Career satisfaction is hard to come by, even if you are the frontman of one of the most successful British rock groups of all time. In the Rolling Stones’ hit “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)” Mick Jagger sings:
“When I’m watchin’ my TV
And that man comes on to tell me
How white my shirts can be
But he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke
The same cigarettes as me
I can’t get no
No no no.”
Jagger was disillusioned with his sex, drugs and rock n’ roll lifestyle when he wrote the song, partly because he didn’t identify with the guy promoting washing powder in the TV ad he refers to in the lyrics above. The ad agency failed to sell the product to him, though I doubt that their target demographic was young, male rock n’ roll stars anyway. The people who handled the advertising for Mick’s brand of cigarettes, however, succeeded in achieving a high level of brand loyalty. They can be satisfied with a job well done.
Helping clients sell their products and services makes advertising sales execs happy, as I well know. Advertising sales was my first step on the road to career satisfaction, and I fell into it after qualifying as a lawyer, then realising that spending most of my waking hours drafting and reviewing lengthy corporate contracts or researching obscure laws and legal precedents was not what I wanted to do with my life.
Finding the Right Fit
My first employer was a B2B publisher in Paddington, London who was perpetually hiring graduates and throwing them in at the deep end of their “Boiler Room”-style sales floor to see whether they would sink or swim. They even printed out some of the most famous lines from “Glengarry Glen Ross,” such as “ABC = Always Be Closing” and “Coffee is for Closers,” and pinned them to the walls to inspire the sales execs. This may sound like a baptism of fire, but it turned out to be the moment in my life that ignited my passion for sales. My very first sales call was with the manager of a luxury hotel in Amsterdam to sell ad space in a magazine for management consultants and, whether it was due to my law school-educated persuasiveness or his laid back whatever-you-are-selling-I-will-buy-it attitude, I closed the deal and earned myself a bottle of champagne and the admiration of the rest of the intake of graduates.
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This turned out to be the highlight of my time with that particular employer as the high-pressure style of closing deals with sales prospects was not to my taste, and within a few months I left to take up an ad sales position at one of the largest media companies in the world, News Corporation, working on the London Times and Sunday Times newspapers in a far more professional working culture and environment. My passion for the vocation was not enough to make me feel satisfied in my job, I was also seeking a work climate where I felt comfortable.
During my time with News Media UK I was able to leave behind the “Boiler Room”-style hard sell approach and develop the listening and probing skills required to do what I enjoy most in sales: find out what the customer needs and show them how I can fulfil that need, otherwise known as consultative selling. I worked in partnership with my customers to create marketing campaigns that produced results.
Satisfied customers made me feel like I was doing a good job, but something was missing. I did not feel my sales position was stretching me intellectually or professionally. I needed to feel challenged in my role and stimulated to perform to the best of my ability, so I found a role that would combine my sales skills with my legal education and require me to use my other languages, French and Spanish, to sell to customers. The drawback was that the employer was an international B2B publisher whose culture and environment was more akin to the “Boiler Room” sales floor of my first employer, and my enthusiasm for the task of selling ads in legal publications to French, Spanish and Latin American customers was quickly tempered in those surroundings. I had left a working climate where I felt comfortable in search of more stimulating work, only to feel demotivated and stressed.
I began to fall out of love with sales as I was pressured to sell ads to customers who did not need the exposure, nor would advertising help them find new clients, purely to hit sales targets and decided to take a career break to explore whether I wanted to continue in sales or pursue a legal career. A couple of weeks shadowing Crown Prosecution Service attorneys convinced me that I had chosen the right career, and shortly afterwards I received a call from a recruiter to interview for a sales position at an HR Tech start-up. The creative, innovative working environment of a start-up and the challenge of indulging my passion for sales in intellectually challenging Human Resources and Recruitment technology space ticked every box for me save one: autonomy.
The frustration of not being in control of my own fate or having the final say in business led to me to start my own company, which has brought with it many challenges and difficulties, but I can finally say that I have reached a point in my career at which I am finally satisfied with what, where and how I am working.
You might not start out in the career you intend to (I studied to be a lawyer, not a salesperson) or the company you want to work for, but if during the course of your career journey you can identify the type of work and working climate that makes you happy this will help you keep moving towards the ultimate destination of career satisfaction.