“Why sales?” The national sales manager at the prestigious university press wanted to know. He sat across from me at the round table in this tiny window-less meeting room next to a senior sales rep.
I’d expected this question. Prepared for it. Of course they were going to ask why an ESL teacher suddenly wanted a job in sales.
The truth of the matter is that I didn’t. Well, I didn’t want a job in sales any more than I wanted a job in marketing, rights or editing. I was applying to anywhere that would take me. I wanted a job that could help pay the bills, a job that had medical benefits, concrete hours and vacation pay. This particular sales job even came with a company car. That’s why sales. But I couldn’t say that.
“Honestly, I don’t think I’m a typical sales person,” I conceded, lowering my gaze and smoothing the arm of my red cardigan. “I don’t think I could sell just anything to just anyone. And I wouldn’t want to. But I do think I could sell textbooks.”
“Because I know teachers. And I know students. And I care about education. I care about pairing the right people with the right materials. I care about improving classrooms across the country, helping the next generation learn in the most effective way possible,” I explained, looking at each of them in the eye to show my conviction.
The manager and the senior sales rep exchanged a glance, and I wasn’t sure if I was on the right track or not. The next question that came my way was, “what qualities do you think make a good salesperson?”
I’d prepared for this question too. In attempt to not sound repetitive, I played to my storytelling strengths. “The best salesperson I know is my mother. She sells expensive face cream in a very over-saturated market. She does a great job because she’s always selling. Even to me. If I tell her I have dry skin, a pimple, a burn, a cat scratch, a stomachache, her answer is unvaryingly consistent. ‘Use the cream,’ she tells me. Not because she’s trying to make a sale but because she genuinely believes in her product. That’s what makes a great salesperson. Passion and dedication to whatever you’re selling.”
“What are you most proud of?”
Suddenly my mind went blank. This particular question I hadn’t been expecting. I forgot about my successful teaching career, my published short stories, my nearly perfect grades, I forgot about all of it. I faltered. Expended all my energy on stopping my right leg from shaking and rattling the table. I forced myself to think. Think. There had to be something I was proud of.
“I guess I’m most proud of my life in general,” I finally shrugged. I knew it sounded like a copout, but a zen-like wave of self-acceptance was creeping up on me out of nowhere. Somehow, I knew I would be okay even if I didn’t get this particular job. And I was proud of that. “I’m proud of my beautiful apartment in the city. I’m proud of how hard I’ve worked to get everything I have. I’m happy, and I’m proud of myself for taking the right steps to get exactly where I am in life right now. I’m in a good place.”
The sales manager and rep nodded along silently.
After a few more expected questions, another one threw me for a loop. The senior sales rep requested I tell him about a time I had to choose between work and my personal life. Before I knew it, I was telling him all about living in Tolbon. About commuting for three hours downtown in the snow to work for 3.5 hours because I was a new teacher that was so grateful to even have a job. Biting softly on my lower lip, I murmured more to myself then to them, “I knew I couldn’t keep doing it.”
“So what ended up happening?” He prodded. I shut my eyes and paused for extreme dramatic effect.
“I crashed my car.” I proclaimed, before realizing just seconds too late that I was interviewing for a position with a company car that involved tons of commuting. I sped ahead, “and that was the last straw. I moved downtown, just walking distance from the school.”
Another glance between the manager and the sales rep. I nervously twirled the ends of my hair.
The last question they posed was, “on a scale of 1-10, how important is money to you?”
“8,” I heard myself decide aloud before I could even weigh out the impact of that answer. Maybe it was too high, maybe it would sound too greedy, but it was definitely honest. If money wasn’t important, then I wouldn’t be leaving my dream job to go into sales.
Somehow, I got the job. Not the sales rep job with the car, of course, not at first. I had no sales experience and a bad driving record. I didn’t blame them. I started as a sales assistant at the academic press, and within 8 weeks, I was promoted to my new sales rep dream job.