What do you need to bring to an interview? Which majors make the best salespeople? And how is sales like dating? We catch up with our very own Matt Baum, Director of Sales at AfterCollege to find out!
What is your current job title? Which positions do you review applications for?
Director of Sales. I hire entry-level sales associates and experienced sales reps.
What are some things that college students can do to make their applications stand out?
I only read applications that are tailored to the specific role and company; not boilerplate cover letters they send everyone. To stand out they need to talk about why the company interests them, what uniquely qualifies them, and show some personality. Make me want to work with them. They need to seem smart and even a little funny while still professional. I like people who can take the confines of a professional interaction (like a cover letter) and make it fun and personal. Their cover letters should really highlight the core skills that set them apart and touch on specific examples that show how they have the drive and motivation to succeed in sales while showcasing top-notch communication skills.
Which majors tend to be most successful in the positions you recruit for? Which majors would you like to see more applications from?
I’ve had success with business majors and even people from the sciences, but the people I’ve had the best success with are people with liberal arts backgrounds. Sales is an acting job, and being able to write and speak well and understand business are super important, but the most important thing is being able to convincingly portray yourself as an expert who genuinely wants to provide his/her clients with assistance. Sales is also unique because almost nobody grows up wanting to become a salesperson, so getting people who will do the job and stick it out and work their way up requires a unique balance of skill and capability with a lack of other options, to put it bluntly. When I hire a salesperson who is also a great scientist, they will likely leave if an opportunity for a career more closely aligned with their passions arises. I want people who love people, who love communications, and who are trying to find their place in the corporate world because they didn’t become programmers or accountants or graphic designers. That way if I commit to training and grooming them they will stick it out and follow the guidance we give them.
What are some things you look for in résumés and cover letters? Are there any things that would send an applicant to the “no” pile right away?
As noted above, the things I look for are relevant experience (not too much for entry-level roles, but some to show that they can work with customers) and quality communication skills, and a passion or interest in the role and the company itself.
There are a lot of things that will send them straight to the “no” pile. The most common mistakes are sending me a cover letter or résumé that was clearly written for another job/company. I get dozens of applications where the cover letter says “I think I’d be a great addition to Yelp/Amazon/Salesforce.com” or the objective statement on the resume says “Find a great career in marketing communications” or another even less relevant profession. Those go away immediately.
After that, it’s mostly about typos and major grammatical errors. A lack of attention to detail and an inability to communicate professionally are very challenging things to overcome while trying to teach new hires about an industry, a product line, and a set of sales techniques.
What steps would you recommend a student take to best prepare for a career in this field?
Preparing for a successful sales career is largely about communication skills and understanding the tools commonly used in sales. If you already understand how to use Excel, Word, Powerpoint, PDFs, CSVs, and Salesforce.com (or another CRM) you’re at a huge advantage. These, again, are skills that take time to train that could be better used for learning the most effective sales techniques.
What is the biggest mistake you see candidates make when interviewing for positions in sales? What do the best candidates do to stand out in an interview for sales positions?
The biggest mistakes:
- Failing to research the company
- Failing to bring anything to the interview. (Bringing résumés may seem old school, but I’m looking for people who are prepared for anything, whether it be an old school interviewer who expects a paper résumé or someone who expects them to be well-dressed). I also expect them to come armed with good questions and a pen and paper with which to write down notes and answers. I see so many candidates nowadays who show up at the interview with nothing but a smile and it makes me feel like they’re not taking it seriously.
- Failing to try to understand the role or assuming they understand the role. Some job descriptions aren’t clear, and so it’s okay to ask questions and make sure you understand, but guessing about what the role entails and guessing WRONG makes you look ridiculous. I once had a candidate say that she thought she was interviewing for a pharmaceutical sales job and that I was a staffing agency. Two minutes of research and paying even a small amount of attention would have helped her not appear so completely lost.
- Showing up late or getting lost—I try to be understanding; this stuff happens. But if you really care about an interview you make absolutely sure you know where you’re going. I’ve done dry runs and driven all the way to a distant office just to make sure I didn’t get lost on interview day. Going the extra mile doesn’t always pay off, but it will never hurt.
- I think it’s really vital for sales candidates to sell themselves the way they would your product. They should ask good questions and let me do a good amount of the talking to ensure they know what I’m looking for. They should try to make the interview feel like a conversation. They should never oversell their capabilities (“I can sell anything to anybody!”) but they should also be confident and portray that confidence. (“I feel I can excel because…”)
- And again, the biggest thing they can do to stand out is be fun to talk to. If I enjoy interviewing you I’m a lot more likely to want to spend months training and mentoring you and working alongside you.
- Remember that sales (and therefore interviewing for a sales role) is a lot like dating: It should feel natural, not forced. It should be fun, but not completely wacky. You should be confident but not arrogant. And at the end, you shouldn’t expect to close the deal, but you should still try
Homework time! Choose one piece of software that Matt mentions (e.g. Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or Salesforce) and find a YouTube tutorial that teaches you a new function.