Essays on Technology and Culture

On Being Typecast as a Sales Guy

I had to be sold on the job before I took it. The proposition wasn’t a bad one: three hours a night, four or five nights a week, minimum wage with generous productivity bonuses, and free tickets to the shows. A couple of days later, I was on the phones trying to wheedle money out of elderly theatre subscribers. Somehow, I developed a knack for it, and it helped pay my way through college. I still work there as I write this; I need the money and you can’t beat the perks.

It was a risk. As my academic career progressed, I opted for something that would pay for rent, textbooks, and food in lieu of an unpaid internship and experience in my field. While it worked out in the short term, once college came to an end I was forced to compete for jobs with only a Bachelor of Arts in English and four years of experience calling people at dinner time to my name. I thought I could spin it into an entry level position in non-profit development, but nothing came of it. After a few months of searching, two opportunities had been laid in front of me. Option one was a part time, temporary editing gig with a local medical college that had the possibility of becoming full time. Option two was a full time job with benefits, but consisted of calling companies on behalf of tech firms to get them to take sales pitches.

With student loans due, and an itch to get out of my parents house again, I opted for the full time job, knowing full well it wasn’t what I really wanted. I figured I’d try it for a year, and look for something else if I was unsatisfied.

This was a mistake.

Sixteen months later, I was given the boot for poor performance, and entered the dark wilderness of my Lost Year. As I searched for something else to do, I felt as though I had been typecast. When someone looks at my rèsumè and sees "Account Executive" and "Tele-Sales Agent," I can’t help but imagine them going "Yeah, we don’t need some sales guy in this position," and putting it in the circular file. During my unemployment, it seemed the only people who I excited were headhunters desperately searching for warm bodies to fill entry-level sales jobs. I probably averaged a call a week from a recruiter, and you could hear their voices sink when I told them I was not interested in sales work.

I don’t regret not taking internships. I’m of the mindset that any work that benefits an organization deserves to be compensated in some way more tangible than "college credit." That stuff wouldn’t have paid my rent. What I regret is the choice of taking what looked like the safe thing—$30,000 a year and health insurance—over a chance to try something new and more aligned with my personal interests and education. If the Many Worlds Hypothesis is correct, then there is another universe where I made the right choice. What I wouldn’t give to switch places. I knew I wanted some financial security, but what I got was ten times more of what I had at my part time college job—if not more, as I was still doing it, pulling 52 hour work weeks for minimum financial gain. The powers that be dangled two carrots in front of me, and I took the bigger one, not realizing that the big carrot was the only one I’d get.

The lesson? Don’t compromise on something as important as what you do for a living, but that’s a hard thing to do. It’s been another year since my Lost Year, and I’m still doing something that isn’t what I want, and for less money. At least there’s an escape plan that I am slowly executing. The move to New York promises to give me new opportunities and new inputs to consider. I’ve seen the wages of security, and they’re increasingly not worth it. [1] Whatever the choices end up being, once they end up in front of me, I am going to take the one that appeals to me on more than just a financial level. I make this statement publicly, and I ask the couple of dozen readers I have to hold me to it. Risk taking is not something in my blood, but it’s something I’d like to put there. It’s time to stop seeking permission to be awesome.

  1. Approximately $750 every two weeks, after taxes.