Avoid sales pitch in job search, author says

‘The thing that really stands out is being memorable’

Jeff Heenan, P&CC head manager, says he thinks the sales-pitch approach described in Cathy Keates’s book isn’t effective.
Jeff Heenan, P&CC head manager, says he thinks the sales-pitch approach described in Cathy Keates’s book isn’t effective.
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Cathy Keates isn’t for sale—and that’s what her book Not for Sale! Why we need a new job search mindset is promoting.

Keates, a part-time career counsellor at Queen’s and owner of Kingston consulting business Career Considerations, said she thinks there’s something wrong with today’s job search strategy.

“Encouraging people to sell themselves to prospective employers dehumanizes and commodifies people,” Keates said.

Many people treat their job search like a sales campaign and look at their resume as an advertisement, she said.

“The sales approach perhaps has been so widely used because many people who have written job search advice books had previously worked in sales,” she said. “But as a one-size-fits-all way of thinking about job search, it definitely has not fit everyone.”

Keates said her book encourages people to think differently about the job search.

“You don’t need to sell yourself,” she said. “Human connections are what really work.”

Many employers say they would rather have authentic conversations and get to know the candidate than hear a sales pitch, Keates said.

P&CC Head Manager Jeff Heenan, ArtSci ’10, said he thinks it’s important in an interview for applicants to display a keen interest in the position they’re applying to.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean they have to love photocopiers in our case,” he said. “They have to be passionate about what they’re doing no matter what it is they’re doing, whether it is kind of an entry-level service job or a manager role or whatever else.”

Heenan said he wasn’t involved in last year’s hiring process for P&CC, but knows from his experience with the AMS that what they look for in potential employees is someone who stands out from the crowd.

The AMS hires 500 paid employees and 1,000 volunteers per year.

“The thing that really stands out is being memorable and in the AMS that’s because there’s so many applicants for every position,” he said. “I think [the P&CC] interviewed 200 people to fill about 40 spots, and when you’re interviewing that many people it’s easy to be kind of forgotten in the mounds of people that are just coming in.”

Heenan said he agrees that making a personal connection can be crucial to securing a position.

“It does come to down to somebody that’s made kind of a personal connection with somebody on the management team or hiring panel.”

Heenan said he also thinks the sales-pitch approach can be stressful.

“It’s a balance between making sure you’re suitable for the role without appearing egotistical to the employer.”

In order to avoid this approach, Keates said she recommends students ask employers questions they’re curious about and talk about mutual interests.

“It’s amazing what can happen when you click with someone by talking about mutual interests,” she said. “I’ve spoken to many employers and interviewers who find they want to really get to know job candidates.”

Keates’ book says instead of seeing the job market as a place of fierce competition, it should be viewed as one of abundance, with space for everyone.

“Try to get a sense of what you’re uniquely suited to do,” she said.

Keates said although her book doesn’t focus on the competitive aspect of job searching, having postsecondary education helps in the search.

“The core skills of a university education—analytical, communication, teamwork et cetera—are always of value to employers,” she said.

—With files from Holly Tousignant

Not for Sale! Why we need a new job search mindset is the first in the four-part Not for Sale! series. The first book is available for purchase at the Campus Bookstore.

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