.” Noone wants to be made out to be a liar, especially to someone who they have been working so hard with for so long now.

Now I have a $99 phone and no service fees for the life of my plan.

This last trick – the quivering quill – should be used always, everywhere, everytime you’re making even a medium sized purchase. The name comes from the image of a hand poised over a contract, itching to sign when we say “alright, that sounds great, is there anything else that you can do?”

People hate open-ended questions, they hate silence and even mroe than those, they hate saying no. Any little morsel of benefit that the salesperson has left in the bag will be dragged out at this point. In my case, she told me that Rogers has a policy of quick and helpful service, but our conversation had lasted almost an hour, so she could give me a recurring $5 credit.

Finally I agreed and we wrapped the conversation up. I walked away with a shiny new iPhone 3GS, a 4 month extension on my contract and the following rates:

Rogers came through again for me. I suggest that you pull some techniques that you like out from this story and go try them out on your next purchase: a car, a bike, cell phone or even a vaction.

Interview Effectively and Destroy your Competition – Part 2

November 18, 2009 2 comments

In the last post I rambled on about the 5 most important basics that every one of us must be solid on in order to interview effectively. Now I’m really going to get into the interesting stuff: how to differentiate ourselves from the crowd and convince the hiring manager that she absolutely must hire us.

An interview truly is no different from any other sales call. Product knowledge  and market research are essential to success, and from there features, benefits and a close can be built. Rather than simply answering questions, we set ourselves up for success by identifying a need in the buyer and presenting the product in such a way that the need is not only met, but redefinied as an opportunity to be capitalized on.

The first place to start market research is in the job posting and/or job description. Most often employers will spell out exactly what they are looking for, so use it as a cheat sheet. Examine the posting in detail, looking for repeated phrases such as customer service, technichal knoledge, leadership abilities, or attention to detail. Those will give you a clearer picture of what the job will end up looking like. Use that information to decide if the job fits what you’re offering. Titles can be misleading, and finding a job that’s a good fit requires some digging.

If you’re still interested and believe that you can be truly excellent at the described role, start thinking about specific examples of times when you have done exactly what they’re asking for. Examples can come from work experience, school projects, teams, clubs or even family life. These stories will come in very handy in the interview. 

Next, Linkedin! If you’re not on it, stop reading and go create a profile. A good Linkedin network can be leveraged in several different ways and is so much more than just a way to keep track of your contacts. At the top right corner of your homepage there is a search bar. Click the dropdown, select Companies, and search your prospective employer. The result will be a company profile and a list of the people in your network who have connections to that business. Obviously a big win is finding a person in your first level who works or has worked for the company, but almost as helpful are the 2nd level’ers. These are contacts of yours who have contacts who currently work at the company you’re trying to get a job at. Call those people and have them get you in touch with their network. Get on the phone with that person and pick his brain about the business, where it’s headed, what the position is really like and what the company values. This conversation can be a huge leg-up when it comes to matching your features with the benefits that the interviewers are looking for.

The next logical step is researching the company’s website, the sites of its suppliers, competition and pertners. The candidate who can walk in and talk about the company’s current situation and opportunities based on research looks like an instant rockstar. Use your creativity in this section too, some other areas to research could be: recent LRB decisions, StatsCan demographics for the target market, recent legislation and Google Trends.

Now you’re ready for the interview. You’ve got your suit, screened your references, activated your network and are carrying a professional portfolio cantaining your resume and work samples – on to first impressions.

Smile! People like people who are positive, and people hire people they like. It’s as simple as that.

Research will likely have uncovered who the ultimate decision maker is, but if you’re still unsure, pay attention to the introductions. The hiring manager will rarely be the first to shake your hand, but will most often be the second person you meet. In my experience, the person who screened the interview, booked the room and made the contacts will come out to shake your hand and make the introductions. That is usually the HR assistant, Admin assistant, or HR manager, depending on the size of the company. Naturally, she will want to introduce you to the person in charge first. Make sure that handshake, eye contact and mention of your own name is memorable. To reiterate, even if your name has already been said, repeat your name to the first person so that there is no confusion. There’s nothing more distracting to an interviewer than searching through resumees for the candidate’s name while he’s talking, there’s just no way that the manager can be giving you her full attention.

Typically, the interviewers will engage you in a bit of small talk before they lay into you with questions. Use this as an opportunity to display your dazzling knowledge of the company and its industry. Share an observation or compliment them on a recent success. This can happen on the way to the interview room, or immediately after sitting down.

The first question will very often be something to the effect of “Describe yourself“. The stock response is to give a chronological recount of work experience and education, information that should be available on the resume. Instead, use that question as an opportunity to align yourself with their needs using basic sales techniques – “I’d love to tell you about myself. First, may I ask you a couple of questions about the position so that we can find out if I’m the best fit for the role together?” Assuming that they agree, throw out questions about the ideal candidate, what they’re hoping that the successful candidate will do for the company, where they see the businees going in the next year & 5 years, etc.

Listen intently to everything that they say, they’re giving you keys to the castle. Make notes, even if you’ll never use them, it shows that you’re putting a lot of importance into what you’re being told.

If you taken a class with Lloyd Michaels, you know where I’m heading next. Summarize the main points that were made: “So, let’s see if I understand you correctly, you’re looking for someone with A, B and C who will do D for the company in order to achieve E?”  With their wants and needs agreed on, start revealing some of your features that you came up with in your preparation. Specific examples of times when you have been successful, or learning experiences that you’ve had are best. After each feature is revealed, turn it into a benefit by explicity describing how you will use that to benefit the company. In this section, continue to dialogue with the interviewers, engaging them with questions about specific ways you can add value. After three or four features and benefits, summarize your points with a statement like ” I feel that the experiences that I’ve described – 1, 2 and 3 can be a great asset to the business in order to achieve (the business goal that they described in the opening)”.

From there, the interviewers will continue on to their question period. Keep features and benefits in mind as you’re coming up with answers. Find ways to tie your answers into success stories from your past, and then to tangible benefits that the manager will see because of their brilliant decision to hire you.

Finally, there will be a point at the end of the interview where the floor is open to you. Always have a few questions left to ask, the worst answer to “Do you have any questions for us?” is “No”. With questions out of the way, make a point of asking about the next step, and feel free to ask if you will be involved in that step. It will likely be a second interview. Don’t be pushy, and the worst thing that will happen is you will make it very apparent to them that you want to be considered. Sometimes they’ll invite you back on the spot, meaning that you have already destroyed the majority of your competition.

For more advice on interviews from people much more experienced than me, check out www.managertools.com It’s two experienced executives who give managers advice on everything from writing a resume to preparing annual goals. They’re awesome, a lot of my material is borrowed from there. For interview-specific podcasts, go to http://www.manager-tools.com/taxonomy/term/23

Good luck!

Categories: Interviewing Tags: , ,

Interview Effectively and Destroy your Competition – Part 1

November 14, 2009 2 comments

Christmas season is fast approaching, and for many of us that means seasonal jobs, graduation, promotions or relocation. In order to capitalize on any of those opportunities, we must first traverse the rite of passage that is the interview.

Most of us have been through CAPP class, and/or been assaulted by the tired old tips that are dispensed like murky-tasting water from a park fountain. Even so, it’s appalling how many people don’t observe even the most basic of interview rituals.

I’ve spent the past few years in a state of near-perpetual hiring. The business that I’m involved in was in the midst of a massive expansion when I took over as manager of my department, then the inevitable turnover that results from bulk hiring waves ensued, and finally we’re now emerging from a period of stagnation and lay-offs which means even more hiring. The benefit for me is that in a relatively short period of time, I’ve conducted somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 interviews through internal applications, external postings and job fairs. That experience has helped me to become the interviewing coach to many of the management prospects in our company; people who have all of the skills and tools necessary to make the leap and need to learn how to best present themselves to help the hiring managers agree.

In my experience, there are two definable levels of preparation that apply to two levels of candidate, and it is impossible to succeed on the second without a deep understanding of the first. In this post, I’ll outline that first level of effectiveness. With these and simple, honest answers to questions, any candidate’s likelihood of landing the posted position will be considerably higher than at least 80% of the people I’ve sat down with.

The majority of the applicants I see arrive without taking care of the following basic requirements for success. Similarly, the majority of you will gloss over the list because you would never make such rookie mistakes. Simple math tells me that both of those things can’t be true, so read on:

  1. Arrive on time. You had car trouble? Your cat is sick? All the interviewer knows is that you had one chance to make a first impression, and you blew it. Thanks for coming in, we’ll be in touch. If you have a crap car, leave an hour early. If you can’t make the interview a high enough priority in your life to find a way to make it happen, don’t waste the interviewers’ time by showing up.
  2. Dress simply, basically, and very well. Again, this is a question of priority. Find a way to get a nice, basic business suit on your back, get it pressed as well as your shirt and tie. That’s right, a tie. You may tell me that most people don’t wear ties to interviews anymore. That may be true, and most people don’t get hired. The crowd is average, in order to excel you must be greater than average. Shoes should go without saying, but I will anyways: anything that’s black , is clean and shined should do. If you’d wear them to a wedding, they’ll probably work. Conversely, don’t overdo it. You’re not going to win the job with your clothes, but you could lose it, so don’t try to blow the interviewers away with your pinstripes, pocket squares, cufflinks or three pieces.
  3. Look prepared, focused and excited in the waiting room. Everyone is (or should be) nervous going in, but when people distract themselves with iPhone games or recline on the waiting room bench, they appear unfocused and less than committed. Huge takeaway here: The interview starts the second you set foot on the interviewer’s property and doesn’t finish until you’re alone and headed home.
  4. Eye contact, firm neutral handshake, say all of the interviewers names back to them as you’re introduced, but you knew that already.
  5. Bring your resume, a list of references (who you called in advance), at least one letter of reference and an example of your work (if applicable) in a professional looking binder.

That’s it for the first level, simple right? Every manager Ive ever spoken with who hires front-line workers (servers, receptionists, salespeople, etc.) is simply looking for someone who is personable, professional and reliable. All of those things are communicated best non-verbally by paying attention to the above five points.

Check back for the second level strategies; they will include how to find out what the interviewer really wants, when to walk away from an interview, turn your features into their benefits, researching success and leveraging your network effectively.

Categories: Interviewing Tags: , , ,