I am going to share with you what I have learned from talking to hundreds of sales recruiters who visit college campus. Keep in mind that every manager is different, and various sales jobs require different sets of skills and attributes. And without a doubt, other professors will offer some different insights. My list does provide a starting point for discussion, however.
The items I list here have been voiced by a large number of sales managers at four different universities over the last 18 years. I've seen these items "red-lined" on many resumes and candidate-summaries handed to me by sales managers after interviewing my selling students. Red-lining just refers to the marks and notes that a sales manager puts on a resume or evaluation form.
There are many books and pamphlets on how to interview for a job. Most career placement centers on campus have excellent booklets on these issues. Get them. Read them. Study them. Then use the following to fine tune some of the issues specifically for a sales position.
1. Resume Issues
· Career Objectives. Students may not know if they want sales or marketing, but most sales managers are turned off by resumes that list both as possible objectives. If you're not sure what career you would like to go into, make two resumes: one that lists sales as an objective the other that lists marketing as a career objective.
· GPA. While most want to know the student's GPA, it is commonly agreed that any GPA listed on a resume that is less than 3.0 is viewed somewhat negatively. So, if your GPA is less than 3.0 you might not want to highlight that point on your resume. Also, you'll want to be able to defend the reason why your GPA is low (compared to what many managers want to see).
· Managers are impressed if the student has funded most or all of his/her own college education. A rule of thumb is this: if you funded more than 50% of your own college expenses, then highlight that in your resume.
· Education and courses. You may have the view (espoused by many professors, parents, the media, and friends) that you can't get too much education. Sales managers often have a different perspective, however. I've heard managers question why a student got an MBA, why they spent an extra year in college getting a second major, why they got three minors, etc. These managers may view such activity not so much as getting more education that will help the student in a selling job, but rather as a way to avoid graduating and having to go out and get a job. Find out what the job qualifications are for the selling job you're interested in. Then, if you should choose to get more education than is required, be prepared to explain to the sales manager why you did so.
· Clubs. Sales managers are impressed when a student has become involved in a club. But joining a club just to list that on your resume, and then do nothing at all in that club, is viewed negatively. The moral: if you join a club, get involved. If you're not going to get involved, don't waste your time joining.
· Work experience. Sales managers want to see evidence that you have worked in jobs that allow you to strengthen your selling skills. You may need to help them see how a particular job in fact helped your selling skills. For example, having a job as a waitress allows you the opportunity to deal with all kinds of people, deal with irate customers, manage your time and territory effectively, etc.
· References. Managers want to see a breadth in your references. Some from your employment, some from your professors, some who can speak to your character, etc. Absence of this breadth can send up warning flags (e.g., no professors listed, no work references).
· Misspelled words, poor style, and incorrect grammar scream to the sales manager that you aren't concerned with details. I've seen sales managers disregard an entire resume because of a misspelled work (I meant "word"see how irritating it is!).
2. Initial Interview Issues
· Students who aren't prepared for a sales job interview are considered a real pest by sales managers. Study about the firm and the position before the interview. Know what questions you are going to ask. Make sure those questions are truly meaningful to you, not just something you read in an interviewing book. Be prepared to answer common interview questions that the sales manager will pose. Answer them honestly, not just with some canned answer you read in a booklet.
· If asked, "Why are you going into sales?" provide an honest answer. But be aware that some managers hate the following answers: "I'm a people person." "I like to deal with people." "People tell me that I get along well with people." "I really like to socialize." So, what do these same sales managers consider to be "good" answers to this question? They prefer: "I like the independence that the job affords." "I set high goals for myself and then like the satisfaction I get from achieving them due to hard work." "I like the financial rewards that selling offers."
· Be prepared for the manager to ask you, "What other firms are you interviewing with?" They are not really trying to be nosey, or pry into your personal life. Most are simply wanting to find out that you are able to prospect effectively, and to get some sense whether the marketplace is interested in what you have to offer.
· Impress the sales manager by effectively using the time allotted for you to ask questions/talk about what you want to talk about (view this as your personal selling time). For example, when asked, "What would you like to tell me about yourself?", first find out what the sales manager is looking for in terms of selling skills and attributes (this is called discovering the needs). Then, using your resume, translate the features of yourself into benefits for this specific job. For example, explain why the feature "was in the Big Brother program" would benefit the sales manager.
· At the end of the interview, you should state your interest in the position (assuming you truly are interested) and ask what the next step in the interviewing process is. In essence you are "closing" when you do this.
· ALWAYS follow up with a letter, mailed the same day, thanking the sales manager for the interview, reiterating your interest in the position, and asking for the next step in the process. Incidentally, this means you have to get the manager's business card during the interview.
3. Second (Third, etc.) Interview Issues
· Be aware that some managers, regardless of what they have told you in the first interview, don't intend to call you in for that second visit until you call them. Why? They want to see if you have the guts to call them and ask for a second interview. Some may even wait until you call several times (to display persistence). Don't get discouraged or give up until you are told that they are not interested in you any longer.
· Sales managers sometimes call me and say, "What in world happened to _____? When I interviewed her on campus, she was the top in my group of candidates. But when she came to the home office to be interviewed by the regional manager, she fell apart!" The moral: be prepared for follow up interviews. Find out what to expect (e.g., stress interviews, psychological tests, math tests, aptitude tests, cocktail hours, multi-person interview situations, ride time with salespeople, etc.) in that interview and prepare. Don't get cocky because you're the only one from your school to get selected back for a second or third interview.
· Get plenty of rest before the interview and be prepared for a long day. Some managers complain that some students are sharp in the morning, but fade as the day progresses. Keep up your spirits and your enthusiasm. If you think you've made some blunder, don't give up. Try to show the managers that you are truly sharp and can bounce back from failures to shine once again.
· Realize that every single person you meet may be evaluating you. I've had managers say, "He did a good job when talking to us, but when we had him spend a few minutes with the secretary, he was rude and condescending. We don't think he would work well with receptionists, which would be a big part of his job. We're not going to pursue him any further."
· Always conclude any meeting with a close. State your interest in the position and find out what the next step is going to be.
· Follow up with a letter the next day.
In summary, students wishing for a sales job should display the traits of successful salespeople as they interview for a sales position.
©Copyright by Stephen B. Castleberry, 2004, all rights reserved.