What’s the perfect job for a potential salesperson who’s still in college? How long is the ideal résumé? And what should your cover letter actually say? We catch up with Melanie Graff, Senior Recruiter at Yammer who recruits enterprise sales and marketing professionals nationally on behalf of Yammer and Microsoft’s sales teams.
Which positions do you review applications for?
I review applications for non-technical roles including marketing, creative, product marketing, corporate marketing, and sales ops.
What are some things that college students can do to make their applications stand out?
If you’ve done any work on campus like development or fundraising, that’s very salesy and a great thing to have on a résumé. If not, maybe retail sales; something that gives a sense that you’ve interacted with the public and sold a product or service. Any kind of volunteer work where you’ve raised awareness or raised funds, reached out to people you don’t know, built relationships, and planted seeds that could benefit your school or organization.
For entry-level marketing and sales, we love to see a background in competitive sports or any other type of competitive activity, because that lends itself well to selling. We look for a well-rounded educational background. People like to see business degrees but that’s not a deal breaker. It really is about the person’s drive. Are they driven to be successful? Can they learn on the job?
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?
If you take the time to write a cover letter, it should be tailored to the job you’re applying for because it really makes a difference. If you can add something interesting or a little humor to make sure the reader keeps reading, that’s also great. And if you happen to know someone at the company and have that person’s permission to mention it, you can make note of that.
Also be sure to mention any instances when you’ve functioned as a leader, come up with an idea, and seen it through to execution, or become the leader of an organization or issue. For entry-level positions, fundamental core personality traits are very important, so I look for anything that demonstrates competitiveness, leadership qualities, and the ability to raise funds and awareness.
With regards to mistakes, you need to be fastidious about appearance, which means no typos or spelling errors. Successful applicants have taken the time to look over their résumé several times, and maybe even get someone else to look it over, too. This is really important since it’s the only thing we have that will represent you. To pursue somebody who didn’t really put time into the appearance of their résumé would scare me.
Regarding length, there are some special cases where someone has had really interesting experiences and accomplishments, like Teach For America, and in those cases I don’t mind if the résumé is longer than one page. But in general, for entry-level positions, if the résumé is anything longer than one page, it starts to look a bit like fluff. Just be concise and compelling with what you put on the page.
You should definitely indicate if you graduated with honors; never be shy about your accomplishments. But at the same time, leave lots of blank space so the document doesn’t attack the eye and isn’t overly verbose.
What steps would you recommend a student take to best prepare for a career in sales?
Spend a year on the development team at your university. That’s tough work, so it’s great practice to spend time on the phone and track your success and numbers. If you could come into an interview and say, “I worked so many hours, did so many calls, and of those people so many donated,” knowing your stats would very much impress an interviewer. Both the experience of doing that type of work and keeping track of your record and what worked and what didn’t.
If that’s not doable, try to get some experience selling a product or service and know your ranking so you can show that you took it seriously and you wanted to do better.
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?
A mistake would be the inability to advocate for yourself, your life, your academic career, what kinds of problems you’ve encountered and the steps you’ve taken to solve those problems. If someone comes across as difficult, they won’t get an offer. There’s nothing wrong with being nervous—nervous is good because it shows that it’s important to you, but just make sure that you’re not so nervous that we can’t get a sense of your personality.
You should do your homework on the company. Between LinkedIn and Google you can learn a lot.
If you’re underprepared or ill-prepared, that’s the kiss of death. Have a sense of the interviewers and the history of the company.
I’m looking for someone who can look at the issues we’re dealing with and come up with something innovative and take ownership of problem-solving. Think of something tough you’ve come up against and seen through, what you’ve learned from it, how it got the group beyond where they were. Practice telling your story in a succinct way (be mindful of the time), talking about your life experience, and how it can correlate to a professional setting.
Show that you are open, collaborative, and pleasant to work with because we’re all going to be working together to get to the same result.
P.S. For more detailed info on what it’s like to work on the development team, check out this post on Ramsay Leimenstoll’s experience working for the Phonathon during her college years.