​ Salesmen or Storytellers

I received the following comment on my post sell or show:

“I think your distinction between "selling" and "showing" is pretty arbitrary. Selling yourself is not necessarily coming off as desperate and dependent on working at whatever your firm you're interviewing for. If you're doing a good job of selling yourself, it seems like you're just showing yourself.”

Touché.  The following part is spot on: “If you're doing a good job of selling yourself, it seems like you're just showing yourself."

CS, you are right.  How you act is not important, because selling yourself can be showing yourself and visa versa. Let me refine my point. Regardless of how people act, I see them approaching interviews with distinct states of mind. I see people being either “storytellers” or “salesmen.” This is a spectrum, but let’s look at the extremes.

Most people seem to be salesmen; they say what they think the interviewer wants to hear. They play up strengths and hide weaknesses. They study the firm they want to work for. They study and rehearse for the question "why do you want to work here?" If a salesman studies his ass off, he will appear to be a storyteller.  

Storytellers don’t need to study at all. They simply need to -sorry this is corny- be themselves. If you really love finance, you don’t need to study because you read Bloomberg everyday anyway. In my case I don’t need to study the companies I want to work for, because I use their products, read their founders blogs and follow their every move already. Storytellers are happy to share weaknesses and speak honestly.

Why am I advocating approaching interviews as a storyteller? Two reasons.

Frist, I think storytellers will be happier and more successful in the long run. If I hide my weaknesses (bad spelling) and oversell my abilities (regression analytics expert), then when I get the job I’ll be screwed. I wont be able to deliver what I promised and my weaknesses will hinder me. Regardless of how fast I learn, I certainly wont preform better than a storyteller working alongside me.

Second, I also think being a salesman is just sad. It’s sad that people decide they want to work for a given firm, before they understand what the job entails or what the firm does. Most Midd juniors want to work in “leveraged finance” or “debt capital markets.” Most couldn’t have told you what that meant before using Wikipedia. It’s sad to me that people say they want to work someplace, but have to rehearse the reason why.

It’s true that if you're doing a good job of selling yourself, it seems like you're just showing yourself. But what’s the point?

If you do a good job of showing yourself (closer to the storyteller end of the spectrum), you are certainly going to be more polarizing. But I think you’ll ultimately get positions that fit you well.