You check your e-mail and find a message from a job interviewer you met two days ago. Before you even open it, the title “Thank You” tells you what it means: Someone else got the position you wanted. “What could I have done better?” you ask yourself. “I was sure I had everything they were looking for.”

What you say in an interview (and how you say it) can make the difference between “You’re hired!” and “We’ve decided to go in another direction.” To change the outcome of your career search, all you need is one little word.

Target Your Experience With a Single Word

“So”: Only two letters, but it packs the power to transform an important part of how you present yourself in an interview. To succeed at getting hired, you need to convince the employer that your skills, talents, and experience are the perfect match for the position, and that of all the interviewees, you’re the one who will make the best contribution to meeting the company’s goals. How does “so” make you stand out? It helps you connect the dots between the credentials you offer and their benefits to your potential employer. Here’s how that works.

A Lesson in Two Sets of Golf Clubs

golf-clubsImagine you’re browsing a used car lot, trying to visualize yourself behind the wheel of what looks like a great SUV. As you’re checking out the car, you look two parking slots to your left. A salesperson is pitching an elderly couple on the advantages of a like-new full-sized luxury vehicle, talking about its low mileage and great interior. The salesperson pops open the trunk, guides the couple to the back of the car, and says, “This trunk is spacious, so both of your golf bags will fit with room to spare.”

See that word “so”? It’s the bridge between the feature (a spacious trunk) and the customer benefit (an easy trip to the golf course). It shows the two seniors how the car meets their needs and suits their lifestyle. Even more than that, it shows that the salesperson understands what the customers really want.

How to Sell Benefits in a Job interview

How does “so” work in an interview setting? Suppose you shine at creating pivot tables in Microsoft Excel. That spreadsheet skill is your feature. To turn this feature into a benefit, tell the interviewer, “I’m skilled at creating pivot tables in Excel so sales managers can formulate accurate forecasts for their quarterly targets.”

If you’re a programmer, transform your feature (a passion for coding) into an employer benefit (meeting production targets). Instead of saying, “I’m passionate about coding” and stopping with a statement of what you do, link your feature to your prospective employer’s needs and say, “I’m passionate about coding, so I commit to putting in the hours to finish my work before its deadline.”

If you focus on taking care of customers, don’t stop with the simple statement that “I’m excellent at customer support.” Finish connecting that benefit to the employer’s need for repeat business, and say, “I’m excellent at customer support, so customers come back to buy more and convert into repeat business.”

Sell What You Offer, Not Just Your Skills

With this simple technique and that little word “so,” you prove that you understand your real value: helping your manager—and your company—achieve the goals that lead to success in the marketplace. When you sell your real value, you focus on how you can make a difference for the company, not just on what you know how to do. You see beyond the “I and me” of your capabilities and experience, all the way to the “us and we” that will make you an outstandingly productive member of the employer’s team.

To see even more details of how to accomplish this important shift in the way you present yourself, watch my video about this interview technique.

Want More Focused Tips to Aid Your Job Search?

Job seekers from 107 countries use my training courses to transform their career search into career satisfaction. My free job-hunting videos are packed with proven tactics to help you land the position you really want. Here’s a quick one to get you started.


Thanks for reading!
– Ian Jenkins

Present your skills and experience as benefits that make you attractive to your prospective employer.

As I hung up the phone, I felt the sweat beading on my forehead. Why did the COO want to have a “chat” with me? His office was at the end of executive row. It was tucked away in the corner almost out-of-sight. It looked humble until you entered it. I was anxious sitting across from him. My eyes darted from award to award on his bookshelf. I couldn’t believe what he had just told me: “Ian, I need you to interview and hire 17 salespeople yesterday! It’s essential for reaching our revenue target this year.”

“I need you to interview and hire 17 salespeople…”

I was only 27 years old at the time. I was working in tech company in hyper-growth mode. I was ‘all-in’ on the assignment. After some renegotiation of the hiring timeline, I knew that I had a  tremendous responsibility.  The company had a 5-year training revenue growth rate of 77,110%!

Having hired salespeople in the past, I knew I needed an interview approach that side-stepped the glossy sales brochure (aka. resume). What I discovered, resulted in hiring the best sales talent in our industry and fueled our amazing growth rate. Here’s how my approach worked. #HowIHire

Interview for strengths

Employees who use their skill strengths and talents at work, thrive as employees. But how do you easily discover their strengths? When I interview, I don’t use a candidate’s resume to drive my line of questions. Instead, I dig deep into their proudest accomplishments in both their professional and personal life.

“Solid interviewing is about getting detailed answers about accomplishments.”

Why? Inside of every proud accomplishment are the skill strengths a candidate likes to use. The accomplishment was simply the result of being at their best. If my job description requires the skill strengths evidenced in their accomplishments then there’s the potential for a well-fitted match.

Dig deep

Everyone enjoys talking about their proudest accomplishments (especially sales people). It isn’t difficult to get a dialogue going, but make sure to dig deep. Ask questions that probe.

  • What obstacles did you overcome?
  • When did this happen?
  • How did you work with others?
  • What didn’t you enjoy doing?
  • What lessons did you learn?

I use 10-15 minutes per accomplishment and cover 4-6 accomplishments during the interview. I’m looking for patterns. Patterns reveal the preferences. The preferences will tell me if they’ll naturally thrive in the role.

Just as people prefer to write with their left or right hand the same goes with their skills. Although we might be able to do several hundred skills, there are only a handful that surface as our strengths and help us to define our talents.

I have a colleague who is proud of her amazing tenacity in discovering minor financial discrepancies in audits. After these intense audits, she unwinds with expert-level Sudoku. Do you see a pattern?

 Take time

Interview | Ian Jenkins
Interview tip: Be prepared to share stories proving your skill strengths

When I changed my interview approach from be focused on the resume to personal strengths, I started learning more about candidates than other interviewers. The questions I asked were different. The answers more revealing. The candidates felt more relaxed. They gladly spoke about events that were milestones in shaping them. Frequently these life-shaping events didn’t appear on their resume. A much clearer candidate profile emerged.

I use 90 minutes or more with a candidate. I also prefer to do the first round of interviews over the phone to eliminate any bias based on appearance. Although time-consuming upfront, it’s much less time consuming then laying-off someone months later.

Mining For Gold

Interview | Ian Jenkins
Interview Tip: Provide proof points for each strength that relates to the job

As an interviewer, I was mining for gold without most of the candidates even knowing it. The candidates appreciated that I wasn’t using traditional interview questions. Their answers weren’t rehearsed. I had a genuine interest in discovering who they were at their best.

The candidates that stood out were those who could readily recall events that had defined them. The same way a river cuts through stone, their accomplishments left an mark on their personal identity. Some candidates had been successful closing monstrous-sized sales. Others helped their partners fight cancer while caring for their children.

To stand out in this type of interview requires personal reflection. Be prepared to discuss your personal and professional accomplishments and how they shaped your life. I remember one candidate, who after we identified her outstanding accomplishments, realized that her strengths were best suited in a different work environment.  We both left the interview feeling it was a win/win conclusion.


The profitable results of this using this hiring approach, fueled a reputation that got me invited to more interviews than I had time for. Be prepared to teach others how to interview for strengths, so you can continue to work on yours.

Thank you for reading.

– Ian Jenkins

Tristan had been job hunting for 7 months. He continually revised his resume and cover letter, but it never got him in the door for an interview. He expanded his job hunting approach from online job boards to offline job fairs and association meetings. Nothing. Not one interview.

After investing two years of his life in graduate school, he was starting to question if he had made the right choice. He’d left his wife and 5 year old daughter behind in the hopes of advancing his education and securing a job in Europe. He desperately wanted to be with his family again. First, he had to find a job. Time was running out. His student visa was expiring in 5 weeks.

The Question

Job Hunting | Ian Jenkins
Job Hunting Obstacle: Avoid asking contacts for jobs

As an foreigner looking for a job in Europe, he was at a disadvantage. Tristan’s local language skills were poor, his employer would be required to apply for a work visa on his behalf and he had no professional network. He wasn’t sure how to overcome what felt like impossible challenges.

When he asked his contacts if they knew of any job openings, the response was often cold. Asking for a job made others question his employability. With no other options he put his challenge in the hands of others by simply asking for their career advice.

When he asked for advice, the response from hiring managers was dramatically different. Managers welcomed him to coffee meetings where they answered his career related questions.

In the advice meetings, he often asked the same set of questions to help him discover his next opportunity.

  • How did you start in this industry / company / role?
  • What do like about this industry / company / role?
  • What don’t you like about this industry / company / role?
  • How does someone with my background follow your footsteps?
  • Who else should I connect with to get additional career advice?

The Mindset

Tristan’s breakthrough happened when he re-framed his job-hunt. He altered his question from asking for a job to asking for advice. This one question changed his life. It opened doors to hiring managers who had previously ignored him. During his advice meetings he received valuable insights on how to overcome his challenges as a foreigner in Europe.

Job Hunting | Ian Jenkins
Job Hunting Tactic: Ask for career advice, not for a job

It took Tristan only four advice meetings with hiring managers to land his dream job! He started with an administrator from the university and within 3 additional advice meetings, a hiring manager he met created a job for him on the spot.

Within weeks, his family reunited with him to create a new life together in Europe. His beautiful wife and daughter are excited about the possibilities ahead. All it took was a simple question, a request for career advice to change the life of a job-hunter and reunite his family.

The New Job Hunting Approach

Take achieve breakthroughs in your job-hunt using this approach, temporarily suspend your job hunt and refocus your time on gathering advice.  Why? The number one determent for job-hunting success is face-to-face time with hiring managers. It’s the tipping point job-hunting activity. It leads to more than 80% of your success as a job hunter.

1. Ask for advice

By asking for career advice you gain valuable exposure to hiring manager that asking for a job won’t get. It elicits a positive response because it’s ego gratifying and no-risk. While subtly presenting yourself during the advice meetings, you’re gaining access to the 80% of jobs available that aren’t advertised.

2. Prepare Your Questions

It’s common that job hunters and career changers have unanswered questions regarding their next step in their career. Use those unanswered questions to drive the agenda in a informal advice meeting with hiring managers. What you’ll learn can save you years of frustration in jobs that aren’t a match for you.

3. Don’t use your resume

Although there’s thousands of books, blogs and articles providing fresh approaches to crafting your resume, the advice meeting is NOT where you want to present your resume. The reason is you’ve ask for advice, not a job to secure a meeting. Nothing creates distrust faster than showing your resume and conveying an ulterior motive in an advice meeting. Leave the resume at home and instead bring a pen, notebook, and list of 5 questions to the advice meeting.

4. Ask for a referral 

During the advice meeting, your contacts will bring up new ideas for you to consider in your career move. Ask for referrals to contacts that can help you discover more about these ideas of interest. If you’ve built trust and managed the meeting professionally it’s common to walk out of a meeting with at least two referrals.

Lessons learned

  • Asking for career advice is a small change in a job hunting strategy that can yield big results.
  • Face-to-face time with hiring managers is the most important metric of success for job-hunters.
  • Gathering advice from industry veterans will provide valuable clarity in your job search and often lead to jobs that are unadvertised.
  • Don’t bring a resume to an advice meeting. The exposure with hiring managers in advice meetings will position you for opportunities without using a resume.

Thanks for reading.

– Ian Jenkins

Interview Tip

In job interviews, the weaknesses in our profile can quickly become show-stoppers. A skilled hiring manager will discover them quickly. Without a good approach to handling our weaknesses in an interview, they can prevent you from getting the job.

Here are four simple steps to overcoming your greatest profile weaknesses so that you can win the job!

Step 1: Identify your greatest weaknesses

No one knows your greatest profile weaknesses better than you. Review the deliverables for the job you’re targeting. What are the biggest gaps between your profile and the results required for the job? What would prevent you from getting hired?

Here are some typical examples:

  • Lack experience
  • Too long in a role without advancement
  • Undereducated
  • Job hopping

You might consider these issues to be your achilles heel. However, by identifying your weaknesses BEFORE a hiring manager does, you have the opportunity to steer the perception of your profile. Now let’s look at how to turn your weakness into a positive.

Step 2: Create a counter-argument

Part of positioning yourself effectively in an interview is addressing the counter-arguments BEFORE the other side does. What this means is bring up your weakness (aka. hiring objection) before the interviewer does.

Consider the consequences if you don’t. Any unaddressed concerns in an interview equates to risk for a hiring manager. This opens the door for other candidates who are more adept at positioning themselves as a risk-free option.

By addressing your weaknesses before they become an issue, you can steer the hiring manager’s perception favorably. It also demonstrates professionalism on your part.

Step 3: Build a benefit

In my hometown, the local gym used to brag about it’s greatest weakness – its high fees. They were 2-4 times higher than other local gyms. The way they turned their high fees into a benefit was by telling prospects that their fees prevented overcrowding. The high fees also deterred muscle-heads and riffraff that might make it uncomfortable other members.

How can you turn your weakness into a benefit? Identify what you gained from the experience and how it relates to the job’s deliverables.

  • “The three short-term jobs I’ve had helped me establish an extensive industry network…”
  • “My lengthy experience in this role will speed my time to value….”
  • “My 2 years work experience is what motivates me more than other candidates…”

List all the reasons your weaknesses makes you a better candidate for the role.

Step 4: No benefit, without a ‘so benefit’

Benefits aren’t benefits without using the word ‘so’ in the sentence. The simple use of the word ‘so’ is what makes a benefit personal and meaningful for a hiring manager. Here’s some examples:

  • “My three short-term jobs created an extensive industry network so I can fill my sales pipeline with opportunities within weeks.”
  • “My 10 years experience in this role will speed my time to value so I can spend time helping other new hires get up to speed faster.”
  • “My limited experience is what motivates me more than other candidates so I can put in extra hours and travel as needed.”

Tackling your weaknesses in an interview and turning them into ‘so benefits’ is the best tip I’ve ever gotten for interviews.

What’s the best interview advice you’ve ever gotten? Please share in the comments below.

Thanks for reading.

– Ian Jenkins