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Career Interview with a Guy who might also be Wry


In the world of Account Management, businesses are represented by people who can do things. Like talking. And writing. Sometimes, at the same time. For some of these individuals, multitasking and networking can be especially brutal. For others, no matter what a company throws at them, it's just another day at the office.

This is one man's story.


1. What activities, duties and work do you do every day?

I work at a tech startup in the South Bay (Silicon Valley) so activities can vary. That's the interesting thing about working at a young company is that your job description is not written in stone.

I'm basically a salesman, but not in the capacity most people think of because I'm Business to Business. I probably need to explain before I can go on to describe daily activities. I operate in a more traditional business environment. My target client is a decision maker. Someone with authority to sign a contract with a hefty $100,000 estimate attached. Typically this means I'm trying to get in touch with a CEO or at least a Vice President. Finding a client usually involves some combination of networking at trade shows, stalking the internet and getting referrals from existing clients.

Something else that requires some explaining is that I don't sell an actual product. What I sell specifically are "services." My company contracts out software development. We don't sell software, we sell the services of the programmers who can build software. Kind of in the same sense as an auto mechanic, you're paying for my company's time. Just instead of paying for the time required to fix a car, it's time required to fixing a car, it's the time required to build an Uber competitor or something.

Daily activities involve getting out of the office to network, making phone calls and sending E-Mails, setting up business meetings and drafting contracts. In general I'm the one who does the prep work, but sometimes I end up being pulled back in even after the sale is over. This is typically when a client becomes tough to handle and they need someone to make them happy again. This is a level of responsibility that's uncommon for a sales guy, but because I'm good at it sometimes I'm asked to do it. Again, it's a startup. There's no real set rules.


1.5. Can you explain what a startup is?

A startup is just a relatively new company. Instagram, Facebook and Uber were all startups until just recently. I don't think there's a real rule of thumb, but once you exceed 100 companies I think it's pretty official that you're no longer considered a startup. That or if you've managed to stay in business longer than 5 years I think? The grand majority of startup companies fail within that time frame.

Most startups these days are technology oriented so stereotypically people think of them as beginning with 3 guys in a garage somewhere, working their asses off 15 hours a day hoping to make it big. Not every startup is started by someone young, though. I've had a few former CEOs of some pretty big companies roll by my office to talk about their new startup. Confidentiality and Non-Disclosure Agreements (in addition to not wanting to say where I work) of course mean I'm not going to name names.

Lack of experience is one reason a lot of startups fail, but a lot of the time they also just don't have the money to pay for anything including their employees. It's pretty common for startups to try and snag employees by "selling them the dream." Usually a valuable employee will be offered stock options in exchange for lower than average pay. This is keeping in mind that a good programmer should be insulted to be offered less than $100,000 even if they were being lowballed. That's only the base cost of hiring someone too. The company needs to worry about paying a share of that employee's benefits and taxes. Even if you're underpaying your startup employee you need to add another 25% in costs on top of their salary.

So yeah, it's not cheap to start a new company that needs at least a couple programmers on staff. Almost always you need to get investors to give you "seed money" to start the company with. You owe those investors some ownership of the company in exchange. If your company strikes it huge, those investors own a certain share of the pie. Very few companies are self-funded, though mine does happen to be one of them. Rather, I'm pretty sure my company has a private investor that's a member of the board of directors.

The ultimate dream for most of these companies is either to become the next Google, or to attract the attention of some larger company so they can be bought out, get their huge payout, then walk away and start another company.

2. How were you trained for this career?

In terms of being trained for sales I worked my way up from being a part-timer to an Assistant Manager at a GameStop. I was pretty dedicated to it at the time and was one of their top performers, and I trained my staff to be the same. That was the ground work for giving me a flair for service and sales even though I'm not a naturally social person.

In terms of being trained for a more business oriented sales job? There was jack shit. In a startup environment you need to be able to teach yourself and observe the people around you. Senior members of staff really don't have the time to teach you everything step by step. Anything you're taught will be on the fly, and in between you're going to trip around not really knowing what you're doing.


2.5. In what way(s) are you not naturally social? Do you enjoy your career because of, or in spite of this?

I was your typical nerdy kid who played too many video games and Magic the Gathering. I was not confident growing up. Work gradually opened me up and developed my social skills, but even then I've always been the kind of person who prefers spending time with small groups of friends and having meaningful conversations. No matter what happens in this world I'll never become a party person. I'm not as extreme as my Father who's happy to live out in the middle of nowhere with his dogs, but the apple still doesn't fall too far from the tree. I enjoy a little alone time.

Aside from networking at large events, my job is really more of a 1-on-1 kind of affair so it does suit my style.

3. What is the salary range for people in your line of work?

There's no real set range because commission isn't something set in stone. Unlike a car salesman however, people in my sort of role tend to have a base salary that's guaranteed to them.

The company initially took me on with the expectation that I would be entry level. They offered me $36,000 a year. I improved quickly and I've been given two raises in less than a year, so now I make $52,000. I'll probably make another $8,000 in commission so probably $60,000 is what I'm looking at.

A more experienced sales guy could easily be making $80,000 on their base salary and a lot more on their commission.


3.5 How long have you been in this particular profession for?

I've been at this for about a year so far.

4. What are some of the fringe benefits you enjoy?

My office isn't really strict about working long hours, so while a lot of people in this area are working 10 hour days it's not uncommon for me to come in at 10:00 and go home by 5:00. There's nobody really houdning me to work harder or faster or anything either, so I get to work at my own pace. Admittedly the lack of pressure means I end up spending a little too much time on Destructoid.

5. What are the positive aspects of your work?

The people I work with are pretty friendly, and the level of diversity in the office is refreshing. My boss is an extremely friendly Indian that's something of an industry veteran. Some of my fellow sales guys are a Syrian dude with lots of stories about what it was like to live there before things got crazy. I swear to God, another one I work with is this bigger guy whose best friend is a pro NFL player. Said NFL player gets tons of free shit he doesn't want or need, so he just hands it off. The guy I work with practically runs a miniature business selling all the free crap he gets on eBay.

6. What are the negative aspects of your work?

While I'm grateful the company was willing to initially hire me on the cheap and take a risk on me, it's a trend that has proven troublesome on occasion. It worked out pretty well when they hired me, sure. Other people they've taken this approach with have turned out to be duds that made my own life a little harder.

In a company where there's not a lot of structure, it can be a real detriment that there's only so many really experienced people who can act as leaders.

7. What are some of the major trends you see in this career field? What predictions can you make about this field in the next five to ten years?

This is a growth industry, I can tell you that. It's not going anywhere for the next ten years. After the ten year mark though it becomes fuzzy what's certain and what's not. Everyone wants to create the next big thing that's going to save time and money. Right now things like crowdsourcing are doing that while generating jobs, but the next step is going to be eliminating people from the equation. There's a reason companies like Uber are investing in things like self-driving cars right now.

There are tech pundits that somewhat irresponsibly claim that whatever jobs their companies eliminate will simply be replaced by "better" jobs. This is based on the fact that something like that happened during The Industrial Revolution. The thing is that there's no actual evidence that history is going to repeat itself on this, because once you eliminate physical labor and mental labor what are you left with?

If there are any jobs that are at least somewhat stable in the face of robots and software though, it's going to be social jobs like service and sales. While I'm sure eventually there will be a digital salesman coming for my job, it's going to be a while considering it's tougher to teach a computer social skills than it is to teach them accounting.

8. Is there a lot of competition to get into this field?

There's a booming economy going on around here, so while it's competitive there's probably an in for anybody who really wants to work their way up the ladder.

9. What are the strongest skills a person must have to do well in this career?

Sales is something where everyone really has their own style, so it's tough to say what the most important skill is. Personally I'd say it's an ability to balance the needs of your client with the needs of your company. You need to satisfy both in order to have a healthy business relationship.

10. What personality traits do the most successful people in this career have?

Persistence, confidence and maybe most importantly sincerity. A slimy sales guy will not last forever.

11. In what other fields can a person with your training go?

Really, with my particular background it's tough to say. With a little education Project Management or Management in general might be an option. Service jobs are an obvious choice. Consulting would be possible if some gaps were filled.

12. If you had it to choose all over again, would you still enter this field? Why or why not?

I've got no particular regrets. I wish I'd entered it sooner if anything considering I was a very late bloomer in a lot of ways and a serious job like this would have given me a good kickstart.

13. What is your next career move?

I've honestly put very little thought into it. I've always just wanted to acquire new skills to keep things interesting, so as long as the money stays good I've got a pretty open mind as to where I'm going next.

14. Where can I get more information about your career?

I don't really know of any particular place that houses this sort of information. I'm sure you could go to school for it, and certain employers really emphasize having a degree, but this is the sort of field where experience is really going to trump everything else.

15. What advice can you give someone who is trying to choose a career?

Don't be indecisive if you aren't sure where you want to go. If you're not making progress I'd say jump in to any job you can and milk it for all it's worth as quickly as possible. Learn everything and move on until you zig-zag into something you find satisfying.

If you're going to float around in school, make sure you're not getting yourself in debt while you're at it. If you have a certain degree in mind I'd very strongly recommend exposing yourself to that industry and finding people in that industry to mentor you. Our education system is inept to say the least about actually teaching you what a job is actually like or how to actually break in to it. You might think you like a certain job based on your understanding of it, only to find out it's nothing like what you thought it would be.

Both points really boil down to making sure you get a dose of the real world, because sometimes it's something you really need to pursue to actually find.

Eternal thanks to Wry Guy for his insight and knowledge, and to the Destructoid community for housing such remarkable specimens. I like to think the aliens will drop in to say hi rather than nuke us, with you all here!

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About Nihilone of us since 6:11 AM on 12.19.2009

Hi. I'm Dan, an admin in the forums. Come down and say things to us. You'll float, too.

"Nihil" is the pseudonym I use for writing and gaming on the internet. I came across Destructoid by searching for information on Way of the Samurai 3. Tubatic had the most comprehensive coverage on it I'd seen anywhere.

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