So the sales track has caught your eye. Maybe your friend has bragged about the commission, or you’re sick of spending your days in front of a computer having zero interaction with others. However, you can’t think of a single skill that’ll help you land the role.
The first place to start is to ask yourself, “Have I done anything related to sales?” Before you immediately throw in the towel, really think about it. For example, I was a sales associate at a clothing store for three years. Sure, I’ve since spent my career writing, editing, and creating content, but that one experience isn’t any less valid. After all, it takes a certain kind of person to keep a smile on her face when dealing with pre-teens who can’t decide between 10 different pairs of jeans.
With that said, companies understand that most entry-level sales candidates are coming in with little to no previous experience. That’s not what organizations care about since succeeding in the field really just takes practice. Instead, they’re far more interested in your soft skills.
In an effort to nail down exactly what makes a top candidate shine, I spoke to several sales hiring managers and recruiters to get as close as possible to a surefire list.
So, if you’re not sure you’re qualified to pursue a sales career, check out this list and just maybe you’ll see yourself in them.
1. Social Awareness
This shouldn’t be surprising, but the best sales people are social, amicable, and likable—basically, they’re great communicators and conversationalists.
But social awareness isn’t just about what you say, it’s about empathy, good listening skills, and an understanding of when not to talk. “The best sales people are those who can relate to others, show genuine interest in others, and can share their real voice when they speak,” adds Christina Markadakis, Sales Talent Recruiter at The Muse.
With a confident, social personality comes the risk of cockiness. Great sales candidates own their accomplishments without an ego. Even more importantly, says Dylan Michael, Sales Manager at The Muse, “they should be able to tell me about a mistake without shifting the blame, but rather focusing on what they learned from it.”
“Holding selves accountable and not blaming ‘the product,’ ‘the market,’ or ‘the manager’ for lousy results is what separates top performers from mediocre ones,” adds Ryan Winthrop, Recruiting and HR Manager at Acquirent, a company that specializes in hiring and training sales departments.
3. Strong Work Ethic
More than other career tracks, sales requires you to really hustle. Even when you get leads, it takes (sometimes many) follow-ups to close the deal. Other times, you’ll have to work with tough or unreliable clients who require constant attention or a gentle push.
Not to mention, if you’re working on commission, your income basically relies on you to get stuff done. That being said, this kind of work style, while not for everyone, is extremely motivating for some.
“The beauty and curse (depends on perspective) of sales is that you receive a performance review every day. You either made progress (set an appointment, hit activity numbers, closed deals) or you didn’t. Given that, the buck stops with the sales pro. And those who out-perform the others do so because of their grit. They come in every day and grind to build that pipeline and move opportunities through the funnel,” says Winthrop.
Because most entry-level sales associates are coming in with little previous experience, every hiring manager wants to ensure that the person they’re hiring will be able—and willing—to pick up new skills or strategies, learn from their mistakes, and be open to feedback.
“You shouldn’t just be open to feedback, you should crave it. It’s expected you’ll make mistakes, and mistakes are fine, as long as you’re learning from them. The best hires can implement feedback quickly and effectively,” adds Tom Feulner, Senior Director of Sales Training at Yelp.
I’m not talking about having a clean desk and inbox (although those don’t hurt either). Great sales people are organized and prepared—for meetings, for certain responses from clients, for the worst.
“Without being organized, you’re bound to miss opportunities and fail to meet quota. Keeping meticulous notes, setting tasks diligently, and meeting agreed upon objectives through organization are cornerstones to a successful career. Anyone who doesn’t learn organization skills early and hold themselves to it, should prepare themselves to miss deadlines or opportunities and ultimately lose out on earning potential,” says Winthrop.
Soft skills are one of the most important aspects of your application when it comes to landing a sales job. Which means even if you’re coming from a completely different industry or field of knowledge, you’re probably a lot more qualified than you think.
And these qualities get weened out in your application and interview—so you have to know how to tell the right story about yourself. For example, organization comes through when you come prepared for the interview with questions to ask about the company or product. Self-awareness becomes apparent when you explain how you overcame obstacles in your past job. A strong work ethic can shine through in your resume bullets.
All you have to do is take that next step in your job search.
Photo of person interviewing courtesy of laflor/Getty Images.
As Editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. Her work has been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., Motto, CNBC's Make It, USA Today College, Lifehacker, Mashable, and more. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author