A Road Full of Potholes

Each day as I’m making the trek to and from work it ends on a road that is chock full of potholes thanks to the abuse it takes from the commercial trucks making the same journey.  It’s quite interesting to watch all of the 4 wheel vehicles jockeying to avoid the massive potholes that are often side by side, veering into the other lane or snaking along to avoid the risk of a necessary realignment or new tires.  Every now and then they will notice that a new divot has formed but it’s too late to swerve and so the tires sink into this hard bed of disaster…such is life!

That’s right, such is life in the professional world.  Careers are rarely paths of straight, perfectly paved asphalt.  More often they are bending, winding, and pothole filled with a few fender benders along the way.  The difference is how we navigate and the impact that we allow the potholes to have on our vehicle.

There was a movie called, “Why Did I Get Married?” that was fairly popular a few years ago.  The title gives the obvious impression of what you will see for two hours.  Another movie that could easily be made is “Why did I Take This Job?”.  There are few guarantees in life and I would put jobs and companies at the top ten on the low guarantee list.  I often hear and have experienced the feeling of professionals struggling with a career choice made.  Some linger on choice, consistently reflecting on their “mistake”, while I EXPECT it to happen to everyone at least once and think it’s necessary for growth.

A recent graduate questioned his decision to accept a position with one engineering firm over another.  His reasons were numerous and genuine, his quest was the magic feeling that this was a guaranteed “right” decision.  My question was, “how do you know that something is a sure thing?”   His response: “That’s my problem, I never feel ‘sure’.  Maybe he was looking for too much.  The Oprah Aha moment doesn’t come in every situation!  Just about every decision we make is based on a combination of what we know (research, etc.)  with a healthy dose of what we feel: intuition, emotion, gut feeling, an inkling…whatever you want to call it!  The facts that you know are based merely on the information that you have.  When it comes to career decisions, after you’ve read Glassdoor reviews, interviewed the employer, spoken to other employees (a rarity in today’s corporate climate), and weighed your options the finality is based on “your gut”.  You ask for assistance from friends and families and  they will give you advice but more often than not you’ll hear “what’s your gut telling you?” or “go with your gut!”  By the way, going with your gut is obviously popular since the phrase results in 186,000,000 Google results, at press time….just saying.

The decision to study one major over another during college is rarely based on the fact that this is what you’ll want to do for the rest of your life, it’s the fact that it’s something that interests you wrapped in the feeling that you want to do this.  How many of us are actually doing what we planned to do as 17-year-old high school graduates?  Even more interesting is how few of us stick with the major that we chose during our freshmen year….did we panic? For the most part, I would say no.  Our youthful energy and flexibility convinced us that change was okay and we didn’t have to have a sure thing.  Why is that so hard to accept with a career decision?

If you’re struggling with what you want to be when you grow up, BE COMFORTED, at some stage in the game most of us will (or are)–many times over.  We will evaluate and re-evaluate at different stages in our lives, based on our renewed needs and focus.  What works at 21 will not at 35 and again at 50.  Know this and in the meantime:  Take risks, Trust Your Gut, Make Decisions, and Don’t Look Back!  If things don’t pan out as perfectly as you planned…rinse, wash, repeat.

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If You Live Off Love You’ll Starve To Death

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It’s definitely been a long day when I’m quoting the patriarch of Duck Dynasty but I have to tell you the man leaves behind little gems of wisdom that can’t be ignored. In this case he was referencing the danger of marrying a woman who can’t cook so I’ll ignore the old school nature of his conversation and focus on why it caught my attention.

A recent article noted sales as one of the top global careers for 2013. While many would be surprised at this, I’m not. Sales is consistently in the short list of growing career fields for a number of reasons but rarely noted as the career of choice for new professionals and college grads.  Instead, it’s often a career of last resort.   The reputation of being a salesperson combined with the inherent (and perceived) financial risk of selling is a deterrent for many.  Seasoned professionals with all of the skills and talent to transition to sales don’t want to take the risk because they have experienced the stability of a “guaranteed” paycheck while new job seekers often don’t view it as a career and have been trained to concentrate their search on a “stable” position with solid income, or even more interesting, SOMETHING THEY LOVE.

I’m a proponent of following your passions (seriously, I write three blogs on subjects that I enjoy) but you can’t always start out living off love.  If you’re in the small percentage of people with an immediate means to your endgame whether it’s creative, scientific or otherwise, cheers to you!  What about the larger portion of the population that is experiencing the effects of a struggling economy and the resulting stagnant hiring market?  Are you sitting around waiting impatiently as you search for the career of your dreams or are you weighing your options and keeping an open mind?   If you don’t want to starve to death, I’ll tell you how to identify a path to your vision through sales.

In a December Forbes article the top 18  professions were listed (I know, why not make it an even 20?).  Number 7 on the list was Sales Representatives for wholesale, manufacturing, technical and scientific roles.   An interesting note, the subcategories represented 3 of the top 7 categories.  Basically, sales was number 7 but “top jobs” 1, 4 and 6 were all Technical or Scientific positions.  I know there are a lot of facts and figures and the logic of someone with a greater degree of book education than me BUT in my mind that actually moved sales to a reasonable 4 on the list–don’t try to figure out my math, just go with me here or use the number you’d like!

That’s my Forbes argument for why I believe Sales makes sense as a career, but I have a few other reasons why it’s more than just a “respectable” option.  I believe that EVERYONE with the right personality can go into sales and stave off starvation but even more do something you love, here’s why:

1) Sales fits into any field of interest.   One of the most successful headhunters that I had the opportunity to interact with was a science geek first and foremost.  He had a chemistry background and all of the stereotypical traits of a scientist.  His cutting wit allowed him to be more people oriented than the standard “nose in a book” research scientist but he had all of the knowledge necessary to do so.  Most scientists at entry levels don’t make the kind of money that he needed for the lifestyle that he wanted but sales reps can!  Enter the sexy world of BioPharmaceuticals in the late 90’s/early 2000’s and he could talk science all day with candidates and flex his educational muscle with Chief Scientific Officers.  Industry Exclusion: ZERO   Sales: ONE

2)Personality Can Often (safely) Override Experience.  Personality is important when you visit a physician but bedside can’t compensate for education.  You can’t hire a physician based on personality and no technical training but you the necessary character traits can translate into a rock star sales candidate–that might be you.  This absolutely doesn’t mean that intelligence isn’t a requirement, it definitely is, however lack of educational and practical experience aren’t disqualifiers in the sales world.  While great sales managers are proud and unwilling to accept “any old slacker” they usually have the flexibility to see worthy hiring potential without checking off every tick mark for the HR perfect candidate.  Experience: ZERO   Sales: TWO

3)If you have a hobby you can sell.  When you love something enough you can talk about it for hours.  Men, particularly, do a great job of getting together over their hobbies and in turn translating it to business opportunities.  Rather than just making it fun, monetize it, make it employment not just enjoyment.  I realized that I had interest in the stock market during my high school economics courses and dabbled via personal trading sites–you know you love that little baby.  This hobby helped me when I was approached regarding a stint selling Investor Relations tools and products.  I knew enough about the financial market that combined with on the job training made me comfortable targeting CEO and CFO’s of publicly traded companies.  What do you enjoy?  Which companies should you be targeting in that specific world?  Transition Inhibition: Zero  Sales: Three

4) Do you have an extensive verbal repertoire?  My son is a cellist.  He’s got the skill set to play ANYTHING and that’s just what I encourage him to do.  Why should Bach be the only composer you know well when there are modern composers that offer you an opportunity to expand your book of knowledge?  I love to walk in the house and hear him playing Coldplay as much Chopin.  That’s the kind of person that can make a home in sales.  If you answer jeopardy questions, read a variety of books, and have natural curiosity that should translate well into knowing a little about a lot, a key component to becoming a successful salesperson.  You always want to have knowledge about the product you’re selling but your client will be more interested in speaking to you if YOU’RE ACTUALLY INTERESTING!  There is nothing I won’t talk about (within professional reason) and if I’m not experienced on the topic I can work Google search results into my conversation seamlessly.  Master of Trade over Jack of All Trades: Zero   Sales: Four

When it’s all said and done the skill, will and thrill sales environment isn’t for everyone but there are many people who miss out on great opportunities because they haven’t considered the career potential in sales.  Exploring the option could lead to your happy, happy, happy career moments (sorry another Duck Commander reference).

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Mad Journey #2: Understanding that People Leave People Not Companies (Pt. 2)

(Most people read Pt. 1 before they read Pt. 2 but just in case you didn’t:  I left a solid position as the number one Sales Exec at a company.   After doing so, I took time to review the impact that my manager had on my decision).

Quitting

Marshall–the CSO–wasn’t a fan of salespeople and where they were concerned he lacked vision.  Long term perspective would have allowed him to nurture his team, treating them as commodities to be nurtured and developed over time.  For him, support team members weren’t individuals with great potential for contribution so he couldn’t acknowledge any idea that wasn’t his own as one that could be successful.  If this isn’t enough for you to get that people leave people not companies, read on.  You understand?  Read on, anyway.  Humor me.

I left him because he was like living with a drunken parent.  I know, it sounds harsh, but imagine coming home from school and not being sure of just what will set mommy or daddy off (ironically he referred to himself as a “step dad”).  I left him because he called others liars while lying himself.  Not lying just through direct verbiage but through manipulation and this for me is professionally unacceptable.

I left him because he couldn’t give anyone credit for being knowledgeable in their role except in a backhanded manner.  When I accomplished a major sales goal, he pointedly ignored any celebration of it.  Why?  I have a few thoughts about that.  Marshall would never congratulate someone on something that he perceived as their responsibility but placed very little value in.  The value was the dollars that I drove, not me, and showing any appreciation would be recognizing an individual and perhaps inflating her confidence unnecessarily.  Little did he know that confidence is like a sales warrior’s genetic marker and attempts to damage it are futile (this is where my partner would have inserted an evil laugh).

I left him because he consistently ran off mentors, successful people in sales management that could lift production and career value of my colleagues and me, because he wasn’t comfortable being challenged and his selfish nature led him to believe that they didn’t bring HIM value.  He once referred to a prove industry leader as being lazy as a way to dismiss the fact that he didn’t like this gentleman and knew that his C-level pedigree was greater than his own.

I left him because he assumed that being smart in SOME areas made him above challenge in ANY areas.

I left him because he considered salespeople as plug-n-play options, necessary but expendable.  An example was that when his #1 producer put in her notice (yes, me) he reassigned my territory without acknowledging my resignation.  A “we don’t really need you” gesture that made me laugh and one that he tried to refute when he asked me to stay two days later.

I didn’t want to be begged, it wasn’t my intention, and truthfully I have a rule about counteroffers, and accepting one from someone I don’t trust would definitely go against that rule.  However, a true sales leader or visionary would not let their ego get ahead of the success of the company.  Salespeople with documented success are hard to come by, you don’t let them walk without discussing the whys or being open to seeing your part in it.

I left him because insecurity is not a trait that I value.  My best mentors have all been men, including my current leader.  I’ve gravitated to the amount of leverage that men are able to drive in companies without appearing overly emotional, since many of us women get a bad wrap and unfortunately I haven’t had great success with female bosses.  I say that because my male mentors were all very confident.  Their belief in their own backgrounds allowed them to push me to grow and focus on my career without feeling as though it would diminish their ability.

Marshall’s insecurity was consistently exhibited.  Whether it was bad mouthing previous/current employees and leaders or confronting me for having a recorded conversation in which he felt a colleague and I were “talking about him”.  That day felt like a high school lunch room conversation with the petulant teachers pet and stuck out in my mind as behavior unbecoming a true leader.  It was additional confirmation that I needed to seek another environment.

I left Marshall because his ambition was eclipsing his aptitude.  Sure, he was smart but he wasn’t smart enough to realize that you can’t do everything yourself and that surrounding yourself with people who are afraid to challenge you doesn’t mean you are creating a collaborative environment.  Rigid ambition motivated purely by the need for power is damaging to everyone and everything it touches.

The above paragraphs all include “I left him” because at the end of the day my clients, success, and paycheck were not enough to trump the fact that working for Marshall was teaching me more negative than positive.  I COULD work for him but I WOULDN’T.  I would not give him the satisfaction of claiming my success as a result of his leadership.  I had no interest in confirming his management style as relevant to someone with my level of talent and self-directed abilities.   Additionally, I didn’t respect his lack of first hand sales knowledge and unwillingness to admit it.

For those who may think so, I’m not sour grapes over the situation.  My feet landed on solid ground and I walked away on my terms but, more than that, I’m grateful to Marshall.  He confirmed that my career and personal growth should be my greatest priority (as was his) and that WHO I work for/with is just as important as where I work and what I’m doing.  I made a mature decision and in doing so proved that while money is important it isn’t my sole motivation and that the risk I was willing to take would be the type of thing that will make me a great entrepreneur in the future.

Without changing the title of this piece, I’ll admit that I could be wrong in throwing out the old cliché.  Maybe people do leave companies but only because of the environment created by the people who lead them.