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Interview with a Chicago Sales Representative
This interview with a consumer research sales representative reveals the highs and lows of this career path, and the reason this working professional left New York City for an opportunity in the Windy City.

Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?

A: My industry is consumer research. I've been selling customized and syndicated research to companies for three years. I would describe myself as ambitious, energetic, and resilient.

Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?

A: I'm an African American woman. I've never experienced any overt discrimination. My company hired me because I had the skills and background they were looking for. The only awkward situation I've had that was racially related involved a colleague who had a little black doll on her desk. A sales manager asked her to remove it so I wouldn't be offended. I remember laughing when she asked me how I felt.

Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?

A: Although meeting clients face to face is OK, the bulk of my work is handled on the phone and on my computer. I scroll through a database of leads, contacting businesses who have bought research in the past or who seem like good prospects. I chase down decision makers at these companies and try to get them to buy research from me, so I can meet revenue targets. I'm often dismissed as a fly-by-night telemarketer. Just because I contact prospects by phone doesn't mean I'm sitting in a boiler room, trying to make a fast buck by ripping people off.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?

A: I would rate my job satisfaction at about an 8. It's not as monotonous as other positions. For a higher rating, they would have to have a more legitimate ladder to management though -- where hard work, not politics, would lead to promotions as well as raises.

Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?

A: My job doesn't move my heart, unfortunately. Like a lot of people who are in sales, I'm a former theater performer, who needed to pay bills. Sales does offer me a creative outlet at times. I do great presentations and use my charisma to woo clients. If you're good, the salaries are there, but it's not that interesting and I would've been happier if 'd made it as an artist.

Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?

A: I walked into my first job with little experience or confidence and discovered I had a gift for cold-calling people at companies and building relationships.

Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

A: I saw an ad in the New York Times and left a voicemail message for someone. I had to leave the message like four times before I got a callback. If I could do it over again, I would ask for much higher base pay during job interviews. I would've asked for a salary that reflects what I'm worth and not what I made prior.

Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?

A: I learned that getting on a management track is something you campaign for. I've seen people who were less talented set up good relationships with management, and express interest in that kind of momentum. I don't, so it never happens for me.

Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?

A: The working world is a stage you operate on. Relationships are mostly just strategic.

Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?

A: The strangest thing that ever happened to me was having a receptionist spread the untrue rumor I was dating a guy on my team.

Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?

A: My greatest motivation is money, commission checks. I get up every morning to keep cash flowing into my bank account. I hated having the low net worth of a starving artist. Closing deals sometimes involves airplane trips to cities I've never seen. Sometimes there's the chance to do a little sightseeing. That's definitely cool.

Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?

A: I deal with the constant pressure of spreadsheets and a board posted on the wall of the office that shows my monthly earnings. There's always the risk of being fired if I don't produce. On the flip-side, I don't get the recognition I should for the money I bring in on a steady basis.

Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?

A: I manage stress by ignoring the sales quotas and spreadsheets and just reaching out every day to as many prospects a possible. I don't, however, have a life. I spend most of my time at my desk, in meetings or commuting. On weekends, I sleep and do laundry. It's what it is. You have to live methodically.

Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?

A: $50,000 is the very least a corporate sales rep should make in base pay. With commissions, you should be looking at at least $120,000 a year. Salaries and commissions are trending down. You have to be firm with companies and not let them nickel and dime you.

Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?

A: I take about two weeks off between December and January each year. Then I take off a few days in the summer. Yes, it's enough. Anymore and I would fall behind. My work would lose its urgency.

Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

A: Getting hired to be a business to business sales rep doesn't call for a specific educational background. If you're outgoing, well-spoken and dressed -- as well as have an understanding of the industry you're going to be dealing with, you're an ideal candidate. If you see yourself as a managerial type immediately or down the road, having a master's degree can help.

Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

A: If a friend were to ask me if they should pursue a career in sales, I would tell them it's the fastest track to a decent income. It's a good idea, but save more than you spend since it's a revolving door industry.

Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

A: In five years, I'd like to have my own research company and offer products to clients that my current company doesn't. When I was offered to leave the New York office for Chicago, I had some hesitation, but it was a smart move. There's more space here to breathe. It's less cut-throat. My cost of living is lower, so I spend less and yes, the pizza is way better.