Sales positions dominate classified ad sections in many newspapers and online sites, yet many PR job seekers pass over them in search of more career-specific opportunities.
During my tenure at Eli Lilly, management employees were required to go through sales training and apply those skills for six months as pharmaceutical representatives calling on doctors and pharmacists. I went reluctantly, but then didn’t want to return to headquarters when my sales stint was finished. Many organizations that rely on product sales require such hands-on experience.
At Sara Lee, whenever I proposed a new PR initiative that had significant cost implications, President Paul Fulton would ask: “How many pairs of underwear do we have to sell to pay for that?” (Sara Lee owned Hanes and Champion at the time). Fulton instilled the fundamentals that you had to sell something before you could afford to do anything else.
Bottom-line oriented executives appreciate the practical knowledge that comes through sales experience. Cristóbal Conde, president and CEO of software company SunGard, offered this career advice in a New York Times interview:
“Along the way, have a sales job. You could be selling sweaters. You could be selling ice cream on the street. It doesn’t matter. Selling something to somebody who doesn’t want to buy it is a lifelong skill. I can tell when somebody comes in for an interview and they’ve never had any responsibility for sales.”
A sales position is a logical alternative until the right PR opportunity arises. Many of the experiences gained from sales will apply to your future job, and it will gain you a lot of credibility with people like Paul Fulton and Cristóbal Conde.