The One Thing That Gets You the Job Offer (Hint: it’s not your qualifications)

Author: Jim Sullivan

It's confidence.

Confidence, expressed as authentic belief that you are the right candidate talking to the right people in the right room about the right things—that’s the differentiating advantage that will win you the offer.

Now, don't misunderstand. Your strengths, experience and fit are absolutely pivotal criteria in the competition for coveted jobs, but they are merely table stakes. Something more wins – or loses – the game.

The first big question is, "What begets that type of confidence?"

Confidence comes from clarity, as in "crystal" clarity, which most people fall short of. Yet that's the scarce resource that wins the offer. Crystal clarity is a killer competitive advantage.

The second big question is, Clarity about what?”

It boils down to risk. Or, more properly, risk reduction.

Every job offer is a risky management decision to purchase a value-producing asset.

Will the asset pay back quickly by creating value in excess of its total costs?

Will it have the staying power to deliver an attractive value stream over the long haul?

Hiring mistakes are messy, time-consuming, energy draining and expensive to fix. Employers are looking for candidates who proffer future value that positions them as the riskless choice.

Many otherwise-qualified job candidates are just a little bit shaky in their confidence. They have an "OK" awareness of their strengths. They're "vaguely" aware of what's most important to them, and they've done a "decent" amount of research on this particular opportunity.

All that adds up to the "pretty good problem,” a phrase coined by The New York Times columnist Rob Walker in his book, Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are. Every other candidate is "pretty good," too. But given the sizable risks in play, “pretty good” isn’t very good at all.

Prepared candidates can convince the recruiter that their strengths, skills and expertise are a near-perfect match with the needs of the open position in the short term, and that their personality and values align with the culture and direction of the enterprise over the long term. They draw on stories and examples from their professional life that illustrate these capabilities in action.

Gaining this kind of clarity may seem like a years-long effort. However, the Stayer Center for Executive Education at the Mendoza College of Business recently piloted a new career strategy process already has assisted a group of Notre Dame MBA students and graduates in advancing their careers. Notably, the program involves a timeframe of only two or three working days during the course of six weeks.

The Mendoza career strategy process is designed to accelerate awareness of each person’s core strengths and deepest interests, and how that unique profile of creative capacity can best meet the needs of a targeted set of opportunities deliberately selected to benefit from that profile. The process involves using innovative tools and coaching to help each student clarify his or her unique answers to the four essential leadership questions originally posed by business consultant and visionary Peter F. Drucker in his classic management book, Managing Oneself:

  • How do I best perform? Appreciating the conditions under which temperament, personality type and talents flourish
  • What are my strengths? Defining core competencies and signature strengths, the deepest abilities that are the root of all creative capacity
  • What are my values? Knowing the particular types of challenges and business problems that trigger your deepest interest and inspiration, and committing to pursue them with passion.
  • Where will my contribution make the greatest impact? Understanding how performance, competencies and interests form a profile that is a spot-on match with a company's strategies and plans to distinguish itself and change the world.

Plans are underway to provide all MBA students and, eventually, Mendoza alumni, with access to the same process.

Responses from students who have participated in the process indicate that the strategy not only helped them careerwise, but also in the critical exercise of building confidence.

“Your guidance helped take my good résumé and turn it into something great,” said a recent Executive MBA graduate, who ultimately landed a new job at nearly twice his old salary. “Specifically, creating my value proposition by thinking about what I'm doing when I'm at my best … to tell the story of what an employer can expect when they hire me really sharpened that document and boosted my confidence throughout the interview process.”