If you work in finance, you know that profit is the ultimate measure of a company. But have you stopped to consider that's how you, too...

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If you work in finance, you know that profit is the ultimate measure of a company. But have you stopped to consider that’s how you, too, are measured?

Companies don’t keep employees for their stellar résumés, their golden credentials or their so-called people skills.
Companies hire and keep people because they are productive and profitable. As a job hunter — and as an employee — your challenge is to show how the work you do produces profit.

Few people approach their job search this way, and that’s why most interviews fail. Try this in your next interview. Go to the manager’s whiteboard and do a 15-minute presentation on how you will make the business more profitable.

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Can’t do it? Then you don’t belong in the interview any more than you deserve to be hired.

I’m being very blunt because this is the cold calculation a VP of finance makes when assessing the viability of a company operation. Should we keep it, or get rid of it?

The board of directors makes the same calculation: Is the CEO delivering profit? Every smart manager asks this question in an interview, whether consciously or not.

Do you deliver profit in a job interview? Can you demonstrate your value? If you work in finance, you should be able to approach this challenge better than most job hunters. But to do it, you must leave your “job hunter’s hat” behind and behave like the finance professional you are.

Here are a few ways to focus on profit and value in your job search and in your interviews.

• Pick career opportunities as you would pick investments. There are lots of places you could invest your money (or your company’s, if you’re the CFO). But there are few that would deliver a healthy return.

This is also true of your career. Be selective. Focus on the fundamentals.

In a job search, the fundamentals are in the company. (Job assignments come and go, after all.) So, don’t look for a job. Look for solid companies that potentially can yield a succession of good jobs over a longer “investment” period.

• Don’t compete with the crowd. The best long-term investment isn’t on most people’s radar. You probably don’t buy high-flying stocks because you don’t like feeding frenzies and your chances of significant success are minuscule. The same is true when job hunting. Assess the landscape carefully, and select opportunities that have not been overbought because everyone knows about them. Use the media to identify these. What companies are revealing their future activities?

Who will they be hiring in three months? Get there before the ads appear, and before your competition realizes what’s up. Establish good personal contacts in your target company, and stay in close touch.

• Use a business plan, not a résumé. A manager once complained to me that “initiative by job candidates is breathtakingly rare.”

When you hand an employer your résumé, you’re saying: “These are my credentials, experience, history and accomplishments. Now you go figure out what to do with me.”

Contrast this with candidates who walk up to the manager’s whiteboard and draw a plan showing how they will do the job. They outline the resources needed, the obstacles ahead, the objectives, and how the plan will pay off.

Take the initiative. Remember that an interview is really a business meeting. Be ready with a plan for doing the job.

• Perform due diligence. You wouldn’t walk into your boss’ office to discuss a project unprepared. Why try it with a total stranger?

Never go on an interview to learn what the work is all about. Arm yourself beforehand. Start at the top and drill down. Study the industry first, and then the company.

Talk to its employees, vendors, customers and competitors. Be ready to walk into the interview and hit the ground running. Such preparation is a lot of work — but so is a good job, isn’t it? Start working in the interview.

• Deliver profit in the interview. Ask the manager to lay out a live problem you’d have to tackle if you were hired.

Suck in your breath, think about it for a minute, and apply every bit of smarts you’ve got. This is not a drill — you’re on the job. Do it. Show how you would contribute to the bottom line. If you don’t, the candidate that I coached will.

Managers rarely encounter job candidates who understand profitability. Tackle this challenge, and the manager’s eyes will light up — and your interview will pay off.

Nick Corcodilos is author of “Ask The Headhunter: Reinventing the Interview to Win the Job” and the host of www.asktheheadhunter.com. He can be reached by e-mail at seattle@asktheheadhunter.com or at North Bridge Group, P.O. Box 600, Lebanon, NJ 08833. Sorry, no personal replies.