Just Out Of School, Deep In Debt, Job Sucks. What To Do?

Mr PoP is taking over today, writing about how he found an awesome job in B2B sales despite having no prior sales experience and a “worthless” degree in philosophy.  

In 2006 I graduated from a small state school with a degree in philosophy; my first job was repairing computers for $10/hour at a newspaper. Brutal, yes.  Mind-numbing, absolutely! It took me a few years to figure it out, but skills that I learned with my philosophy degree translated very well into B2B sales, and now I make around $100K/year and have a pretty cushy existence. Sales may not be for everybody, but it’s one of the few jobs out there where you can make loads of money with skills like rhetoric and critical thinking.

But are you better paid?

So if you are just out of school, deep in debt, and have a job that sucks, here is how to boot-strap your way into a $100K+ sales career.

What We’re Not Going To Do

First off, stop applying to internships; you already have a damn degree. Getting paid less than market rates for your valuable skills is not my idea of a good time, and it shouldn’t be yours either. Also, forget applying to anything on-line. If you’re applying online you’re either not the inside candidate or the place you’re applying to has a huge, slow moving bureaucracy, in either case it’s not what we’re looking for.

Try This Instead…

Saddle up to your favorite jobs search engine and run a local search on “commission sales.” It will likely come up with a few dozen hits. What we are looking for are small retail franchises like auto dealers, cell phone shops and insurance storefronts-the type of place where you will be exposed to lots and lots people per day in a commission sales environment. Write down the position titles and headquarter addresses of the top 10 openings, but don’t just  mindlessly mash the “apply” button like every other schmuck. Instead, send your slacks and shirt out to the cleaner (Mrs PoP – and by “cleaner” you meant me, right?), print off a dozen copies of your resume and call in sick to your current dead-end job, ’cause we’re going door-to-door baby!

Meeting People Is Easy

The difference between the people that make it in sales, and the ones that don’t, is usually just hustle. One way that you can put yourself to the head of the hiring line is by showing some initiative and dropping by their headquarters. Walk in, ask the secretary who is in charge of hiring for that position, and if they have time to meet with you today. Don’t just drop off that resume! If the hiring manager isn’t in, ask for his contact information and when he will be in the office next. Don’t leave without that info, then go onto your next appointment. When you get in front of a hiring manager, ask if they could speak to you about the position for 15 minutes to see if it is a fit for you.

The Interview

There have been thousands of books written about acing interviews, so I’m going to skip this section. All you need to do is convince them that you are smart, and hungry (or poor, it’s all the same thing). If you can do that, somebody in retail sales will quickly give you a shot.  After all, the opportunity cost for a business when it comes to adding a commission-only sales person is pretty small since you only get paid when you close business. Additionally, the turn-over on these jobs is crazy high-well over 100% year…

So Now What?

You now have a job where you work six days a week, many times in the evening, with members of the public who frankly suck. You’re probably making a little money to pay off some credit cards, but nothing great. So now what?

First, seize this opportunity to get really good at selling. In retail sales you might do 3-4 transactions per day, and work with 20 members of the public. This gives you a unique training ground for some very important soft skills like reading people, understanding different types of leverage, knowing how to use price, knowing how to sell value, and a ton more. Hard training now will pay off later in more complex sales situations later on.

The second thing that you can work on is getting recruited. No kidding! Remember I told you to get a job working with as many  members of the public as possible? The reason for this is that hiring managers from better paying (and cushier) non-retail sales jobs (B2B, enterprise software, etc) are in the retail locations just like all of us, and are always on the look out for talent. If you’re out there hustling, pretty soon you’ll start getting recruited.

Its pretty much exactly like this. Sort of.

Seriously, Does This Work?

Yes, this is almost precisely the path that myself and lots of people in my current office have taken. (And in the absolute depths of the last recession, no less.)  The beautiful thing is that the barrier to entry for retail sales is practically nil (they will take anybody with a pulse and let them sink or swim), and at the same time it is a great place to get recruited from.

Look at it like a daily job interview that you get paid to show up for every day.

Note From Mrs PoP – For doubters out there that say sales doesn’t work for an introverted person, I might have agreed with that assumption in 2006.  But having watched Mr. PoP make introvertedness work for him as a skill, and having read about other introverts successful in sales in the book Quiet, I just don’t think that has to be the case.  

Any questions on sales?  Or suggestions on other cushy work options you can work your way up to (despite graduating) with a humanities degree?

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