Sales isn’t what it used to be, and neither is job hunting.
Your friends and family might have told you that you can get a sales job by walking into an office and asking for it.
Competition for sales roles is fierce:
A single posting can attract hundreds of applicants. Many of them will be internal candidates who are looking to get promoted or to transition to a new role. And the final hiring decision will probably be made collaboratively, between a half-dozen or more decision makers.
COVID notwithstanding, if you walk into an office and ask for a job, you’ll be laughed out of the room almost every time. And in the process, you’ll probably burn some professional bridges that can’t be rebuilt.
If you’re interested in beginning a career in sales, you need to know that for the best job opportunities—with generous compensation, good working conditions, and chances for rapid career growth—companies aren’t just looking for any warm body.
Setting The Stage
When outsiders talk about sales, they often picture a door-to-door salesperson with a sample product and a slick pitch.
You might even think of a telemarketer, who calls people at home and interrupts their dinner.
But today’s best sales jobs don’t target consumers. They sell to other businesses. And sophisticated business purchasers need sophisticated sales reps.
Today’s sellers are organized and technologically capable. They can handle dozens of prospects at the same time, and understand enough about their product and customer pain points to not only qualify good sales opportunities, but also to disqualify bad fits.
They’re confident in front of people, but also know how to plan, organize, record, and report.
Good reps close a lot of business. But they also pursue long-term relationships—which means their customers will not just buy again, but will also increase the size of their future purchases.
So today, sales isn’t just about selling. Sales reps have an inside look into whole companies, and whole industries. Sales is a career choice that can become a launch platform for almost any other position in an organization.
That’s why, when it comes to the job hunt, applicants are coming to the table with professional designations, researched strategies, and personal brands already in hand.
How do you get noticed? How do you set yourself apart? What do you need to know to be a contender? How do you make sure that you land an interview?
Here’s the quick answer: You can land a sales role by proving that you can sell!
Start With Your Job Search Strategy
Your job search should be organized like a sales job. Because what you’re selling is you.
Start by putting yourself in the recruiter’s shoes:
- How would the recruiter promote open job opportunities?
- Would they run a cross-country search, or only recruit locally?
- Could the recruiter find someone in their network?
- Is there an industrial niche they’d be likely to target?
Form a hypothesis, then search for and leverage the appropriate job boards and networking opportunities.
There are many different titles for sales roles, especially in entry-level sales roles. The industry term Sales Development Representative (SDR) has evolved to include Business Development Representative (BDR), and Opportunity Development Representatives (ODR) to name a few. Brainstorm a list of target titles, run some searches, and expand your list based on what you find.
As you start to compile results, document everything! You should treat your job hunt like a sales process:
- Generate a target list.
- Prospect widely.
- Document everything.
- Follow-up according to set cadences.
- Optimize based on your results.
- Prioritize your best opportunities.
- Don’t get down on yourself when you’re not immediately successful.
As you start to pursue your “leads”, you’ll want to meticulously organize the opportunities, and plan your next steps:
- What do you know about the company?
- Are you a good fit for them?
- What don’t you know about the job role?
- Are you connected to anyone who already works there?
Set targets for yourself:
- How many jobs do you want to research each day?
- What percentage of them will you actually apply for?
- How frequently will you follow up, until you get a response?
Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket! Interviewing at multiple companies simultaneously makes it easier to compare and contrast their work cultures, and gives you additional leverage when it’s time for a salary negotiation.
Consider Your Resume Carefully
Structure your resume to appeal to your target audience. While you need to include an overview of your career to date, the real goal is to showcase how you can contribute:
- Who are you, and why can they trust you?
- What have you done before, and what were the results?
- How can you contribute right away?
Consider using the STAR format: Describe the Situation, the Task that was required, what Action you took, and the ultimate Result.
You don’t need to include every little thing you’ve ever done, and you don’t need to go all the way back to highschool. A few related examples are more powerful than a long and irrelevant list.
Most businesses now use an Applicant Tracking System. This is a software tool that helps them organize and manage their job applicants, in a similar way to how you organize and manage your sales leads or job opportunities.
Don’t be afraid of the ATS, but don’t depend on it either! Jump through the appropriate hoops to show that you’re able to follow a process, but look for ways to shortcut the system:
You’ll have more success if you engage on a human level with the decision-maker, than if you optimize yourself to appeal to an algorithm.
At the right time, a carefully personalized video can make all the difference:
Plan Your Cover Letter
The goal of your cover letter is to show how and why you are different from the other candidates.
You need to personalize it. The more specific to the role, the better. Why are you interested in the company? What made you excited about the role?
A successful cover letter will show the company that they need to care about you.
Keep it brief. A few paragraphs is plenty. And remember to proofread: You should definitely ask someone you trust to look it over.
Most importantly, stick to the objective: You want an interview. So ask for a follow-up meeting or a phone call. And wow them when you get it.
Fill Your Experience Gap
Who had the job before you? Who are the other applicants for the role? Who comes up when you search for people with the same job title at other companies? What do they have that you don’t have?
If you have obvious gaps in your education or experience, you can and should plug them. Take advantage of online courses and content that will help you close the gap:
- Uvaro On Demand is a free series of interactive video courses designed to help sales professionals level-up their selling strategies. The courses target the most common sales skill gaps as identified by sales teams’ playbooks, helping to make sure that when you do land an interview, you come in with a big advantage.
- Even if your employer doesn’t use their various sales tools, the HubSpot Academy’s free online training courses teach lots of practical skills that aren’t platform-specific. The certifications are well-recognized by sales recruiters, too.
Filling a skill gap doesn’t even need to mean that you complete a formal course. There are lots of resources on blogs and social media that you can leverage. In fact, “What tech/sales influencers do you follow?” is an increasingly common interview question.
Check the Linkedin Sales Solution Blog for updates, or search your Linkedin feed for topics that relate to your interests, and follow the people involved.
Even if you don’t have a skill gap, interviews often ask about and reward professional self-improvement. What was the last book you read? What did you learn?
Come prepared by reading books from sales experts who can help you take action:
- Sales Development by Cory Bray is all about continuous development, helping to fight back against the view that sales is a “sink or swim” profession.
- The Sales Development Playbook by Trish Bertuzzi provides a comprehensive strategy to make sure that your sales pipeline is always full.
- If you’re from outside of the tech sector, Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross describes the sales organization structure that Salesforce.com used in its massive growth, and that most tech companies have now adopted.
- Fanatical Prospecting by Jeb Blount outlines platform-specific prospecting strategies that will improve your close rates, and your confidence.
And finally, if you were away from the workforce for a few years, briefly account for it. You don’t need to be too specific, but mentioning it now helps to keep your interview from getting bogged down in the details:
- “Adapting to a new language and culture”
- “Self-improvement through federal incarceration”
- “Amateur surfer and beach bum”
- “Trying my hand at entrepreneurship”
Clean up your Social Presence
Even if it’s not a formal part of their hiring process, at some point almost every hiring manager will Google their top candidates:
Don’t let them be disappointed or surprised by the results.
Go ahead and search for yourself. If you have a common name, try including your hometown, your past employer, or other relevant keywords.
Then start clicking on the results. Put your browser into “incognito” mode to see what your social profiles look like when you’re not signed in. How do you come across?
It’s one thing to share photos of you hiking with your dog. But it’s another thing entirely to advertise a wild party. Don’t let your personal life become a hiring distraction. If you were an employer, what would you want to see? What would be a red flag for you?
Make your accounts private, or go through and clean them up. Hide or delete anything that you’re not 100% sure about sharing.
Pay particular attention to LinkedIn. For a sales job, you’ll likely be asked to use it on a regular basis. Your LinkedIn profile will get passed around the hiring team. Make it shine!
Are your profile photos clear and professional? A good headshot shows good attention to detail. This isn’t the place for a selfie—while you can take high-quality pictures with a cellphone, ask a competent friend or hire a professional photographer to help you.
Pro Tip: Make sure to spell check and proof read your LinkedIn bio and job descriptions 😉.
It’s Not Over ‘Til It’s Over
Remember that businesses are operated by people. Email is your friend, but it isn’t the only communication tool at your disposal.
While you don’t want to harass your potential employer, connecting on social media or saying “thank you” in a phone call can add a personal touch. You might be surprised by how many times even a “no” eventually becomes a referral, a client, or the employer for your next role.
Sales is a rewarding and challenging career. It’s the only job that’s directly responsible for the all-important top-line number. Businesses are made and broken by the effectiveness of their sales teams.
But perhaps more than any other profession, sales is also a job that you have to earn. Commissions explicitly tie pay to performance. Sales keeps you on your toes and wanting more. So start by showing that you want it.
Build your job-hunting funnel. Work to earn your opportunities to interview. And close them when you get them.