Recruiting with Gen Z: The Next Class of Sales Professionals

Recruitment & Selection | Sales Leadership

The great Resignation. Realignment. Reshuffling.

Whatever you call it there is a lot of movement in sales organizations these days. Attracting and retaining talent is top of mind for most sales leaders we’ve talked to in 2022.

One great source for sales talent hiring is new and recent college graduates: inexperienced, but bright and highly trainable. They represent the next generation of sales talent that will be entering the workforce.

For many sales leaders, however, hiring with Gen-Z remains a mystery. Are they even interested in a career in sales? How can leaders attract top talent from this group? What really matters to them?

Well, to the question of whether new Gen Z grads are interested in sales, I can answer that question with an unequivocal “yes.”

By way of background, for the past three years, I’ve had the privilege of guest lecturing at the Professional Sales Certificate program at the University of Washington Foster School of Business. This is a program designed for undergraduates who are interested in a sales career. The students in this program represent the best of the best of those who will be entering the workforce in 2022 and 2023.

If these students are any indication, the future is bright for the sales profession.

Recently, we surveyed over 100 students in this program to better understand their views on sales and what motivates them. Over 73% said they were likely to pursue a career in sales.

Here are the top five reasons a career in sales is attractive to them:

What motivates future Gen Z superstars to pursue a career in sales?

  1. Money (75%)
  2. Great place to start a career (58%)
  3. Opportunity to help others (44%)
  4. Flexibility (32%)
  5. Travel (22%)

We asked several other questions as well. Here is a summary of what we learned.

How important is hybrid/remote work?

It turns out it’s important, but the responses were mixed across the group.

Just over half of the respondents said remote or hybrid work was important or highly important, but over 30% said it was neither important nor unimportant. Many commented that they just expected hybrid work as part of a tech sales career these days. Having some flexibility in their work situation is important to this group.

What is most important in selecting an ideal company and position?

This is important, and consistent with other trends we’re seeing regarding retaining the talent you already have. The number one response by far was Opportunity for Advancement.

More than money, the team, leadership, culture, etc. students graduating in sales these days want to see a path for the future. Providing a one-dimensional position where the employee will have to grind out for years with no future advancement will not attract the top talent.

Money was next most important on the list, followed by working with a great team and work/life balance. So, give these new grads a career path, pay them well, engage them on a great team and give them some balance in their lives. Seems like a good recipe that would work for many of us. Interestingly enough, benefits, perks, and travel were way down on this list (see rankings below.)

Top factors in selecting the ideal company and position, in ranked order of importance:

  1. Opportunity for advancement (72%)
  2. Money (56%)
  3. Working with a great team (44%)
  4. Work/life balance (43%)
  5. Corporate culture (39%)
  6. Cool company or product (33%)
  7. Quality of Leadership Team (16%)
  8. Flexible work environment (13%)
  9. Benefits and perks (12%)
  10. Opportunity to travel (9%)
  11. Onboarding and training (7%)

How do these students prefer to learn in their new careers?

While gamification, YouTube videos, and self-paced training may be on every learning and development professional’s mind these days, our group said, “let me train on the job and work with my peers.”

The next most important was instructor-led training and learning from an expert or coach. So don’t throw out all that microlearning content just yet, but as we know, it’s not enough by itself. Blended learning with real instructors and a chance to practice seems to be the way of the future still, at least based on this group’s responses.

Learning preference:

  1. Hands-on/on-the-job training (70%)
  2. Collaborative learning/work with peers (49%)
  3. Instructor-led in-person training (46%)
  4. Learn from an expert/coach (23%)
  5. Virtual, instructor-led training (10%)
  6. Gamification/competition (10%)
  7. Video/on-demand self-paced training

I can say from personal experience that this select group of students is inspired, intelligent, and ready to take on the sales world. They are looking for great places to start their sales careers and will likely have attractive options to choose from.

I think this group is representative of students graduating from similar sales programs across the country, and there is much to be learned from them.

By taking into consideration the themes above, you may be able to tip the scale in your company’s favor when it’s time for these candidates to make a career decision.

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About Ray Makela

Ray Makela is CEO and Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group (SRG). He oversees all client engagements as well as serves as a senior facilitator on sales management, coaching, negotiation and sales training workshops. Ray has over 20 years of management, consulting, and sales experience and writes frequently on best practices for coaching and developing sales teams.