When I interview a job candidate, I ask what, to me, is a most telling question: “What has been the defining moment of your life?”
It is, admittedly, not an easy question for many to answer, as an honest response requires some degree of introspection, intimacy and thoughtfulness—all things a candidate may not be prepared for in a job interview. After some hemming and hawing, I usually get one of three answers:
“I think it might be when I [insert some significant professional accomplishment here],” in which the candidate attempts to use the opportunity to sell me on why they are qualified for the position. It doesn’t normally work.
“I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it.” Here the candidate is unwilling or unable to demonstrate any thoughtfulness deeper than curiosity about the salary for the job. This answer doesn’t usually work, either.
“Well, that’s a tough question. It may have been the time when…,” and the candidate begins to explore their past and how it has shaped the person they are today. The “defining moment” may be personal or professional, but, ultimately, it’s about a moment when the person was challenged emotionally, intellectually or spiritually. Invariably, the person who makes the best impression is the one who seized opportunity out of that defining moment, even when the circumstances were dire.
I think direct sellers are experiencing their “defining moment” right now. In fact, this might be such a moment for an entire generation. As a country, we’re faced with economic challenges unlike those we’ve seen for more than half a century. Yet, for those who are ready to act, now could be the hour of their greatest triumph. For direct sellers with the courage to step out of their comfort zone and spend those extra marketing dollars when dollars are scarce, look for innovative ways to inspire the salesforce, and continue building a balanced business that will ultimately stand the test of time, there is a potential that is almost unlimited, yet out of reach for many others. Direct sellers are perfectly positioned to sell themselves, their products and their opportunity, and provide the spark that can ignite the engine of commerce that pulls us out of the malaise. Our defining moment.
At the Direct Selling Association (DSA), we already see direct sellers beginning to embrace the moment. Some members are reporting upticks in recruitment and sales, as Americans and people around the world look for opportunities outside of the moribund employment market. Press coverage around the country (helped along by the work of your friendly neighborhood trade association) is focusing on direct selling as a way out of the recession, including features on the major networks. Well-known companies specializing in helping people find work (such as CareerBuilder.com and Women for Hire) are working with the DSA to offer companies extra opportunities to help their salesforce members recruit qualified sellers. Even government regulators have modified some recent proposals (remember the FTC’s business opportunity rule?) so as not to burden legitimate direct selling businesses that offer real opportunity to people who need alternatives. Individual companies are beginning to reach out and advertise their direct selling businesses as ways to help the family cope during bad times. (I just watched an impressive, credible infomercial produced by one of our biggest direct sellers that will air through the rest of the year.)
There are, of course, those who won’t embrace the moment. Perhaps they’ll retreat. They may choose to miss the opportunity. They may not pursue the press, data-gathering, government-
relations, global-expansion, educational and other opportunities that the DSA is helping to provide them. Perhaps they’ll not recognize the moment for what it is—a defining moment.
At a dinner among industry leaders back in October (as the world economic crisis deepened), one of the many dynamic, young direct selling industry CEOs shared her vision with me. Her company is going to pounce, to push its strategic advantage to convince women that direct selling is their way out of the confusion and uncertainty. She understands that now is the time to become even more involved with the image-enhancement, ethics and regulatory programs of the DSAs around the world. She understands that we need to strike now, while the iron is hot, to mold the future of direct selling. Now, while the rest of the business world is caught in the paroxysm of doubt and impossible credit. Now, while more staid business models and industrial behemoths are crumbling. Now, while people are struggling and looking for low-cost ways of earning extra income to keep their families afloat. Now is our moment, our defining moment.
If she were the one being interviewed by me, she would have gotten the job.