How to Use Leverage to Get the Job You Want, with Ashton McMillan

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It’s not enough in today’s job market to have the experience required for an open position. You have to stand out from the crowd of applicants to even secure an interview. Using your leverage is the best way to stand head and shoulders above others, says Find Your Dream Job guest Ashton McMillan. Leverage could be past work experience, education, or specific results from a previous job or campaign that show your success in the field. The more you know the value you have to offer an employer, the more confidently you will approach an interview, so do your homework and discover what results you have achieved that the potential employer needs in a new hire. 

About Our Guest:

Ashton McMillan is a recruiter with experience in leadership and financial analysis who specializes in software engineering and technical positions.

Resources in This Episode:


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 422:

How to Use Leverage to Get the Job You Want, with Ashton McMillan

Airdate: October 25, 2023

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

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You see the perfect job.

And your background makes you the ideal candidate.

How do you make the most of your experiences and skills when you apply and interview for the position?

Ashton McMillan is here to talk about how to use leverage to get the job you want.

He’s a recruiter with experience in leadership and financial analysis who specializes in software engineering and technical positions.

Ashton joins us from Saginaw, Michigan.

Well, let’s jump right into it, Ashton. We’re talking about how to use leverage to get the job you want. Let’s start with definitions. How do you define leverage when you’re looking for work?

Ashton McMillan:

Great question, Mac. I think the way that I define leverage is anything that is a part of my background or someone else’s background that gives them a leg up against the competition and any other candidates that may be looking for the same job. It could be something as simple as working in the same industry for the job that you’re applying to or something as complex as the exact types of tools or resources that they use in the environment that you’re hoping to work for.

Mac Prichard:

Do you think, Ashton, that most candidates understand the leverage that’s available to them and have a good understanding of what their competitive advantages are?

Ashton McMillan:

Yeah, Mac, I think, for the most part, when people go to look for jobs and apply for jobs, they clearly have a good understanding of their background. But, I will say that, here recently, due to the gaps in the labor market that has become a little bit more hazy in identifying, hey, what skills and abilities do I have that align perfectly with the job, and I think that’s two-fold. One on the candidate’s end.

When you wake up to a lay-off email or a lay-off Zoom call that you weren’t expecting, it tends to take a jab at your confidence a little bit, and I would say that the second part of that is on the employer’s as well, making sure that they’re taking the time to really define who it is that they’re looking for.

If you tell me to go look for somebody who has on a red shirt, I’m gonna find you somebody. Right? But if you tell me to look for somebody who’s in a red shirt, blue jeans, black shoes, and a skull cap, then that’s more clearly defining who it is that that person or that employer is looking for.

So, I do believe, for the most part, they do understand that, but recently, it’s become a little bit more of a gray area just due to the state of the market and the fact that there are more people looking for jobs than there are jobs to be had out there.

Mac Prichard:

What stops employers from being as specific as you just outlined with your two examples? It would seem to be in a hiring manager’s advantage to be as specific as possible. What stops employers from doing that, Ashton?

Ashton McMillan:

Yeah, and I think you hit the nail right on the head there, Mac. It all starts with the hiring manager.

One of the scenarios and examples that I’ve seen of where the employer may be a little bit hazy or have a gray area when it comes to exactly who they’re looking for is on the hiring manager and them not being very clearly defined and really knowing what they’re looking for. Sometimes, if a hiring manager is a really great technical person or a technical fit for the job or maybe they’ve been with the organization for a very long time and was just kind of naturally promoted into that position, that may cause them to not be the best people manager, and if you’re not the best people manager, nine times out of ten, then you don’t know who it is you’re looking for.

And so, I would say that that’s one of the examples. There’s probably many other reasons why. But that’s the primary one that I have the most experience with.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about how candidates can use leverage to get the job they want, and one of your first tips is to read the entire job description, not just the job title. How does doing this give you leverage?

Ashton McMillan:

Yeah, so reading the entire job description gives the candidate leverage because, believe it or not, Mac, from someone who’s been a recruiter or in the talent space for almost five years now, it would surprise you at how many people don’t even know what the company does with the industry that they’re in, that they’re looking to apply for. Whether that be they’re just blindly applying for jobs, or they’re just not doing their due diligence.

And so, reading the job description line by line gives you leverage because you not only understand the core of what that company does or what industry they’re in, but you get the best sense possible of the exact person that they’re looking for, and a really great job description won’t just only focus on the technical skills, but it will also focus on some of those soft skills as well. So, communication, interpersonal, high level of EQ, things of that nature.

Mac Prichard:

I gotta ask Ashton. Can you tell when you speak to a candidate if they’ve only read the job title and not read the job description? Is that pretty obvious?

Ashton McMillan:

Most definitely, Mac. Especially when you have someone who’s been in the recruiting game as long as I have or longer, one core question that most people ask on the pre-screen call or somewhere during the interview process is, hey, why our company? Why now?

And that question can be something as simple as, hey, I know that you guys are in this industry, and I want to stay in that, or that answer from a candidate can be as detailed as, hey, I saw recently on an article that your company had in the news that you guys are focused in this area, or this is the new initiative.

And so, not only can you tell in their answer, but also their tone of voice, their inflections, how it is that they answer that question and really be able to pinpoint, hey, this person is really interested in this job specifically, and not just any job that they can get out there.

Mac Prichard:

What are other ways that studying a job description thoroughly and knowing what’s involved in the position? How else can it give you leverage at that stage in the hiring process?

Ashton McMillan:

Yeah, so I think during the interview process, it allows you to tell stories that are one-to-one in that the hiring team is going to be able to understand. Right? So, if you’re working in the same industry or staying within the same industry, you can fairly easily speak one-to-one.

But even if you’re not going in to interview for jobs in the same industry and you’re looking to transfer, if you study the job description, if you know not only what the core job is but like I talked about, some of those intangible skills that they’re looking for, it allows you to tell stories that they can resonate with.

And I’ve always said that a great interviewer is a great storyteller. They know how to walk you through the details of that story and tell you how what they’ve done matches one-to-one with what you’d be asking them to do in that exact role.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. We’re gonna take a break, Ashton. Stay with us. When we come back, Ashton McMillan will continue to share his advice on how to use leverage to get the job you want.

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Ashton McMillan.

He’s a recruiter with experience in leadership and financial analysis who specializes in software engineering and technical positions.

Ashton joins us from Saginaw, Michigan.

Now, Ashton, before the break, we were talking about how to use leverage to get the job you want, and you were making the point about the value of telling stories when you are talking with an employer as a candidate and the benefits of telling stories.

Can you talk more about that? Why is it important for, as you said, for candidates to be good storytellers?

Ashton McMillan:

Yes. Telling stories and having the ability to tell good stories during the interview process, again, sets you head and shoulders above any other candidate. And it’s something that could seem so simple, so small, but when you take a concept or the details of something that you’ve done related directly to something that you may be doing in that role or something very similar and then can give the result or the conclusion, if you will, of what you did, how you did it, and the results of what happened because of your action and your involvement in a project or a task or something like that, it really not only helps the interviewer see, hey, this person really knows how to communicate.

But it also gives them a little more insight into your thought process. Right? This is someone who can not only communicate very well, but the thought process is very linear, and whether they were speaking to someone who was in the industry or someone who wasn’t, it’s in that story. And the power of that story is in the details, and the way that you tell that, again, can give you leverage, and if it’s one-to-one industry related, then that’s even that much better.

Mac Prichard:

What’s your best advice about how to prepare in order to tell those stories? You mentioned looking for examples in your own background and then relating them to the needs of the employer where you might work.

How have you seen candidates research the needs of employers and dig up the information they need in order to make those connections so that they can have those stories ready before the interview?

Ashton McMillan:

Yeah, no, awesome question. So, I think that the best way to do that, and there is such a thing as coming into the interview overqualified and sounding like a robot and just rattling off these random facts that have nothing to do with the question. So, I would question candidates on not coming into the call being overqualified.

But one thing that you can do to prepare to be a great storyteller is, number one, take some reflection time prior to the interview of, hey, what is my background? What impact have I had? How was I able to make that impact? Was it on my own sole effort? Was it collaboration? Was it as a result of just the job and what I was hired to do? And things of that nature.

And then, really, just begin to put down bullet points. So, again, not typing it out in paragraph form and coming in and being overqualified and reading it verbatim. But, you know, recounting your experience, making bullet points that will trigger your mind to tell a certain story, and make sure that you include certain details, I would say, is probably the best thing.

Also, another thing that I do, and that I’ve done in the past is coming into an interview and not only having your resume pulled up on one of your screens, so you can see that or in print if that’s something that you’re more accustomed to or you like better. But also in that very next tab next to that one, having the job description there as well. So, again, you know, you’re aligned in the thought process. You’re aligned when you look at your resume, and then, boom, yeah, the very job that you’re applying for is also right there in front of you.

So those are some of the things that I would do to prepare, amongst a host of others. But when it comes to specifically telling stories, I would say that that’s the best way to prepare.

Mac Prichard:

What, in your experience, stops candidates from sharing these kinds of stories in interviews?

Ashton McMillan:

I would say probably the fear of the fact that the company or the person that’s interviewing them doesn’t care. There is this notion that coming into an interview process, that you have to remain openly professional; you have to remain buttoned up at all times, and I do believe that that is true as far as approaching everything in a professional manner.

But there is a very, something that’s very infectious, or something that’s very powerful about being able to remain professional but also relaxed enough to where the company or the person that’s interviewing you can get a true look into who you are and begin to do that, and I think that the earlier in the process, the better, and I think that that is exactly why.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned the not being too buttoned up and over-prepared as common mistakes candidates might make in telling stories in an interview. Are there other mistakes you’ve seen applicants make in your experience as a recruiter in telling stories?

Ashton McMillan:

Mistakes in telling stories, I would say, that some candidates come in with, how do I say this, come in too focused. So, they’re good for the first five to ten minutes of the interview, and then that’s all they’ve prepared for, and then after that, everything just seems to be repetition.

So, you know, preparing enough stories or enough experiences to last the duration of the interview and not making the mistake of coming in with, okay, here’s this one story I’m gonna focus on, and if they don’t bite on that, or that doesn’t connect, that’s all that I have.

But presenting yourself as very versatile and someone who has enough experience to relate directly to the position is one of the mistakes that I would say in terms of storytelling.

Mac Prichard:

Another suggestion you have for using leverage to get the job you want is to prepare for negotiations before an offer comes. How does this help you, Ashton?

Ashton McMillan:

Yeah, so I would say right in line with what we’ve been talking about as far as preparing before the interview process by reading the job description. Once you’re in the interview, make sure that you’re a great storyteller. I would say the leverage that you create, and that’s also naturally there from when you apply to the position.

When it comes to offering the negotiation and making sure that you’re recounting this, making sure that you clearly understand if the job asks for three to five years and you have six or the job asks for a bachelor’s degree, and you have a master’s degree, again, preparing yourself and making note of all of these things.

So then, that way, whether the job range is presented on the front end or presented on the back end, you know when the offer comes or maybe a couple of conversations before the offer, that you’re prepared and you’ve said, hey, not only do I have the leverage of experience, not only was I able to come prepared with stories and experiences and examples that align one-to-one, but because of these things, this is why I deserve the top of the market, or this is why I deserve the top of the salary range that’s being presented.

And so, what you’re doing, and what a candidate should be doing, is kind of building a case. The idea of loading up, if you will, so that way, when the offer or the conversation or the negotiations come about that, you’re prepared, you’ve done your homework. Not only on the company but how you align one-to-one with what it is they want, and you can assist them in understanding that as well.

Mac Prichard:

What kind of preparation do you recommend in order to make that case effectively when the offer does come?

Ashton McMillan:

I would say the biggest thing is confidence, and I think confidence works both ways. Not only coming in, right, with a whole bunch of confidence for yourself but the confidence that you convey, the company that you’re going to work for will feel that, as well. And so, I would say that’s one of the biggest things is having the confidence, knowing and understanding what it is that you deserve, not just based on some type of lofty goal you have or some type of lofty quote that you heard somewhere one day, but making it clear.

And I think that’s where that confidence piece comes in. It’s, hey, I have the confidence that I need. We’ve talked about the things and clearly went over why it is that you or the candidate would be great for the position and then carrying that right into the conversation.

I would also caution candidates to not offer negotiations via email. If you’re allowed the opportunity, definitely having that conversation over a Zoom call or a phone call if they’re not willing to hop on video. Just so that everybody’s on the same page.

Sometimes, I think we see a lot during text messages. There’s a lot that can be picked up on or insinuated in a written format. But if you’re on video, if the person can see your tone, your inflection, the smile on your face, the confidence you bring to that call, I think that is definitely some things that would help during that awkward negotiation stage and continue to allow that leverage to continue to write itself throughout the process.

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Ashton. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?

Ashton McMillan:

Yeah, so what’s next for me is definitely just doing all that I can within the talent and HR space to really just change the face and really make people begin to think differently. I think most of the time, when people think about HR, it’s just, oh, they hire and fire. When people think about recruiters and talent acquisition specialists, or those many titles out there, they just think, oh, they’re out to get a quick buck. They’re just out there to fill positions.

But I’ve learned through my course in this field, over the last four to five years, that it’s so much more than that and that the job that that person is applying for could be the very position that changes their life or changes the trajectory of their career.

And so, making sure that everyone out there understands that, making sure that I’m continually sharing tips, and candidate tips, and job seeker tips on LinkedIn. And really, just being that candidate advocate for anybody that reaches out to me with questions or anything that they seem to be struggling with when it comes to being a candidate because it can be rough.

And I’ve even had the thought in the past, and I’m pretty sure many other people have, that it’s hard to have a full-time job and be looking for a job because they are both full-time jobs. And so, just really doing the best that I can to be that candidate advocate. Make sure to stay engaged with my candidates both internally on my team and externally, and things of that nature. Which is doing all that I can to change the face and the overall idea behind what people think about when they think about people in the talent space, in recruiting, and HR in general.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. Well, I know that listeners can learn more about you and your work as a recruiter by connecting with you on LinkedIn, and, as always, if and when they do reach out to you, I hope they’ll mention they heard you on Find Your Dream Job.

Now, Ashton, given all of the useful tips you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to use leverage to get the job you want?

Ashton McMillan:

Yes, I would say that the one thing that I want them to remember is the leverage conversation starts when you start it. Don’t wait for the employer or the person that you’re going to work for to bring up, kind of, those conversations, or leaving it on them to help you understand why you’re a great fit for the job.

I would say making sure that you strategically apply for positions where you know, without a shadow of a doubt, based on something that you’ve read in the job description, that you can go into that conversation with confidence, ready to tell stories and ready to help them understand and see why it is that you’re a great fit.

If you do it the other way around, nine times out of ten, it’s not going to go well because when they get to that question of, hey, why us? Why now? It has the potential to become very, very awkward if you didn’t prepare.

So the leverage starts when that conversation begins in your head as you’re reading that job description and as you’re telling yourself why you’re a good fit. Please, please, do not wait for the employer or the company that you’re interviewing for to do that for you because it typically doesn’t go well, just from my experience.

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Harsha Boralessa.

He’s the founder and host of the Reframe & Reset Your Career podcast.

Previously, Harsha worked for more than 15 years in investment banking, management, and accounting.

Even in a job seeker’s market, it takes time to find the right position, sometimes months or even longer.

And as time goes by, you may become frustrated, discouraged, and even overwhelmed as you look for work.

Join us next week when Harsha Boralessa and I talk about how to avoid failure in your job search.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

This show is produced by Mac’s List.

Susan Thornton-Hough schedules our guests and writes our newsletter. Lisa Kislingbury Anderson manages our social media.

Our sound engineer is Matt Fiorillo. Ryan Morrison at Podfly Productions edits the show. Dawn Mole creates our transcripts. And our music is by Freddy Trujillo.

This is Mac Prichard. See you next week.