One of the unique elements of most sales forces is the diversity of their college studies. Many universities don’t offer specific sales career training – even though there are far more job opportunities in sales than some other fields.
A story by Debra Auerbach for CareerBuilder reports that 274 colleges offer sales degrees, according to statistics from Economic Modeling Specialists International. That compares to 559 colleges with geology majors and 1,571 with psychology degrees — “two majors that have fewer job opportunities tied to them,” Auerbach says.
So salespeople often have a background in something else — communications, political science, some form of a business major. For those folks, here are some tips for landing that first job in your sales career:
Build a foundation of knowledge: As with any worthwhile endeavor, doing as much research as possible is key. There are mountains of materials out there — on the Web and in books and DVDs — along with seminars and conferences that can help prospective salespeople. And as this story by Monica Patrick for Demand Media suggests, “Meet with people who work in the field and ask them questions about the products and services. Familiarize yourself with the sales lingo associated with the business.”
Show off your successes: Even without sales experience, you can impress a prospective employer with your personal achievements. Chris Lytle of monster.com recommends documenting the three best examples, and to “be prepared to reel off a list of at least seven other significant wins in your life from school, sports, music, class politics, etc. You will achieve again for the employer, because past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. You may not have sales success, but you have had success in other areas.”
Emphasize your strengths: Without a background in sales, there’s not a concrete look-at-what-I’ve-sold moment to impress prospective employers. But strong personal traits can impress just as well, especially in how you manage your time, seek challenges and approach people, as Thomas Phelps writes for the National Association of Sales Professionals. “Demonstrate how you are self-motivated and self-driven,” he says. “Employers want sales professionals who don’t need to be told what to do every second of the day. They want people with initiative who are willing to make mistakes over doing nothing. Let employers know that you are ‘goal oriented’ and focused on achieving your goals. Sales is a lot like sports, where a goal is set and nothing is allowed to prevent you from reaching that goal. What goals have you set and worked tirelessly to accomplish?”
Make the most of your resume: It’s true that resume styles and formats are debatable. For someone with no experience in sales, an opening “objective” paragraph may be beneficial to establish career goals. Be specific. “A career in sales” is not going to catch someone’s attention. If it’s pharmaceutical sales you’re after, say so. Another technique is to hand deliver the resume to the company, as recommended in Patrick’s story. “Before leaving, ask who the contact person is for the hiring department,” she writes. “Make a follow-up phone call in a week or in the prescribed time given to you. Be persistent and check in regularly to ask the status of job openings.”