Setting sail on a sales career
Students gain experience, connections through competitions, corporate partners.
Story by Matt Watson | Photo by Olga Sago
What better way for a college student to get a job than to perform that job in college, with industry employers watching?
When Shane Studer competed in the Northeast Intercollegiate Sales Competition last fall, finishing in the top eight out of 140 students wasn’t her most impressive feat.
Studer, who graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver last week with a marketing degree at age 20, also walked away with three job interviews from companies whose employees served as judges at the competition. She was a large reason MSU Denver was named Rookie of the Year as a high-performing university participating in that event for the first time.
By spring, Studer had job offers from several companies across the country, months before she graduated or was even of legal drinking age.
“The sales competitions really help out students. They put you on a platform for these companies,” Studer said.
Businesses sponsor student sales competitions, covering the costs of travel and lodging for the competitors in exchange for a chance to watch potential future employees make sales pitches for their products. Most of the competitions have formal job fairs as well, and many MSU Denver students on the competitive selling teams have landed jobs with employers at these events.
“When I talk to employers, they love our students,” said April Schofield, associate director of the Center for Professional Selling at MSU Denver. “We went to a sales competition in Atlanta, and I had two students who were military veterans. An employer came up to me and said, ‘Your students are head and shoulders better prepared, more ready to be hired, than anybody else here.’”
Why study sales?
Research from the job-recruiting website Glassdoor showed that the most common job for college graduates is sales associate. The nonprofit Sales Education Foundation found that more than 50 percent of students graduating with a business degree (and 80 percent of marketing graduates) will hold their initial job in sales.
The SEF also named MSU Denver a top sales university in its 2018 magazine. The University earned the honor for the fourth consecutive year and was the only sales program in Colorado to earn top recognition.
MSU Denver offers an 18-credit minor or certificate in sales to business and non-business students. What makes the program so successful is the availability of employers on campus and at sales competitions.
“We’ve got our partner companies, and students can also meet 20 other employers by going to sales competitions,” Schofield said.
Caitlin Monaghan landed a seasonal sales associate internship with the Denver Nuggets when an organizational rep visited one of her sport management classes last fall. Monaghan, who was a marketing intern for the MSU Denver Athletics Department and sold ads for Met Media, started the internship with the Nuggets in October, won the University’s first-ever internal sales competition in December, then secured a full-time position with the Nuggets as an inside sales rep in April.
Monaghan, who graduated in May, credits the faculty in sport management and the sales program for encouraging her to attend workshops and pursue opportunities that provided her with workforce skills and relationships.
“It’s so great that our professors are coming straight out of industry or are currently still working in industry. I have made connections because a professor knows someone or suggests I do something that I don’t think I ever would’ve done,” Monaghan said. “They sometimes make you do things you don’t want to do, but it’s because they know you’re going to have to do that, so might as well learn now.”
Icing on the cake
MSU Denver’s College of Business is among the 5 percent of business programs worldwide accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International. In April, the college was recognized by the Colorado Avalanche with the 2017-18 Top Student Development Organization award for the college’s ongoing ticket-sales program.
Students from marketing and sales classes have been selling tickets to select Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets games for more than a decade, and in addition to the student experience gained, a percentage of the ticket sales comes back to MSU Denver to support the College of Business and student scholarships.
Of the more than 500 Nuggets and Avalanche tickets sold last season by one of senior lecturer Darrin Duber-Smith’s marketing students or students in two classes in the Center for Professional Selling, $10 from each ticket went to scholarships.
“We’ve been bringing these teams into the classrooms, we’ve been raising money, and we’ve been getting these kids jobs. The top sellers get internships, and then they work there too,” Duber-Smith said.
When Duber-Smith accepted the award from the Avalanche on behalf of the University, two of the employees presenting the award were MSU Denver alumni. He estimates he’s had 30 former students go on to work with Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Avalanche and Nuggets.
It’s these students entering the workforce so prepared to sell that incentivize outside companies to get involved with MSU Denver. Partner companies make presentations to classes, attend meet-and-greets, participate in the Center for Professional Selling’s advisory board, and present additional opportunities for students such as mock interviews and role plays. The center hosted 13 partner companies last year and expects to add others such as Arrow and Comcast this fall.
“The Center for Professional Selling is about bringing the companies in here so that students can have real-world experience. The same thing we’re doing with the tickets but bigger,” Duber-Smith said. “We are here to give practical opportunities for our students to practice what they know and hopefully get the skills they need for the jobs and to get the jobs themselves.”
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