Telemarketing: Career Training Ground

Cara Goad
Cara Goad

I enjoy reading LinkedIn career updates and was particularly intrigued recently by the promotion of DePaul senior Cara Goad to Telefund Supervisor for the university’s annual fund-raising campaign.

When I later saw Cara on campus, I learned that she has held several fund-raising jobs that require cold calls, quick thinking and organizational skills. Bingo: Telephone “sales” is a relevant training ground for public relations and marketing careers. And executive recruiters totally agree.

“If you believe that everything in life involves selling, most of all selling yourself then telemarketing experience has real value,” says executive recruiter Bill Heyman, CEO of Heyman Associates. “More than anything pushing past your comfort zone is always an important challenge, and cold calling is exactly that.”

Calling telemarketing one of the hardest jobs, Susan Wise, VP of HR at Ketchum and Zocalo Group, says: “People loathe telemarketers (myself included) so getting beyond the first few seconds of the call is next to impossible.” However, Susan adds, “Through trial and error, successful telemarketers craft a compelling pitch that sparks interest and hold the customer’s attention. They are quickly and sincerely able to articulate the ‘why you should care’ message to customers.”

“When I meet a candidate who’s been successful in telemarketing, I know several things. S/he perseveres through difficult situations and thrives. S/he learns from each interaction and evolves to improve. And s/he understands the customer, what drives him/her and how to best communicate with them. These are skills that are critical to success in the agency business, but also in any consulting, client service or customer service role.”

Clearly undaunted, Cara Goad has succeeded in her telemarketing roles despite the fact it isn’t her career goal. However, she’s well aware that the phone-intensive experiences will be relevant to her future advertising career.

“One of the most important lessons I have learned from calling alumni is that you have to not only take rejection, but take it and get over it quickly,” Cara explains. “Sometimes it gets personal. But the phone keeps ringing, and there are many more conversations to be had after an alum rips into you about how he or she is still unemployed after graduating three years ago. You have to let it roll of your shoulders, take a deep breath, and keep calling.

“It is a great lesson in branding as well,” Cara asserts. “You get to sing the praises of your university and let alumni know about all the exciting advancements being made (with the help of their donations, of course). You also get the opportunity to defend the university against criticism (maybe of a new, expensive basketball stadium for example). As a caller, you are a living, breathing brand representative.”

Cara says she loves the high points of a shift when someone says, “I wasn’t going to give, but you’ve been such a pleasure to talk to this evening.” Cara knows she is selling, but the first step is to get the alum to like you. “They have to feel they know you after talking to you for four minutes. You have to keep them engaged in your conversation because it is so simple for them to just hang up. They aren’t giving to the university as much as they’re giving to you as a student at that university.

“We’re not just fundraising; we’re friend-raising,” because we spend a majority of the conversation building rapport with the alumnus by asking questions regarding his/her time at DePaul as well as what s/he was able to do with a DePaul degree after graduation. Every call is different because every alumnus has different experiences; being able to think on my feet, respond appropriately and thoughtfully, and remain positive are all necessary skills I have honed during my time at the Telefund.”

Is it more than a part-time job for Cara? Absolutely. “It’s a fantastic experience that I recommend to any college student who plans to work in a communication-related field.”

Besides her role as Telefund Supervisor, Cara is President of DePaul Women’s Rugby and she is an intern with PAWS Chicago Client Services/Family Services.

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