In 2017, I got a job offer I never expected. A growing startup backed by some of my personal role models and rock stars in the Silicon Valley investing world wanted me to run business development and sales for them. Their company sold based on strong relationships and a good understanding of long-term needs and most of their sales were made based on referrals and networking.
I was a natural for the role. Apparently they knew that better than I did.
At the same time, I was pursuing another opportunity with another company.
I eventually went back to the first startup and sat down with the founder. He told me, “we really want you to work here.” He went on to make his hardest pitch to join their team, and told me that he had talked with people at the other company about what I was pursuing there. He was delighted at the idea of me joining his team. He wanted to fight for the chance to hire me.
I had two prominent executives fighting over the chance to hire me (I eventually didn’t take either opportunity — I was just interviewing).
But what happened here isn’t because I’m some kind of sales and relationship-building guru — and it’s not because I’m somehow special. It’s just the natural consequence of understanding human psychology and how people make decisions about working with people.
You can get people to fight for the chance to work with you — whether that’s as an employer, an employee, or a client. Doing so inverts the sales, career, and recruiting processes — and puts you in the driver’s seat for new opportunities.
And that gives you the chance to design your career however you want. I write a lot about the fact that great talent is really hard to find. That means companies will bend over backwards to attract and keep great talent. If you are that great talent and can make people fight for the chance to work with you, you’ll have no problem getting a raise, working remotely, or landing new clients.
Here’s how to do that.
It’s not enough to do good work and expect people to fight over the chance to work with you. You have to understand what they consider good work and how they benefit from that good work. Once you do this, you have a few different levers you can move to make yourself appear as an irresistible candidate.
Make them feel a positive version of FOMO — fear of missing out in the person.
You want them to think, “oh man, I have to work with this person now. I might not get a chance to work with somebody this good for a long time.”
You can do this by getting an idea of what their expectations are about your work and your peers, exceeding those expectations, and making it clear that you’re in demand elsewhere.
Excitedly fighting for the chance to work with somebody isn’t a purely rational decision. It’s a decision that is first and foremost emotional and then given rational (i.e., logical, reasoned) backing only after the fact. This doesn’t make it irrational, but it does make it a strong feeling that people can’t ignore.
Most emotional feelings like this come from a reaction to expectations that the other person has (if you’re interested in the research on this, email me). We feel a strong pang of excitement or fear and then scramble to find reasons to back it up as we act on that excitement or fear. It’s the feeling that starts with, “I can’t quite put my finger on it, but…” and then translates into action.
The textbook examples here are resentment and gratitude. When you feel resentful towards somebody, it starts as a feeling that you then find a rational basis and justification behind when you go act on it (or try to explain it away). When you feel grateful, it starts as a feeling that then you can explain after the fact. We’re less “rational” than people assume us to be. Sales, business development, and relationship masters know this.
So, the process of getting people to FIGHT for the chance to work with you isn’t one of “here’s an algorithm you set up and a template you use” but a bit more psychological. It involves getting to know what their expectations are and then using that in your favor to induce a feeling of “this person is great!” in them.
The fundamental action here is to learn people’s expectations, learn their incentives, and then act on that information.
The expectations you need to learn here are both their expectations about you, your peers, and your role.
Once you understand this landscape, you’ll get a better idea of what you need to do to get people to fight for the chance to work with you.
The key here is to listen.
Listen to what they say their pain points are. Listen to what they say they’ve tried to address those pain points. Listen to what they say about people they’ve tried to hire or tried to work with.
Listen to the words they use. Do they say they were “disappointed” or “let down” with a project by somebody else? Ask them why. Ask them what they expected to see and then didn’t see. Was somebody in the past “not a fit”? Why? (Nobody hires anybody expecting them to not be a fit!)
Were they “delighted” by anything or “blown away”? Why? What made them feel that way?
The language somebody chooses when describing their emotions and feelings give you an insight into their expectations and how your peers or people in your role performed relative to those expectations. Positive words mean that somebody exceeded expectations. Negative words mean that somebody violated or fell short of expectations.
Here are some words to look out for:
I call these expectation-charged words and whenever you hear them, use them as an opportunity to dig deeper into what somebody’s expectations look like.
Once you have an idea of somebody expectations for you, your role, and your peers, design your interactions around exceeding these expectations.
Chances are the person you’re trying to work with doesn’t know that much about you personally. So, he’ll make inferences about you based on your peer groups. Your peer groups include the subculture that you’re in (look at the example of my story below for this), your age peer group (the immediate example below is good for this), and any other labels that are quickly applied to you, including but not limited to gender, race, socioeconomic stature, and nationality.
This can work in your favor pretty easily. If the person you want to have work with you has low expectations of your peers and people in your role (i.e., consultants, marketers, salespeople), all you have to do is exceed those expectations to get them psyched about the idea of working with you.
Do this by making clear to them, “I’m not like those other people.”
If they think that all consultants come to solve a problem just to become part of the problem (an old adage about consultants), give them a clear expectation that you’ll solve the problem and then buzz off. Make your metrics for success clear and assure them that you don’t intend to create dependency.
Or if they think that most young business owners are great at hustling and working hard but not great at client relations and making clients feel cared for, spend extra time and energy cultivating your relationship with them. Make them feel seen and mirror back to them that their concerns are your own while you are working with them.
Exceeding expectations will get somebody psyched about working with you. Generating urgency will make them shove to the front of the line for the chance to work with you.
Generating urgency is NOT about the “burning platforms” or “exploding offers” you’ll hear about in sales textbooks. It’s about speaking to the other person’s incentives.
You want them to see a clear connection between you doing great work and them getting ahead at whatever they do.
They need the rational backing to the excitement they feel about working with you, and urgency that speaks to their incentives is the perfect backing.
Incentives are pretty easy to figure out based on the person’s role. If they’re in a hiring role, they want to hire good candidates who do great work and make them look good. If they’re in a sales role, they want to close more deals. If they’re in a marketing role, they want more qualified leads.
But, again, you can listen to the language they use to get an idea of what they want to achieve and what they want to avoid.
An exercise that I walk clients through is called Incentive Mapping. In this exercise, we sit down and create a table. We label one column “Achieve” and another column “avoid.”
In each column, we then write, verbatim, what phrases and words the prospect used to describe what they need to achieve and avoid. These include both professional incentives (e.g., “decreased turnover rate,” “generate more quality leads”) as well as personal incentives (e.g., work less, have the boss call after work less, look good in front of the boss).
Then, we’ll use the phrases they used to mirror back to them how we can help them achieve their “Achieve” incentives and avoid their “Avoid” incentives.
Speaking to somebody’s specific incentives gives them a sense that you’re somebody they should loop in now before the time is too late.
All this psychology makes sense, but let’s look at two real-world examples of this in action.
A few years ago, I had to get a young person hired at a company in Pittsburgh. I had a young lady in mind who would absolutely CRUSH the opportunity.
The only problem: the CEO hated the idea of hiring a young person.
He had been burnt by interns and entry-level hires from local universities before and decided that he would only ever hire older people after these experiences.
This meant that he had low expectations for anybody I sent his way.
Thankfully, the young lady I introduced to him turned out to be considerably more conscientious and focused than the young people he had hired out fo major universities (even though she was merely a high school graduate). She also had a clear plan of action that she’d implement for him when coming on board and taking over marketing efforts.
She exceeded his expectations both for young people and for the role he wanted to hire for. She also spoke directly to his incentives as a busy business owner and gave him reason to believe that hiring her would solve more problems than it would create.
She received a job offer shortly after interviewing with him. He broke his rule about hiring young people to hire her.
Return to the story I opened this piece with.
The founder who offered me a job was used to seeing smart, conscientious people come through his company. He’s at the center of a world full of smart people. To him, smart people who knew their shit were a dime a dozen.
But what a lot of these smart brainiacs didn’t have was an ability to reach out to people and build relationships.
I had talked through a recent workshop about my experience doing this. And he had seen it in action as I got a job offer lined up at another company with which he was connected.
This exceeded his expectations about what people in our subculture could do when it came to networking and business development. That piqued his interest.
Then, after we started through an interview process, I spoke directly to his incentives and told him how, exactly, I would approach the relationship-building that he needed his company to do.
That’s what got him watering at the mouth with the idea of hiring me.
Getting people to fight over the chance to work with you isn’t complicated. It just takes a lot of listening and speaking to their needs and offering value to them with language they’ll recognize.
Do that, and you’ll get your offers.