In 2011, Sales Jobs Will Be There for the Driven

By John Rossheim, Monster Senior Contributing Writer

As goes the economy, so goes sales hiring. That simple truth means much remains unclear about the availability and attractiveness of sales jobs in 2011, yet another year when American workers will face extraordinary uncertainty.

Still, momentum seems to favor salespeople, as earning a living by selling got a bit easier in 2010 after the trying times of the two-year recession. “In 2008 and 2009, salespeople took a haircut,” says Jordan Rayboy, president of Rayboy Insider Search, a Davie, Florida, IT recruitment firm. “They worked harder for less pay.” In 2010, more employers were willing to invest in their sales forces, having some faith that customers could be cajoled into buying. In October 2010 there were 145,000 more workers employed in sales and related occupations than a year earlier, although sales unemployment remained quite high at 9.1 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But even as about 1.5 million salespeople remain unemployed, there’s cause for hope in 2011, because many hiring freezes have thawed and sales jobs in diverse industries turn over frequently. “Financial services companies are always hiring in sales, because there’s so much turnover,” says Mark Coleman, managing director of Compensation Analytics, a sales compensation consulting firm in Edina, Minnesota. Coleman, for example, worked with a large financial services firm that trimmed its head count by 20 — with 700 hires and 720 resignations, terminations and retirements.

And it’s not just employers that weathered the recession with relative ease that will hire salespeople in 2011. “Companies that cut the most in the last three years are now doing the inverse — hiring the most,” Coleman says. “Employers are cutting in other areas like operations to add people in sales.”

More Than Ever, You Must Know What You Sell

Gone are the days when physical attractiveness and youth were virtual must-haves for sales employment in some industries, says Chuck Pappalardo, managing director of Trilogy Search, an executive recruitment firm in Burlingame, California. “Salespeople need to be more sophisticated,” Pappalardo says. “It’s not so much about sales techniques, but rather technical depth. Lots of top-end salespeople in pharmaceuticals are very technical. Now that’s coming down through the organization.”

Subject-matter expertise is indeed more important than ever for salespeople in many businesses. One employer looking for salespeople with technology and business savvy is Gather, which creates and aggregates editorial content for use by clients in their branding initiatives. “We’ll be hiring 10 to 12 sales professionals before the end of 2011 in New York and Chicago, and maybe in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston,” says Tim Spencer, vice president of sales at the Boston-based firm. “Some will sell our content platform; others will sell ads.”

Among other qualifications, salespeople for Gather need a command of Internet media, an understanding of the role of content in branding as well as business skills to negotiate two-year deals, according to Spencer. These qualifications illustrate another sales hiring trend: Employers are pickier than ever about the salespeople they hire, even those paid mostly on commission. “The pool of candidates that my clients will accept is getting smaller and smaller,” Pappalardo says.

Practical Strategies for Getting Hired in Sales

With each sales posting typically bringing in hundreds of resumes, candidates have to work their networks, online and off. “Find internal champions using LinkedIn and other social media,” Rayboy says. “Find out who you and the hiring manager might know in common. Network with people you know inside the company, someone who can refer your resume up the chain.”

And don’t accept an offer of a sales job without researching what the compensation plan is likely to net you in your first year as well as your fifth. “Make sure that your compensation is realistic,” says Sarah Peiker, director of recruiting business solutions at Manpower. “What are their salespeople making? What’s the best salesperson earning? You need to interview the company.”

As it is across the economy, inequality in sales pay seems to be increasing. It’s no longer a given that a sales job in a glitzy industry will guarantee a big paycheck and a long career. “For young people, the very top will succeed, but there will be fewer of them,” Pappalardo says.

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