The Surprising Secret to Selling Yourself

Posted September 25, 2012 by Marcy Twete in Career Moves

I recently combed through the statistics in this article in Harvard Business Review — “The Surprising Secret to Selling Yourself.” In the studies it references, managers were asked to compare candidates for job searches, basketball teams, and more. And to paraphrase what writer Heidi Grant Halvorson eloquently describes, the studies found the following things:

  • Having “potential” means more to your job search process than having “experience.”
  • Even though recruiters said they wanted more experienced candidates, they consistently chose the opposite — people with less experience who scored high on leadership potential assessments.
  • Everyone loves to be the one who finds “the next big thing” and recruiters do, too.

What, then, is the “surprising secret of selling yourself”? It’s this:

It would be wise to start focusing your pitch on your future, as an individual or as a company, rather than on your past — even if that past is very impressive indeed. It’s what you could be that makes people sit up and take notice — learn to use the power of potential to your advantage.

How, then, can you effectively sell yourself by focusing on the future in an interview? Try these tips:

  1. What will you do in the first 30 days? I find this is best posed in the form of a question first. Ask the person interviewing you, “What do you see as the most important issues to tackle in the first 30 days in this position?” When they answer, you have been given prime time to say, “I believe I understand the needs of this position and to tackle those projects in the first 30 days, my strategy would be…”
  2. Force them to think longer term. Don’t be afraid to ask longer-term questions of your interviewer. Perhaps say, “What impact do you see this position having on the organization over the course of three to five years?” Again, you’re primed to explain your desire for that kind of impact and longevity.

Focus on your potential rather than past success, and even though it might sound strange, you’ll be in better shape to get the job — even better than someone with more experience.

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."



    I think one of the most important pre-requisites to selling yourself is believing in yourself first. As the founder of a start-up, I had to pitch to hundreds of investors. Investors (and hiring managers) can smell lack of confidence and it turns them off. You can’t fake. You’ve got to do whatever it takes to believe in yourself and in your ideas so that you come off as strong and genuine. In constructing your pitch, make sure to say things you really believe about yourself. If you’re having trouble, ask your friends what they love most about you and just say that.



    Great comments! Especially important for entry-level hires and people without much experience. Without a long track record, candidates have to work hard to fill in mental gaps and show potential. I especially like the question: “what will you do in the first 30 days?”

    In interviews I’ve also asked the question “What sets apart a person who’s great in this job from someone who’s just good?” Usually there is an opportunity to see what the company is looking for, and to talk about how you can provide it.

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