One of the biggest cliches in business is that everything starts with the sale.
And if you have any hopes of being in a position to sell your startup's products or services, you must be great at selling yourself.
I have a small idea--I call it the Problem/Solution/Results (PSR) Approach--that can make the difference between winning and losing that battle.
Here is an example. As a teacher at Babson College, I am fortunate that students seek me out for career advice. Using a simple technique I recommended, this student turned rejection at a world-class consulting firm into a job offer from one the world's biggest banks.
Earlier this year, one of my students had the chance to fly to New York City to interview with McKinsey & Co--the international consulting giant.
While he did well in the barrage of cases and so-called behavioral interviews that McKinsey threw at him, he did not land the job.
Fortunately McKinsey did not simply stop responding to his emails once they had decided not to hire him. Instead, they told the student that he should go to graduate school--they gave him a list of schools to which they thought he should apply.
And they told him that the reason he did not get the job was that he did not do well enough at explaining his accomplishments.
The student showed me his resume and I made a simple suggestion that he told me helped him to get a job with Citigroup in London last week.
The student's resume had the usual lists of dates, employers, job titles and bullet-pointed accomplishments.
But it lacked any obvious way to tell a potential employer what this student liked or was good at doing.
So I told him that he should change the resume. For each accomplishment listed, he should apply the PSR approach.
- Describe the problem he was trying to solve,
- Explain the solution that he developed, and
- Present the measurable business results that his solution produced.
The student responded to this suggestion as best he could. He found that he could quantify the business results of two or three of his accomplishments and he updated his resume accordingly.
One of these accomplishments had to do with analyzing inefficiency in a manufacturing operation and streamlining the process to boost its productivity over 10 percent.
When he started his Citigroup interview, he felt empowered. Rather than waiting for the inevitable open-ended interview comment: "tell me about yourself," the student picked what he thought was his most significant accomplishment and explained it to the interviewer.
I have no doubt that there were many other reasons why he got the Citigroup offer.
But when I spoke with the student on March 24, he told me that he thinks that if he had used this PSR approach, he would have gotten the offer from McKinsey.
There is no way to know whether that would have made a difference.
But anyone reading this should be thinking about how to use the PSR approach.
If you are looking for a job, you ought to make sure you have at least three accomplishments that you can frame in this way.
If you are hiring people, you should put a premium on the ones who can explain their accomplishments using the PSR approach. And you should hire the ones whose solutions have generated the best results for problems that your company needs to solve.
And if you are running a startup, you should make sure that everyone who sells your product can describe to a potential customer how it can generate competitor-beating results to a problem of capital importance to that customer.