Before I outline how you can get your dream job without any experience I want to tell you how I successfully broke into one of the most sought after sales fields for young professionals. I share this because I hope it saves you years of frustration. I hope it outlines a path of action designed to get you where you want to go. I wish someone had given me this advice and I know if you are like me, with a little application, it will change your life.
If you are like me, you spent years trying to break into your dream profession with no results. You sent out countless resumes, studied hard for all your interviews, and reached out to every recruiter and manager you could find only to be turned down repeatedly. This is how I got into one of the most difficult sales professions to break into, Orthopedic Medical Device Sales, and I did it shortly after I got out of college with no experience in the industry.
In the beginning, I played by the same rules as everyone else - tidied up my resume, spent countless hours submitting applications online, and speaking with recruiters over the phone for well over a year. You know where that got me? That's right, NOWHERE! I kept hearing the same thing – “you need to have experience in the industry to get a job,” “you need 3-5 years of documented B2B (Business To Business) sales experience,” “you need outstanding awards for quota achievement, and a history of playing semi-professional sports.” I was a recent college graduate working at ACE hardware. How the heck was I even going to be considered for an interview if this was the case? The only sales experience I had was working a couple months during my Sophomore and Junior summer selling ADT home alarm contracts door to door. Also, the Affordable Care Act had just taken effect and none of the Medical Device companies in their right mind were going to higher anybody while this new law squeezed profits. To make matters worse, I learned that these companies had just finished a round of layoffs to compensate for these profits disappearing. Even if I did land an interview I would be going up against guys much older than me with years of documented Medical Device Sales experience. Did I even stand a chance?
Luckily, I realized the old phrase about insanity was true. I was doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results, so I switched it up. I stopped submitting resumes, stopped calling recruiters, and started to find the guys who did what I wanted to do. I mean, who better to ask how to get into the industry than the guys who were in it? Because I didn't know anybody at the time, I did what any young ambitious boy looking to get in touch with Medical Device Sales reps would do, I picked up the phone and started calling every hospital in the area asking to speak with Medical Device Sales reps. That led to a lot of confused voices on the other line and many wasted hours staying on hold. I maybe got the contact info of 2 guys per month from doing this. I quickly realized I needed a better way. Since I worked at a high traffic hardware store I would see people come in wearing scrubs sometimes and thought since they are in the hospital they may know some reps. My strategy was to kill them with great customer service while letting my positive attitude shine then ask them for their help finding these Medical Sales guys. Over several months of approaching scrubbed up customers, I received more leads than I had calling hospitals and even landed a few meetings with reps. These guys were super friendly and helpful. Since the “approaching scrub people” method worked so well I began asking not only people with scrubs but anybody I helped in the store if they knew any reps in the industry, I was hungry for a change. To my surprise, I began to receive even more contacts this way and as I met and spoke to these guys I noticed a pattern emerging. Most of the guys were giving the same answers to how they got into the industry - "Right place at the right time," and "I knew someone who got me in." To say these answers were a surprise is an understatement. What I had been told for over a year now was I needed to be some semi-pro athlete or accomplished B2B sales rep in order to break in. It became clear, if I was going to break into this competitive field I was going to have to know somebody to help me get in.
Now I began to spend a decent amount of time keeping in touch with these reps waiting for that magic moment when an opening would appear and I could interview. By this time, I had landed a couple interviews only to be beaten out by candidates with years of Medical Device experience. But that was alright, I had a system down and I knew that with every failure I was one more "NO" closer to a "YES." It wasn't until I came across a woman I was mixing paint for that things began to change. "May I ask you a question?" she said. "Why do you still work at Ace Hardware?" By this time, I had spent well over a year with a smile strapped to my face at Ace killing every customer with kindness and phenomenal customer service before going into my routine to ask for help. I knew each customer that walked into the door potentially had access to the guy/gal that was going to get me into the industry and I had to make an impression every single time. Four - five customers told me what a great attitude I had and one guy asked how I managed to stay positive so often. I became known as Mr. Enthusiastic at work and was a beacon of positivity. I didn't know whether to take her question as an insult for a lack of achievement or a compliment for things to come. I politely told her what I wanted to do and asked if she knew anybody that may be able to help. Turns out, her husband was a Regional Manager for a notoriously successful Medical Device Company and just like that I called to lock in an introduction. His name was Tim and little did I know that meeting would forever change my life. "I wouldn't hire you unless you had several years of experience getting your teeth kicked in at a distributorship but I can tell you have the main thing I look for in a rep - passion." This was Tim's response to me during our meeting. Before he left, he gave me several books to read that helped me uncover my strengths. He also gave me a book filled with the most common interview questions and told me I needed to practice. These would lay the foundation for the interview skills I acquired that would help me land a job. Then as we were finishing up, he gave me the best advice I had received yet. "You should reach out to materials managers at the hospital, they know a lot of reps and may be able to help you."
The next day I put on my suit and hustled over to the grocery store to purchase a box of chocolates and flowers. Not really thinking things through before my purchase, I walked around the hospital like a lost puppy dog for nearly an hour unable to find any blinking neon signs indicating Materials Management. Finally, someone stopped me and I asked for help. He walked me past some "Authorized Personnel Only" signs and to the back where he pointed me toward a door at the end of the hallway. As I walked with flowers and chocolates in hand I began to pray that this Materials Manager person was a girl. Thank god she was! Her name was Lynnie and as I poked my head in asking if she was the Materials Manager she glared at me asking who I was and how I got back here. The rest of my body quickly caught up with my head as I entered the room and stripped the bag off my chocolates while handing her the flowers and explaining who I was. Her glare quickly turned to puppy dog eyes and she said, "aww you are so sweet! come on in!" She asked what field I wanted to get into. I had never even thought of that. She explained how there is Orthopedics, Heart, Endoscopy, the list went on and on. "All of them," I said. "You want all of them?" "Yes mam." I was about a year and a half into my journey and had spoken either in person or on the phone with about 20 reps at this point. This nice lady then proceeded to get a binder of cards out and copied over 35 business cards on a copier and handed it to me. Now, to put things in perspective I had spent 18 months of my life sitting on hold with hospitals, approaching people wearing scrubs at work/public, introducing myself to every customer at work, and bending over backwards for anyone I thought may potentially be able to help me. My efforts had generated about 20 phone calls/introductions. I had spent a little over an hour speaking with Tim and not even a day later after receiving his advice had over 35 business cards with email and phone #'s. That advice was worth at least 2 years of my time, 2 YEARS! This lesson really hammered home the value of how hunting down the right person can save you a tremendous amount of time and effort.
I was off to the races again, calling and lining up meeting with all these new contacts. When I ran out of reps I would pick another hospital out, sneak back with my goodies, and politely ask the Material Manager for help, it worked like a charm! I had learned that from the moment I reached out to someone I was on stage being evaluated. Every moment I was on the phone and meeting with these guys was an opportunity to sell myself on why I would make great addition to their team and company. This went on for about 6 months and over that period I started to build a reputation for myself. I had hit it off with many of these guys and they were calling other reps. They would ask about any job openings and tell them about me. I started to land interviews and I was ecstatic! The only problem.. I was terrible at interviewing.
Now I had a new problem on my hands, how to get good at interviewing. I had done some Mach interviews in the past and knew about the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) formula to follow but I was rough around the edges. When I replayed the recording of one of my Mach interviews I found I fidgeted constantly, spoke to fast, sounded nervous, and my thoughts were unorganized. Everything came out like I was a 14-year-old who had finally mustered up the courage to talk to that pretty girl I always liked. I knew practicing would be the only way I would get good enough to make an impression on the hiring managers. I spent 30 minutes a day in front of my computer recording myself answering common interview questions and coming up with sophisticated answers. Over time, I started to see a significant difference in how I interviewed and even learned something crucial about interviewing. If you go in prepared, and by prepared, I mean you have practiced answering all of the common interview questions, prepared a list of stories exemplifying your skills, and learned what answers most employers are looking for behind the questions they ask, you start to develop the skill of twisting your stories/answers to fit whatever question they are asking. The trick is not to have an answer to every possible question they can ask you but a bag of tools consisting of stories and answers at your disposal that you can pull out and twist to answer whatever question they ask you. I was given great feedback from my interviews and even told to keep in touch from a few companies but I couldn't beat the guys who had experience. It seemed like nothing I did or said could beat the fact that I did not have any experience in the industry. However, by some twist of fate something finally happened.
I received a phone call from the hiring manager at a Building Products company I had interviewed with 9 months prior asking if I was still looking for a job. This was one of many non-medical device companies I had interviewed with over the past couple years. They were sick of the MBA graduates with great GPA's who couldn't cut it and were looking for something more street smart. Two days after I started the interview process over with this company I received a call from the hiring manager of a Medical Device company who I had been keeping in touch with for over a year now. As it turns out, he had been receiving multiple calls over that year from reps explaining, "If you have any openings, you need to interview this Brandon Cobb guy, he takes a lot of initiative." My efforts had paid off, I interviewed with his team and was offered a position at his company at the same time I received a job offer from the building products company! Life, has twisted sense of humor. I had been fighting for 2 years to land a job and I would have gladly gone with any job that paid more than the $8.55 per hour I was currently receiving at ACE. During that span, had been turned down by at least 15 companies. Now, I had options and man was I stressed. Stressed because I didn't know what to do. On one hand, I had my dream job and on the other I had a company willing to pay me $25,000 more per year with a company car, gas card, and the best of the best health insurance. Why did life have to do this to me? Why did it have to make me decide? I was sick to my stomach.
After calling every family member and rep I knew to help decide my fate, I had my answer. Because of the Affordable Care Act, most reps were under the impression that their job could be gone tomorrow and was evidenced by other reps suffering that fate. They told me they believed in me but I needed to be "OK" with potentially losing my job tomorrow. With that advice, I made the hardest decision of my entire life and accepted the building products sales job. However, I kept in touch with some of these reps and two years later after seeing that everything didn't turn out to be as doom and gloom as everyone thought it was going to be, I accepted a position in Nashville with this same Medical Device company that offered me the position in Knoxville and I must say it’s been everything I thought it would be and more.
Lesson #1: Find who already has your dream job and ask for help.
We are all human beings, imagine someone asked you for help, what would you say? Most people are more than happy to help you. Set up a face to face introduction and ask them how they got into the industry. To get a leg up, try and find out what he/she needs. What are their job responsibilities? How can you make their life easier? Introducing yourself and having an immediate way to help them will increase your success exponentially. If you are not sure, then ask them what you can do, it can’t hurt! Ask if it’s alright if you keep in touch and continue to do so until something opens up.
Lesson #2: Differentiate yourself!
I did this by using an unorthodox way to find guys I needed to network with. After telling my story how I found them they were sold on me. They would call their boss and other reps to give me the thumbs up. Not a bad way to go into an interview vs the other candidates. Reach out to other employees in the company that perform the role you are interviewing for. Quiz them about the company and ask great questions about advice, obstacles they face, and what they attribute their biggest successes to. People love to talk about their successes. Finally, ask them to reach out to the hiring manager and give you the thumbs up. I guarantee no other candidate is doing this.
Lesson #3: You are always on stage so always be conscious about selling yourself.
Remember when you are networking, every interaction you have with a new person can make or break you. From the moment you meet someone, put a smile on and have a larger than life attitude. You need a bag of stories and accomplishments you can bring up that illustrate you can handle the job and are going to make their life easier. Just because that person does not have an opening does not mean they can't recommend you to someone else and it’s your job to make sure you are "recommendable." If a hiring manager asked him/her about you, what exactly would they say?
Lesson 4#: There is always another way in.
Understand that just because you aren't necessarily qualified on paper doesn't mean you can't get in. What hiring managers are seeking are people who can get the job done and possess the necessary skills to succeed. I didn't have experience but I was networking with people, selling myself, setting up meetings, and finding a way to differentiate myself among all the other candidates. I didn't know it at the time but this skill set is exactly what successful device sales rep possess and execute daily. Find what skills the decision maker is after and broadcast those skills.
Lesson #5: Practice answering interview questions.
Interviewing skills are like a muscle, the more you exercise them the stronger they get. The majority of your interviewing skills will not develop from actual interviews but from recording yourself answering common interview questions on camera. Keep recording and tweaking until you and several other people feel you look and sound good. After you have had some practice and tweaked yourself, role play with a friend and have them drill you. This will work wonders for you.
Have you learned anything while struggling to get your dream job, please share below!