Some years ago Ramit Sethi popularized a concept which had been taught by him and others, naming it “the briefcase technique.” While it can be used by freelancers, it’s also a technique that can be used at a job interview or in a negotiation – be it at your current place of work for new responsibilities or higher pay – or any other type of negotiation. The most powerful part of the technique? It puts you in charge.
What the Briefcase Technique requires above all is preparation. Whatever you are going in to discuss will require more than you looking professional or asking thoughtful questions. It will require you to do work without knowing whether you’re going to get paid for it. You need to examine your client and see where you can add value immediately. This might mean looking through a website, examining their social media channels, going through various sales funnels, subscribing to their email newsletters, or reading news articles about them or about the industry as a whole.
What you are looking for are opportunities. Where is it that the company needs help? What specifically do they need help with? What are things or strategies that they are not currently engaged in but their competitors are? Then rather than being the person who raises his/her hand to identify a problem or simply make a suggestion, you are now offering the solution right next to the problem by putting together clear and specific answers and action steps for everything you’ve identified.
While you don’t actually need to bring a briefcase with you (though a nice bag or satchel wouldn’t hurt) you do need to have at least a file or folder which will allow you to take out a hard copy of this prep work for reference. Your opportunity to do so could come at any time during the discussion, especially if there’s going to be talk about your cost or salary. Start by asking for permission: “I’ve written down a few things – would you mind if I shared them with you?” This isn’t confrontational and will usually surprise your interviewer. Once they’ve told you it’s fine to proceed you can theatrically take out the work you’ve prepared and start discussing what you have planned.
You might say things like: “I’ve been taking a look at your website and here are a few ways that I think we can tweak it for better performance,” or “I subscribed to your email newsletter and I’ve written a few alternative scripts that I think would aid conversion rates.” You’ve put yourself into the 1% of interviewees. 99% of candidates are not going to put in the work you just did, and you’re making it easy for the person interviewing you. Instead of opining theoretically about your skills and abilities, you are showcasing them, with deliverables that they can see.
Apart from deliverables, you may also have a timeline in place – be it over 30, 60, or 90 days. You’ve taken over the interview at this point. It’s no longer a question of whether you are a good fit or a smart hire, it’s a question of whether they are willing and able to put you to work right away. If the interviewer sees your initiative and attitude for what it is – a strong desire and willingness to work hard and take initiative – then price and cost are now at the rear of the conversation, not the forefront. You have an upper hand in negotiating, and you have the proposals, so they can’t get access to them unless they agree to work with you.
Furthermore, as we alluded to above, while this technique works well for freelancers who are putting forth a proposal for new work, it can also work in job interviews at a place you’ve never worked before, or at your current company. You can put yourself forward for new projects and responsibilities and elicit testimonials from colleagues who have seen you do similar work or who can attest to their belief in your ability to carry these proposals forward.
At Vocaworks we very much believe in the principle of standing out and offering unique solutions. Just as our platform provides a new tool for both great employers and skilled contractors to find each other, this technique can help you more successfully close the opportunities you have in front of you. Remember that success in this ever-changing landscape, as it always has, comes to those who are willing to put in the work especially before they are asked or paid to do so. Show right away that you are a person of daring and initiative.
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Stephen writes about startups, hiring and career issues for VocaWorks.