Michael Sterling

When You’re the Underdog for a Job – Do These Five Things

Job hunting can be daunting enough, but when you’re not the strongest candidate – and you know it – it can be down right terrifying.


There can be many reasons for being the Underdog. You may be early in your career with limited experience, or on the other end of the career spectrum and needing, or wanting, a new position. Perhaps you’ve relocated for personal reasons and find yourself in an area where competition is much fiercer. Or, you’re switching gears completely mid-career.


Whatever the circumstance, the fear factor can have a real choke-hold on your confidence level. The stress often triggers a “Fight-or-Flightresponse. Far too often, I see candidates choose flight rather than fight. Don’t go there. Instead, accept the challenge of convincing the firm’s hiring Partner to give you the job.


Five Strategies to Sell Yourself


  1. Paint a Picture of Potential. Emphasize the skills you offer and how they will translate to make you successful at the firm. Draw correlations from what you have done to what the firm needs you to do. If you see yourself in the role and can create that image for the Partner(s), you will enable them to picture you as a successful member of the team.


  1. Demonstrate What You Can Contribute. It’s not enough to show what you have done – you need to talk about what you can and will do for the firm. This is where researching the firm is a critical. If you learn the firm is growing and has a strong focus on not for profit clients, speak knowledgeably about that area and highlight your interest in pursuing it as a specialty. Passion for doing the work can be a strong point of difference between candidates.


  1. Be Positive. Use only positive language. Avoid saying things such as “I’ve never done that” or “I don’t currently have those skills.” While honesty is always the best policy, don’t draw attention to the negatives. Use honesty to lead the conversation in a positive direction. You might say, “I’d love to work on that” or “I’m very interested in being a part of that project. Here’s why…”


  1. Be Passionate. True enthusiasm shines through. It’s infectious. The most skilled and experienced candidate won’t impress someone if their heart isn’t in their career. It’s important to enjoy what you do. Those who truly love their work show up daily ready to invest their time and their knowledge. They’re also willing to learn and grow. That’s what every firm wants in their employees.


  1. Be Personable. Spotlight the soft skills which make you great to work with. Smile, be upbeat and self-confident. Assess the the tone of the person(s) interviewing you and mirror that in your responses. Use cues from the conversation to find common interests. If a Partner says they are an avid sports fan – and you are too – play on that. Are there pictures of the Partner’s children? Ask their ages and their interests. Creating a personal connection leaves a lasting impression.


The bottom line is it’s important to put yourself out there. No risk, no reward. Right?


Make the most of resources. If you have a friend or colleague who knows a Partner or Senior Manager at the firm, ask them for a personal recommendation. Utilize a recruiter. A strong recruiter is an invaluable partner and guide throughout the hiring process.


The right combination of skills, attitude and perseverance can be the perfect storm in landing a job where the odds are stacked against you.


As as career coach and recruiter, I have worked exclusively with public accountants for nearly 20 years. Connect with me on LinkedIn.


Interested in more insights on career development? Check out the Career Wellness library on the SterlingFreeman website.


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