Career Strategies Oct 18 2010

Five Tips to Get Sales Jobs If You're Over 50

By sindhu sundar

It's a tough hiring environment for salespeople past a certain age. Employers often pass over their applications in favor of younger, and potentially, cheaper candidates. The silver lining is that high employee turnover rates have leveled the playing field somewhat, say recruiters, as employers no longer worry about how long an older recruit can stay on.

"In the nineties, companies did worry about your potential tenure as a salesperson for them," said Troy Harrison, president of SalesForce Solutions, a Kansas City, Mo.-based recruiting firm. "Realistically, with someone over 60, there was always a question of how long you could have them. But now the tenure is three to five years anyway, so that's no longer a concern."

As a rule, recruiters advise against emphasizing experience too much and focusing instead on what you do know. "Experience is history," said Harrison. "Skills and traits tell me what's you can do tomorrow and next month."

FINS spoke to recruiters about how to make your expertise and saturation in the field work for you rather than against, while applying to jobs.

1. Keep Your Knowledge Relevant

One of the biggest mistakes older sales professionals tend to make is to assume that sales is more about charisma and powers of persuasion than substance, say recruiters.

"I don't care about age," said Richard Hayman, president of Just Moulding Franchising LLC, a Gaithersburg Md.-based molding design and installation company. "The three things I look for in a sales person is salesmanship, product knowledge and industry knowledge. We're willing to teach product knowledge, but many older sales people are starting to lack in the other departments because they don't work on improving their profession."

Hayman advises cultivating or drawing experience from different types of sales -- those involving different sales cycles or types of products.

"In general, the skill set of being a good salesperson applies across the board in terms of industries," said Hayman. " But the type of sales makes a lot of difference -- a car salesman, who's used to selling to individual customers based only on a few factors such as price would be terrible at selling a complex product to a large organization."

2. Improve Your Computer Literacy

Recruiters observed that older professionals tended to neglect being on top of updates in technology that have become commonplace in their field -- and have lost out as a result.

"I've seen many older sales people who have not kept up with developments in computer technology," said Harrison. "And I'm not even talking about newer things like social networking. I'm talking about CRM systems, the ability to communicate via email and text. But most of the time, that's the only way to reach out to clients."

3. Compromise on Compensation Expectations

While seasoned candidates are appealing because of the knowledge they bring to the team, recruiters say that employees are reluctant to spend more for it.

"By and large, candidates with more experience tend to command larger compensation packages," said Stephen Schwartz, president of Management Recruiters at Gramercy Inc., a New York City-based sales recruiting firm. "Less experienced candidates, by definition, save money. Of course, employers aren't going to come out and say that. But it'll be couched in terms like, 'Oh, they're over-qualified,' or something like that."

4. Use Your Credibility to Your Advantage

Another mistake that recruiters caution against is trying to sell something that isn't age appropriate.

"It's not about experience, but matching experience," said Hayman. "Fifty is not old. I've hired salespeople who've worked well into their seventies and they've worked well enough for me. But you can't have a 60 year old selling videogames, right?"

Harrison recommends selling to an age group that is either closer to yours or appreciates the experience and sees the value in that credibility.

"The truth is that the bias is against the older workforce," said Harrison. "But you have to find ways to make that work for you."

5. Don't Stop Prospecting Clients

"Perhaps the biggest weakness I see in older professionals is the lack of willingness to prospect," said Harrison. "But it's essential to building new territory. A lot of people see it as something they did when they were younger and 'making their bones.' In today's economy, the reality is that it's the only way to ensure revenue generation."

Write to Sindhu Sundar

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