Getting Ahead

Here’s How to Stand Out in a Sales Job Interview, According to an Industry Leader (and She’s Hiring!)

headshot of a person with short black hair and a blue blazer
Christa Robinson, an associate sales manager at Liberty Mutual Insurance.
| Courtesy of Liberty Mutual Insurance

Christa Robinson found her calling as a college student—but it wasn’t because of a class she took or a professor she admired. Instead, she discovered her love for sales while waiting tables, a job she took to put herself through school.

“I was fascinated with being able to deliver exceptional service to the customer and being compensated well for doing so,” she says. “The fast-paced environment was thrilling, and I wanted to continue doing this but in a different manner.”

After graduating, Robinson continued to work in sales and management in both the car rental and insurance industries. In her latest role—as an associate sales manager at Liberty Mutual Insurance—Robinson is responsible for leading a team of about 30 sales associates and reps to ensure they succeed.

“Most importantly, I’m responsible for creating and maintaining a culture that drives the team to want to show up and do their best work so that they are the best for our customers and the company,” she says.

Here, Robinson shares how Liberty Mutual helps employees develop in their careers, why the company is ideal for salespeople just starting out, and what she looks for in candidates.

What led you to your job at Liberty Mutual, and how did you know the company would be a good fit?

Before coming to Liberty Mutual Insurance, I found myself working 60-plus hours a week. I had just started my family, and I was missing major moments in my kids’ lives. As a mom, it broke my heart. I decided to make a change from the car rental industry to insurance and accepted a role working for an agent at a major carrier selling more than 100 insurance products. The agent noticed something in me and encouraged me to pursue owning my own agency.

Instead, I decided to put feelers out and explore a variety of agency opportunities with multiple carriers. I remember receiving the call from a recruiter at Liberty Mutual Insurance as if it were yesterday. Several things that she mentioned to me stood out: Liberty Mutual believes in work-life balance, which meant that I would have greater flexibility to balance things like building my career and taking my kids to their doctors’ appointments or attending their sporting events. She also said that sales roles offered unlimited income potential, which I had never heard before.

At that point, I was sold. I can truly say the day I joined Liberty Mutual was a great step forward in my career.

Since joining Liberty Mutual almost 10 years ago, you’ve held four different roles. How does the company encourage and support employee growth?

I started as a sales rep and was happy in my role. I was exceeding my numbers, receiving great compensation, and feeling that I could bring my authentic self to work. I was comfortably in a groove and in my comfort zone. I was fortunate to have a manager that saw the potential in me. She noticed that I had a passion for coaching and developing others on my team. She encouraged me to participate in our company’s management development program and pursue my MBA at the same time.

But she didn’t stop there. I recall her placing a job posting on my desk for a role that would allow for me to carry out my passion for coaching and developing sales representatives, but on a larger scale. I vividly remember her telling me that it wouldn’t be fair to hold me back from doing what she thought I would excel at. I jumped two feet in, applied, and got the role. Throughout my tenure, I’ve been fortunate to be mentored and coached by managers who are passionate about my development, and I’ve continued to take on different sales manager roles with increasing responsibilities.

Why is Liberty Mutual a great company for those just starting out in their careers, specifically for those who work in sales?

At Liberty Mutual, they truly put people first by providing a fun environment, creating a sales organization that’s motivated by helping our customers, and offering training and development programs—all of which are great for sales reps just starting their careers. It’s important to the company that their employees succeed, so they invest in them, especially during the onboarding process. They believe in taking a hands-on approach, including going into the field with employees to show them what great work looks like. Each new hire is assigned a sales coach who makes their experience practical and valuable.

Liberty Mutual also offers a variety of mentorship and development programs that anyone can take advantage of. Through different partnerships, there are opportunities to sharpen and develop role-based skills and a defined set of soft skills all employees work towards, such as embracing a growth mindset.

Tell us about your involvement in the company’s employee resource groups. In what ways have they benefited you? Why are they an important resource for employees?

The company prioritizes creating an inclusive culture that enhances personal development through seven employee resource groups. I’m currently an active member of Legacy (Leaders Engaged in Growing African Americans’ Careers and You), WE@Liberty (our women and allies group), LEADA (Liberty Employees of African Descent and Allies), and the WE for Sales Professionals group.

These groups provide networking opportunities, and the chance to build allies, better collaborate, learn different perspectives, enhance our DEI skill sets, and achieve our goals. They provide a space to be accepted by others as we all work to sharpen our DEI lenses. I notice that when employees feel welcome, accepted, and comfortable, it drives them to want to do their best work. Lastly, hearing from and learning different perspectives helps us recruit and attract diverse talent as we strive to better meet the needs of our diverse customer base.

In what other ways has Liberty Mutual committed to building an inclusive company?

Liberty Mutual has a multi-year plan that includes goals to increase representation of women and people of color at all levels in the U.S. by 2025. Delivering on these goals means that about one-third of all employees will be people of color and over half will be women.

What skills are necessary to succeed in sales?

The ability to prospect and build quality relationships and to work efficiently are important. You also need to have a consultative approach that builds trust with the client, the drive to bring in business, and perseverance.

What do you look for in sales candidates during the interview process?

During an interview, I look for candidates who can show me that they possess grit, passion, and an entrepreneurial spirit. They should be competitive, motivated, and enjoy helping people. Someone who likes being recognized for good work and who shows they have overcome challenges or adversity also stands out in my mind.

What advice do you have for people just starting off in a sales career?

First, be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and be willing to adapt to change. Our business is constantly changing, so being resilient is a core skill to carry you through your career. Be coachable and willing to learn and try new things. Don’t be afraid to fail, but if you fail, fail fast, get back up, and try again. Finally, be humble and appreciative of the opportunity you have been given.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

To put others first but at the same time to take care of myself. As an individual, you are solely responsible for your personal development, so make sure to take time out for yourself. Learn to be selfless and a bit selfish at the same time.