Flexible hours, big commissions, customer interaction and travel are a few of the possible advantages of a career in sales. However, high-risk and commission-only salary structures aren't on everyone's career wish list.
But you can get a taste of the industry and sidestep the uncertainty by working as a sales assistant.
Of course, many sales assistants are not looking to move up the ladder and find happiness working in what they believe is the best of both worlds. "I know lots of sales assistants who are earning competitive pay without having to endure all the pressure that comes with being a broker," says Jason Bergund, who works as a sales assistant for Magna Consulting, an executive search firm based in New York City.
A Step Beyond Support
"I became a sales assistant, because I was ready to take the next step up in my company," says Bergund. Previously, he worked closely with seven or eight recruiters, managing their schedules and travel arrangements. He was also very involved with fielding customer requests. For Bergund, becoming a sales assistant was a way to officially take responsibility for many of the tasks he was already accomplishing, while learning more about the field.
A Sales Assistant's Duties
According to the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) Glossary of Administrative Job Descriptions for 2004, sales assistants support a sales department and may assist regional sales staff based in remote locations.
Responsibilities may include processing expense reports, coordinating proposal submissions, planning meetings, tracking sales progress, troubleshooting minor technical problems, maintaining department database records and serving as a liaison between traveling sales representatives and staff based in the home office.
"When I'm hiring a sales assistant, I'm looking for someone with solid administrative skills who is ready to take a support role a couple of steps further," says Robert Star, chief operating officer of the Benchmark Company, LLC, a full-service broker dealer for institutional and private clients. "I look for individuals who are proactive, who take the initiative and can demonstrate a good understanding of the market."
While key attributes depend on the product and services your company sells as well as the work style of those you are supporting, Star suggests the best sales assistant is one who can function like an apprentice, always trying to learn and grow.
Prerequisites generally include strong interpersonal skills, strong computer skills and good organizational abilities. Some positions require a bachelor's degree. "Most importantly, honesty and accuracy are everything," says Star. "Admit when you have made a mistake; a sales assistant can't be defensive or deny any wrongdoing…deceit or defensiveness can wind up costing your firm a lot of money -- or worse, ruining a relationship altogether."
Break in with a Safety Net
Working as a sales assistant is a great way to ease into sales while maintaining a financial safety cushion, says Jennifer Star, copresident of the Jennifer Group, a New York-based recruiting firm specializing in administrative-support staffing.
"In my business when I hire a recruiting assistant, I pay that assistant a base pay plus a low commission," she says. "Then, once they get their feet wet and learn the ropes, I increase the commission and gradually eliminate the base pay, until they're full-fledged recruiters, who generally work exclusively on commission." Most admin sales positions pay a combination of a base salary, ranging from $24,000 to $50,000 depending on the company, plus commissions, which vary from 1 percent to 5 percent.For more information and tips to help you advance your administrative career, see all our advice for admin professionals.