Talent Is Limitless: Your Education Should Not Define Your Sales Career

A couple of years ago a friend and now fellow Therapist received a call from an agency asking about a position they thought she would be interested in. This company specialised in Positive Psychology consulting. Each ‘consultant’ had a Masters in Positive Psychology and they utilised these techniques in corporates to improve team performance and development.

She was looking to leave her employment and this seemed in line with her interests in performance and change. She had several years experience in sales and client management and as such, an account management/client delivery role was appealing.

The agent was ecstatic when she discovered she was interested and even more so when she (my friend) mentioned she was training in this field and, indeed, did significant personal development work.

Her cv was submitted and then she heard nothing.

After some chasing she got through to her and was told her application had been rejected.

The reason given by the client was that despite her psychology degree, her wealth of experience and seniority, her obvious passion and knowledge in this field, she was rejected based on a choice she had made 5 years earlier.

They said that despite her First Class honours degree, it was the fact that she did not go to a top 20 university.

Now, what does this say? Firstly, it shows that a decision made years ago (the university you go to) can still, in this day and age where degrees potentially mean so little, count against you.

Secondly, it showed that the employer was unwilling to consider personal circumstances.

Thirdly, it showed that despite the wonderful intent with which positive psychology was started, its proponents (in this particular) company had slipped away from it’s core tenets. The idea that we can all, regardless of age, ethnicity, background etc, can ALL flourish.

And yet, when my friend told me this, I was not completely surprised.

This article will look at two things.

Firstly, why this stance is wrong and counterproductive.

Secondly, why I am passionate about being different to the other consultants, coaches and limited change workers out there.

Part 1

So, this positive psychology consultancy were, I believe, wrong in their gross assumption. That assumption being that anyone ‘beneath’ a top 20 university was incapable at performing as well in a client management position as a top 20 university graduate.

Why do I think they are wrong?

Let us take anecdotal evidence. I have worked with many people from top 20 universities.

What have I learned?

Are they smarter than others? In some cases yes – in some cases no.

Are they more likely to succeed in their employment? Tough question and here is why. Is it possible they get into companies with better support structures? Yes. Is that an advantage? Definitely. If they were put into ‘ordinary’ companies (like recruitment firms – where I cut my teeth) then absolutely no. I have worked with Cambridge grads, Durham grads, Northampton grads, Loughborough grads, the list goes on and on. One is no more likely to succeed in that environment than a comparable grad from another.

Are they harder workers? No.

Are they more flexible in their approach? No.

Are they cheaper? No.

Are they more ‘talented’? No.

Is a degree from Cambridge worth more than a degree for Lancaster? No. Fact: the examining board in the UK have stated that the criteria for exams, essays and dissertations are the same across the university board. Let us turn that around. If the criteria is the same for judging success, and it is a well known fact that the ‘top 20’ have the best teaching staff, some of the best facilities and funding, then should it not be more likely that students there do very well in their degrees. By that logic, is not a 2.1 from a ‘lesser’ uni more entitled to feel prouder than one from a privileged university? Think about that for a moment and consider the facts. A degree is the same regardless of university. One degree has better facilities thereby making it easier to do well. The other less so, therefore making it harder. Who deserves more credit for their highly graded qualification?

Therefore, is it right to judge a man or woman based on a place they studied? Or is it better to judge them on more than one criterion?

Let me repeat that: is it better to judge someone on one single facet of their history. Is that progressive? Is it fair? Or is it a prejudice? Is it democratic? Or is it dogmatic? Is it ‘fair’ or is it bias? Is it modern or is it a disturbing tradition from a class divided nation?

I know that many people reading this will react with fury. They will rightly point to the fact that they needed higher A-Levels to get into a top 20 university.

They are right.

So the question then becomes, what went wrong? For those who got a first or a 2.1 congratulations. For those who got below that, where did it all go wrong? And that congratulations and that question should be applied to all the grads. Not just those from the top 20 universities.

Do you see my logic there?

Is a degree at Cambridge harder than a degree at Bedford? According to the examination board, the answer is no.

Should a university be the end of your life progression or the beginning? Should it be a gateway or an identity? If identity, then see a therapist.

Do you really wish the pinnacle of your one life to be what you did between the ages of 18 and 21?

Why else do I think the positive psychology consultancy were wrong?

Well, aside from the fact that they weighed the University itself as an all important facet, there is also the fact that the degree was important at all!

How many degrees are actually used for their purpose? How many people who do media studies end up in the media (not in a sales role)? How many people who do drama become full time actors? How many who studied history become historians?

Very few.

So where is the value in the degree?

Example: I was looking for a flat to rent a few years ago. The estate agent had on her business card (her business card!) that she had a BA in drama. How on earth does that make her a better estate agent? In all likelihood it does not. Unfortunately, a degree is rarely relevant these days for the employment we end up in.

So, what does this mean?

Quite simply, if a degree is not specifically relevant, then why should you be judged on it?

At this point, I hear the words of a former MD and multiple millionaire in my head saying that university trains your mind to attain and use knowledge.

Sorry, most grads reminisce fondly about the fun they had at Uni, not the learning.

Even he now hires non-grads.

They used to use one of the top grad recruiters. They have stopped now, why? Because the attrition rate was so high. They got sick of hiring and training people only to lose them after a few months. Even though they had a degree.

So to sum this particular argument: if a degree is not directly relevant, nor seems to make a difference, what is its value in judging potential employees?

Finally, the last reason why I believe this firm was incorrect in its prejudice, was because they failed to take into account personal circumstance.

One of my very good friends and one of the most charismatic and intelligent people I know was a young man by the name of William. William could have gone to almost any university. He chose to go to his local because his parents had recently divorced and he wanted to be there for his sisters.

He was killed aged 26 after living an amazing life travelling and influencing people’s lives.

A university name, does not a man make.

I know my opinions are controversial. And yet over half of the people I meet, coach, do therapy work with or train, act with absolute relief that finally, somebody has said what we all like to keep hidden. Sometimes that is all that controversy is! A willingness to speak what many think but do not dare say. Much of what we are told or believe is safe. It is easy. It is traditional and established. Therefore it is right.

I don’t believe that. I work and live and flourish in the real world.

In the real world there are immensely talented people who did not go to university.

In the real world there are immensely talented people who should not have been able to achieve what they have achieved.

In the real world, there are people who achieve or flourish when conventional established thinking says they should have failed or worse yet, not have been given a chance.

And what does that say?

Does it say that these people are wrong?

Or does it say that much of conventional thinking is wrong?

A mentor wrote very recently that we as therapists should aim for permanent heresy. Because as soon as something becomes ‘the way’ it becomes unchallengeable. Permanent heresy allows us to constantly adapt, update and change our models and methods to what works, not what is.

Can we take that into a wider context?

Yes.

I do not know if my Mentor and Trainer went to University. But I do know it is unlikely he went to a top 20. He is a former police officer who fell in love with therapy. He is now considered one of the greatest rising therapists in the world. You will be hearing his name soon. He is already chased for airtime by the BBC and multiple newspapers and has just recently revolutionised the weight loss industry.

Or how about TV and Business star Duncan Bannatyne? He never went to university. And, judging by his fiery personality, what do you think he would say to someone telling him a big ‘No’ because of his lack of university experience?

I am not saying that university is a bad thing. I went. I loved it. And, like many, if I could do it again, I would probably value it even more. I also work with many grads making their first move into Sales. Regardless of whether they have a degree, they face the same challenges.

But is University the mark of a man or woman?

No. Talent, ideas and delivery must and should be the mark of a man or woman. This gives us all, non-grads and grads, men and women, rich and poor, old and young a level playing field.

So, do I think this positive psychology firm were wrong?

Yes.

Talent is not given by attending a university.

Talent is not given by a buildings reputation.

Talent is not given by the name of your course.

Talent is finding what works, using it, delivering it and continually sharpening it.

Some advice:

Do not believe prejudice.

Do not believe tradition for traditions sake.

Do not believe that your background MUST dictate who you are.

Who you are can change. Who you are can flourish.

Sometimes it can start by picking up a book.

Sometimes by picking up the phone to a difference maker.

I have seen how people can change, how sales teams can change as a result of the work I do with them.

Can our belief structure around talent change?

Definitely.

But you must start it. Changes we make today can be the foundation for a dynamic shift in the future.

I believe that most people can be made better. Poor sellers can become good. Average sellers can become great. Companies with high staff turnover can be taught how to keep staff.

Each person and business has potential.

I implore you. Do not deny potential. Not in yourself or in others.

Deny the limitations that some traditions and traditional thinking enforce.

Gandhi said “be the change you wish to see in the world”. I would change it (controversially) too this:

Be the opportunity that you wish to see in the world.

Maybe for yourself, maybe for candidates that come across your desk in the future.

And maybe, be proud of being a heretic. So many advancements were made by those who were controversial. Question all truths.

And for all sales managers out there, consider this:

2 people went to university.

One came out with a high 2.1 degree in psychology and business. He got a job in 3 days, learned the sales ropes, moved to London and was involved with some very entrepreneurial companies. He struggled for much of his sales career before finding his passion.

Person 2 grew up in Essex and never went to university. He got his first sales job selling cars. He saw an ad for a sales position with a Forex broker. He took a risk and applied. His hiring manager took a risk and hired him. He smashed every target given to him and now, 6 years later made partner in one of the most successful corporate forex brokerages. He is a success and inspiration to all new starters in the business.

I was person 1. I was lucky in that all my struggles in sales, in particular, with the psychological aspects, would become a strength and allow me to flourish in the fields of Sales Performance Therapy.

Person 2 was a former colleague of mine. He succeeded in that particular company. I didn’t.

The days when talent could be associated with education to a high degree of accuracy are starting to go.

Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not. People should have many paths open to them to success not just one.

I implore all hiring managers, sales managers, sales directors, MD’s and CEO’s to look beyond the degree and see the potential underneath.

Because the potential for talent is limitless.

And can be found everywhere.

All u need are the tools and resources to develop that talent, Graduate and Non-Graduate alike.