This is going to sound like a bad joke, but recently I was having a conversation with a mechanical engineer, a former NFL athlete, and a chef about what we all we had in common: quota carrying sales careers. Despite our different career paths, we all ended up in the same role.
Changing career paths has become the norm. I’ve met lawyers who now run demand generation marketing programs or Stanford engineering alums who found their way to nonprofits. And while it may seem counterintuitive, many would argue their background in one industry actually contributed to their success in the other.
I only taught American Government for a short time (frankly, because it is one of the hardest jobs in the world). However, from this experience, I took away lessons that have forever impacted my sales philosophy and career. Below are 3 ways that being a teacher helped me in my career:
- Relationships. When I was in my 9th grade classroom, I realized that the only way I could get students excited about American Government was through their trust in me and my lessons. Memorizing 128 students names in the first week of school was tough, but a necessity. Beyond this, I also learned to listen and learn about my students as unique individuals with their own special circumstances. For example, a student may not be doing his or her homework because things aren't good at home, not because he or she is a poor student. Similarly, in sales, taking the time to build a relationship with a client, listen to their needs, and ensure that you're putting them first will win their business in the long run. If your client views you as a trusted partner, not just a sales person, it will enable you to win business more consistently.
- Calm Under Pressure. Working with teenagers, with their hormones and heightened emotions, can be crazy. I had students yell at me, call me names, and even throw things at me. But I learned over time that my reaction made all the difference between escalating a problem or eradicating it. The calmer I was in stressful times, the more relaxed the students would become, and the easier it was to identify a solution. This goes hand in hand with sales culture. At the end of a quarter when the pressure is on, one person is in a panic it can bring the entire team down. Instead, lead by example. Remember, even if you're not at the front of the classroom, your coworkers are taking emotional cues from you (and vice versa!) whether they realize it or not.
- Differentiated Instruction (Management). Yes, I had to throw in a true teaching term into this post! This is probably the biggest takeaway I have from my experience in the classroom: we all learn in different ways. There were some students who preferred if we read as class, some preferred a YouTube video, and others preferred to do their assignments on their own. It was my job as the instructor to ensure I recognized each student’s preferred learning method and then tailor my instruction to his or her desires. Without the personalization I can’t expect the best of my students. This applies the same in the workplace. There is no one management style for every employee, so make sure to evolve the way you speak, coach, and listen to your team based on how they perform their best. If you don’t put in the effort to learn how your team wants to be managed then you can’t expect the best out of your team.
What unique past experiences have helped shaped your career? I’m looking at you, the former waitress or golf caddy.
This was originally posted on March 31, 2016.