I often speak to students, whether undergraduates or MBA students, and I keep hearing the same question, “I don’t know what I want to do. What type of job should I look for?” Unequivocally, my answer is simple: get a job in sales.
My first summer job in high school was working at Lotus Software (remember Lotus 123…? I think Lotus Notes still exists!) and my job was to call customers and update their database/CRM. This introduced me to the world of getting people’s attention and convincing them to give something up. Although this wasn’t a real sales job, it was a precursor. My first real foray into sales was forced upon me when I started my first company. I was forced to cold call and close deals. This is the single best experience I received in my career. The strengths and strategies I gained through selling have helped me immensely throughout every aspect of my career. In fact, a survey of Harvard Business School graduates rated the biggest skills gap they had before founding their company was “a lack of sales experience.”
Here are my three reasons why sales is the best first job.
1. Sales is everywhere
Why do I tell people to get sales experience? In my opinion, being able to sell is the foundation of any successful career. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, there’s always some aspect of selling involved. Even if you aren’t directly selling a product, you might need to convince someone to hire you, which is just selling yourself. If you’re the CEO of a huge publically traded company, you need to sell your vision to your shareholders. Even as a Ph.D. student, you need to sell your ideas to receive funding and publish. Don’t just take my word for it – a survey of business leaders by Hult International Business School rated “strong sales skills” as a top 10 critical skill of today’s workplace.
2. Speaking ability
Being able to articulate your ideas and speak eloquently is important in any career. When it comes to speaking and speaking well, practice makes perfect. There is no other profession that allows you to continually practice and get better at speaking and connecting to people. A common trait amongst great leaders is their ability to inspire through speech. This is one of the best things that sales teaches you.
Closing deals and getting better at sales made me much more confident. I’d always thought growing up that I was somewhat of a geek and could never sell. Gaining experience in sales – talking to perfect strangers and turning them into your customers and even friends – definitely increased my confidence. I don’t need to tell you how much this boost in confidence is incredible for your career and life in general.
Whether you’re looking for a summer job, your first (or your last) job, or a change in career, sales is an amazing experience that will be invaluable to you forever.
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