There’s a great article in the New York Times today where the author, Bryan Burkhart, reflects on his first job out of college and pulls together a “not-to-do” list for recent college graduates. It demonstrates the maturity and ability to reflect that only experience and middle age can bring. One of my favorite parts is where he recounts the comparative success of one of his peers who, “was driven to acquire customers for Trilogy, understanding that revenue was the lifeblood of a fast-growing start-up. At the time, I could not have been less impressed with that role”.
On occasion, I am invited to speak to undergraduate and graduate business and marketing students (only after the professor has exhausted her list of quality speakers) and one of my favorite questions is to ask how many of them would like to go into sales when they finish school. How many hands shoot up? You guessed it, maybe one or two out of fifty. When I ask about other professions: management consulting, advertising, digital marketing, technology, etc., many in the class with enthusiastically raise their hands. Even though sales as a profession has gained more respect and educational attention as evidenced by the numerous college and university programs focused on professional selling, selling still doesn’t seem to be an aspirational pursuit for our next generation of college graduates.
However, what’s interesting is to ask the same group to consider what happens as you advance in your career in one of the aforementioned professions. Moving up in a professional services firm to the level of Partner indicates that you have certainly mastered a specific domain but also that you can sell. Of course no one calls it selling, you hear terms like “rainmaker”, “client partner”, “account leader”, “regional leader”, etc., but a primary and essential component of the job description is drive revenue.
So, my advice to these students is to seek out a sales-related role to start, as the experience gained will translate into many other roles and professions: handling objections, negotiating, influencing others, presenting ideas. Come to think of it, I use these daily with my teenage daughters! There have been a number of recent articles about the rise of robots and the threat to many jobs as unemployment remains high, especially for recent college grads. My advice: be the one selling the robots.