The Opportunity Principle

There are always job opportunities, the trick is to match your approach with the employer’s motivation.

We need to be great salespeople when looking for a job.  What image comes to mind when you hear the word salesperson?  Is it the pushy, untrustworthy person trying to pressure you into buying a product or service?  Or is it a friendly, helpful person that answers your questions and guides you to making the right choice for you?  Which image represents your core belief about sales?  If it is the first image, then you are likely not comfortable with networking, uncovering opportunities and job interviews.  If it is the second image, then you possess the right mindset to find jobs regardless of the situation or environment.  It could be a recession where employers are laying off workers, or a boom time with help wanted signs in everyone window.

Finding the best job opportunities means selling our experience, knowledge, skills, and education to potential employers.  So, it makes sense to borrow the techniques used by great salespeople.  One of the most important techniques is identifying the reasons hiring managers are looking for talent.  Uncovering their motivation and providing a solution for their needs is the key to success…but there is a catch.  In the words of sales expert David Sandler, “Remember, the problem they give you is never the real problem.”

A skilled salesperson uses questions to identify the reasons beneath the surface problems.  To find the job opportunity we must discover the underlying cause or motivation of the hiring manager.  I categorize motivation into three general buckets – pain, opportunity and interesting.  Identifying the impact of not addressing the cause or motivation helps us better market ourselves to the hiring manager and organization.


The hiring manager has a current or future pain that must be addressed. Examples include:

  • Promotion
  • Left the Organization
  • Customer Dissatisfaction

The most powerful motivator is current pain, followed by future pain.  If your car breaks down, and you need to get to work, then you have current pain.  All your energy and brain power will be dedicated to fixing the car.  Can I fix it?  Who can I call?  Can I get a ride to work?  Hiring managers are no different.  If they have a current pain, they are more likely to hire you.  Identify people and companies with current pain.

A recent promotion could signal pain.  If there is not a ready-now successor for the role, we can fill the void.  Companies rapidly promoting colleagues are often a sign of growth.  Recognizing this early, and getting in on the ground floor, is like buying a start-up company stock before it takes off.

If someone has recently left an organization to pursue a new opportunity, that is another common signal a hiring manager is experiencing pain.  The more unexpected the departure, the more open hiring managers will be to you.

Customer dissatisfaction also leads to pain.  If customers are not happy, they complain and/or leave, resulting in reduced revenue and profits for the organization.  We can take advantage of this situation if we can show how our experience and skills will address customer needs better than others.


The hiring manager sees a current or future opportunity for the department or area.  Examples include:

  • Increased Demand for Product / Service
  • Internal Disruption
  • External Disruption

After pain, the next most powerful motivator is opportunity.  Seeing a for sale sign on a house you admire is an example of a current opportunity.  Going back to school to get your nursing degree is a future opportunity example.  Use research, informational interviews, and networking to uncover opportunity.

Is the organization experiencing increased demand for its products or services?  If so, there is typically opportunity in areas that directly support production (sales, manufacturing, marketing, etc.), as well as support administration (human resources, legal, IT, etc.) as the company expands.

Is the company going though internal disruption like an acquisition or merger?  These types of disruptions usually require people with specialized skills like project management, communication, and process improvement.  We can create opportunity by marketing our past experiences navigating change.

Is technology transforming the industry?  Are there new regulations governing the industry?  These are examples of external disruptions.  When external forces impact an organization, they need talent with new skills.


Opportunity can also occur if the hiring manager finds us interesting.  Examples include:

  • Personally Interesting
  • Background Interesting
  • Try Out New Idea

The key to making this strategy work for you is being an effective listener and asking good follow-up questions.  If a hiring manager finds you personally interesting, or your background interesting, use probing questions to better understand how your background can add value to the organization.  How would the person like to use your skills?  What problems might you be able to solve?

Being interesting is the weakest of the three motivations, so getting the hiring manager to do most of the talking is important.  You are not “selling yourself”; in this scenario the manager must talk themselves into acting.  Imagine you are putting ideas into the head of someone talking to themselves.

Finally, trying out new ideas is a path to finding opportunity.  The more novel the ideas, the more likely a leader wants to test out the idea without tapping their best existing talent.  If your background enables you to shepherd an idea from conception to prototype, you have a chance of being hired.

Bottom Line

Use the skills of great salespeople to market yourself and find new opportunities.  Look for pain and opportunity while building rapport with hiring managers.

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