Two years ago, I began working for The Renaissance Network following a career as a high school teacher. During this time, I have been fascinated by the frequent emphasis placed on recruiting former educators to sales teams. Should you be actively looking for previous teaching experience in a resume or is the best strategy to build a pipeline of candidates solely from the education industry? I think that education companies’ desire to make previous education experience a primary requirement can mean that they are potentially missing out on sales talent from outside the industry. Here are some preconceptions that I believe highlight why former education experience should not be a primary indicator of future success.
Credibility is arguably one of the most important weapons in a sales executive’s arsenal and it will often provide one with opportunities to meet with potential customers. Education companies regularly seek former educators because they can relate to their audience by sharing their own experiences, which provides insight and generates trust among their peers.
In practice, this is not always the case. Often, the sale is made to a buyer who is more senior in the education vertical and developing credibility requires a former educator to sell above their experience level. For a sales executive to develop the trust needed to engage the client and close a deal, they must demonstrate an understanding of the problem and have outstanding product knowledge so they can provide a solution. The ability to execute sound sales fundamentals such as responsiveness and accuracy will have a greater effect on the sales executive’s credibility with a buyer, than just relatable education experience.
Hiring a former educator that understands the education industry and how it works can be a great asset to a sales team. However, how education is perceived and taught can vary. Often when hiring former educators, employers fail to understand the specific expertise and skill sets needed to teach within Higher education, K-12, and Pre-K. When seeking former educators to sell into these segments, employers must understand that relative experience selling into one segment might not be the best fit for the rest of the industry.
Another misconception is that former educators require a shorter amount of time to onboard and begin generating leads. Employers repeatedly assume that a new employee with an education background can be accelerated through a training program, contact previous colleagues and begin generating sales in a matter of weeks. In reality, previous education knowledge can result in employees becoming complacent, resulting in a slower ramp-up of sales. An organization’s ability to provide a consistent onboarding process with a comprehensive knowledge of the product, coupled with a clear vision of the company and its values, is the only way to guarantee that an employee is successful.
In conclusion, a candidate’s educational background should be viewed as a “nice to have” rather than the primary reason for hire. Hiring managers should refrain from giving biases to former educators and assess each candidate in their pipeline with the same consistent process. Assessing fundamental sales traits, cognitive abilities and quota attainment will provide reliable markers and can stop an organization from potentially missing out on sales talent. This should not deter hiring managers from seeking specific experience when assessing candidates, but it should also be understood that industry experience alone is never a guarantee for success.