There are a lot of jobs for which a college degree is an essential prerequisite. Positions in certain fields require specific knowledge that comes from higher education. However, when it comes to sales, industry knowledge may not be as important as sales acumen. That comes from experience. Nonetheless, many companies require candidates to possess a college degree.

Does a college degree mean more than sales experience?

There are myriad ways for individuals to learn about sales philosophy and techniques. One can earn certificates in certain sales fields. But there is no college degree in sales. So any candidate’s degree will be in Something Else.

If your company provides pharmaceuticals or heavy equipment or highly technical services, you may want sales reps who understand your industry first-hand. That could come via relevant college education. But relating to customer challenges can also come from hands-on experience in the field.

Graduating from college demonstrates ability to learn and follow through. Years of experience in sales demonstrates ability to “make it” in the field. But time spent doesn’t necessarily equate to quality learning. Or quality performance. Regardless of background, the best candidate for forward-thinking companies is one who shows they can (and want to) continue to grow. That they have initiative.

Not everyone can succeed in sales, regardless of their educational background.

Recent college grads are untried in many ways. Can they cut it in a high-production sales environment?

You don’t have to make cold calls in college. If you’re a good student, you may not have to deal with rejection. But these are essential survival skills in sales. On the up side, recent grads are eager to try new things. And they haven’t been beaten down by “no.”

Recent grads require more training. This could be bad news or good. Learning curve comes at a cost in terms of lower productivity. On the other hand, you can train an inexperienced hire to do things your way. A seasoned sales vet has their own way of doing things, and their own priorities. You may have to retrain them, and they may balk at that.

Besides, not everyone is a great candidate for college. Today’s employers want candidates who show signs of original thinking and creativity. You cannot remain competitive by hiring the yesterday’s sales reps, any more than you can by producing products people no longer want to purchase. Experience could turn out to be a hindrance rather than a solid indicator of future success.

Whether you realize it or not, your company routinely hires people without direct experience. You promote people into different positions or into entirely new jobs created within the company. You turn line workers into managers. Companies hire CEOs who have never held the corporate reins before. At Facebook, hiring managers are reminded that Orville Wright was not a licensed pilot.

In some ways, everyone you bring on board is starting from scratch when it comes to working within your company’s unique culture. In this light, hiring untried college grads seems to fit the norm.

It’s difficult to quantify talent.

The fact is, for most employers education and experience are both important factors in considering top candidates. But they are just two among a broader range of factors.

Today’s most successful hiring pros are taking a holistic approach. They’re practicing what some top-performing employers have known for years – that attitude often means more than a specific skill set. You can train for skills, but you can’t “train” someone to fit in or re-fit them with an innovative mindset. Looking at education and sales experience as competing attributes limits your candidate pool. That eliminates potential stars before you even meet them, and it devalues diversity. You can’t afford that.

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