Are College Graduates Prepared to Start a Sales Career?

Are College Graduates Prepared to Start a Sales Career?
Copyright Ohio University. All rights reserved.

How smooth was your transition from college campus to career? Did you hit the ground running and make a significant contribution immediately?

I didn’t. I had a great college experience and still wasn’t certain what I wanted to do next. When it came time to find regular work, I ended up taking a job in sales, almost by default.

I was completely unprepared for the competitive world of advertising sales. For the first nine months of my first job, I didn’t make a single sale. I had a lot to learn.

Skills like managing the sales cycle, running a successful client meeting, creating dynamic presentations, asking questions, demonstrating value and developing client partnerships were foreign to me. I caught a lucky break and eventually found my way. It required a whole lot of additional learning outside of work and that first year of playing catch-up could have easily cost me the job. All of my on-the-job learning also cost my employer. Fortunately, I paid that back with future sales for many years following. However, it doesn’t always work out that way.

Given my own experience, I have often considered this question: If 1 in 9 Americans work in sales, why aren’t are colleges and universities preparing students for sales careers?

I’m proud that my alma mater, Ohio University, is answering that call. OU’s Schey Sales Centre is listening to employers’ feedback: College graduates need to be more prepared to start a sales career. The Schey is preparing students on sales fundamentals and providing a realistic preview into the nuances of a successful sales career.

Copyright Ohio University. All rights reserved.
Copyright Ohio University. All rights reserved.

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of returning to campus as a keynote speaker for Schey’s annual symposium. I got a chance to learn more about the sales curriculum and the impact it’s having on students’ post-college careers. The results are impressive. Students who complete the Schey sales curriculum leave college with the real-world skills they need to jumpstart a successful sales career. Through five sales courses and a 300-hour internship, students learn sales fundamentals that most new grads have to learn on the job, after graduation.

They also learn how to communicate their own value to employers in a compelling way.

Nearly 100% of Schey seniors secure jobs before they graduate. The school’s corporate partners (companies like EMC, HP and BASF) are lined up waiting to hire these students — and for good reason.

I asked Aaron Williams, a fellow OU alum and a sales leader at HP, about his experience hiring Schey Center graduates. Here’s what he had to say: “I’ve been blown away by the talent level of the candidates. They are confident, professional, hungry and eager to roll up their sleeves. The element that makes the biggest difference to me is that this isn’t Plan B. They have fully committed to a career in sales.” And once they’re on the job, these young reps continue thrive. “They’re prepared to do hard work to advance with the company and create more options for themselves.”

Greg Dipasquale, executive director of the Schey, says that some employers have 4-5 Schey alum working for them. Employers are saving time and money by hiring well-prepared students. Training is quicker, turnover drops dramatically, and employers keep coming back to the Schey to recruit high-caliber employees.

Preparing students for sales careers is a growing trend. By Greg’s count, there are around 100 undergraduate programs in the country offering some kind of sales curriculum. It’s about time.

Next up for the Schey: Grow the roster of corporate partners and spread the word to more interested students. Greg envisions recruiting students from across the university — like engineers and liberal arts majors — not just students studying business.

I wish I’d had this preparation in college, and I’m looking forward to working more closely with the Schey Centre to promote sales as an undergraduate curriculum and help corporate partners understand that hiring Schey students is very good investment.

In my new ebook, I talk to sales leaders about how to recruit sales all-stars and how to manage millennial employees. Download the ebook, Leading Breakthrough Sales Performance, to learn more.

Ryan Estis & Associates is a training and development organization helping companies, leaders, sales people and individual contributors embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance in the new economy. We offer keynotes, live classroom training and online learning that blends interaction, energy and actionable content designed to elevate performance. Contact us for programming inquiries and assistance determining the curriculum that could best support your learning and development objectives.

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