My Foray into Sales

As a fresh graduate, I have been exploring my career options lately — looking at the recruitment section of newspapers, browsing job search sites, asking friends etc, and applying for jobs and going for interviews. In what was one of the earliest “serious” interviews that I have been too, I was asked a question that I found difficult to answer: “why have you been applying for all these sales jobs?”

The INFJ Personality

I could have said that it was because I loved sales, but I knew lying now would only set me up for disaster later on. I am introverted, do not particularly like the noisy atmosphere of call centres or roadshows, and I often tend to avoid salespeople like the plague because I hate being “sold”. I test INFJ on most MBTI-like tests (something I find very accurate), like those found in similarminds.com or humanmetrics.com, and INFJs tend not to like “sales” jobs, or “business” jobs even (why had I studied commerce at University?). Therefore if I said I loved sales, it would have been an outright lie.

Although I did not think of it at that time, on hindsight I gathered that I had chosen interviewing for sales-type jobs because they were the most abundant; and besides, I was approaching interviews more as an end in itself rather than as a means to an end — I wanted interviewing experience, and not necessarily a job. I suppose of all the interviews I have been to, the most important had been the one mentioned above, for the interviewer asked me many questions about why I had chosen to go for her interview, and what I was expecting to achieve. Before that, I had no clue.

After that interview, I realised I had to find out what I really wanted out of a job. I turned to the internet, looking for career ideas for my personality type; I turned to books like What color is my parachute? by Richard Bolles; and I asked friends and family what kind of job they could see me in. The latter were clear on one thing: they did not see me doing a sales job.

Type in “sales” and “infj” into Google and you will realise that INFJs do not do sales. In fact, they are of all the types the least likely to do sales. And I understand why — I personally would never be able to sell a product that I did not totally believe in or was passionate about. I suppose everyone to some degree or another wouldn’t be able to do that, but it is most obvious in INFJs.

The career books I read often said the same thing — I wasn’t likely to be one to enjoy “sales” per se. However, they did say that entrepreneurship and consulting was something that my personality type would enjoy. Buoyed by this fact (at long last a career my University had prepared me for!), I started looking for books and resources on entrepreneurship and consulting. One common theme that ran through successful entrepreneurship and consulting careers was that selling was vital to the business. And I was back at square one. Or was I?

Intrigued, I looked for resources on selling to answer this question: can an INFJ sell? In short, the answer was a resounding yes. Books on selling abound, and reading them you realise that many people were initially reluctant salespeople. They do not particularly like selling, and cold-calling is something they would rather avoid. But selling is trainable. And selling for an INFJ is especially fitting if the INFJ believed in the product or service they are trying to sell, and/or it leads to the achievement of their more idealistic goals. This was just the answer I was looking for, since I knew of a particular product I believed in passionately: financial planning.

Financial Planning

I took an elective financial planning unit while still in University, and loved it to bits. I was excited looking at the possibilities that lay before me; excited at the prospect of helping others; and was excited every time I found out about some little-known taxation rule I could use to my advantage. It was something I enjoyed, and was pretty good at. And if I could make money while doing it, it would just be icing on the cake!

History of Selling

The problem with being a financial planner is that you do not start off having clients immediately. You will have to make cold calls and approach people you’d rather avoid. In essence, you have to be a salesperson first, and a financial planner only later. I was worried that selling would prove to be a bottleneck for me in this sense. My parents seem to think so; some of my friends, too. Could I sell?

I looked for past experiences that might back up the claim of whether I could/couldn’t sell. This is what I found:

  • I was an extrovert when young. In primary school I had a large group of friends, reasonably popular with the girls, and got along well with just about everybody. In secondary school I still had a large group of friends, mostly through playing football — I would even approach strangers to “join” their football match if my group didn’t have enough people. It was only after secondary school that I started becoming more introverted.
  • I got my first call centre job at HP when I was 16. I loved that job when I could help the callers. Hated it when I could do nothing but pass them on to the “engineer” to solve their problems. I started getting a phobia for calls after this job.
  • When at University, I interviewed for and got a job doing call centre soliciting funds for the University’s Business School fundraising campaign. I got the job for the simple fact that I knew I hated call centre jobs and wanted to see how far I could push myself. I went through it all the way, raising a fair bit for the campaign while earning enough to pay the rent. What I realised was that for most calls I hated it because I felt fundraising for the business school was less important than fundraising for real charities. I felt like a fake. I loved it when the person I spoke to liked it for the same reason I liked it — that is, that if you donated enough your name would be up on the new Business School building wall. Selling to people like that was easy and fun because I totally believed in it.

All in all, tracing my history in my “selling” or “sales” personality made me realise I probably do have what it takes to successfully sell financial services I believe in. It made me decide against choosing a job at places like AIA or Prudential, where financial planning products are limited to their own, and instead choosing to work as an IFA (independent financial adviser) or at a bank.

Although I cannot say exactly how my career will turn out, it feels as if a great big “no-sales policy” burden has been lifted off of my back. I cannot tell you how excited I am to finally start a career; and to think, it may actually have something to do with sales!

7 thoughts on “My Foray into Sales

  1. I really liked your post, I felt like I was reading my journal. I tested as INFJ as well and whenever looking for jobs, can’t seem to take a serious look at anything but sales. Lack of success in “inside sales” has made wonder if sales is just not for me. But I am starting to consider the possibility that there are certain conditions that will give me the greatest chance of success. I see this blog entry is a few years old, any updates on your career path?

  2. @IntrovertSales: I have, perhaps unfortunately, not gone on into a “sales” job. I am currently working as an analyst, creating and running reports and into the more “technology” aspects of a business (you can say it’s more of an “information systems” job. It’s something I enjoy, more or less, though sometimes I do feel like part of me that really wants to “believe in something and pursue it wholeheartedly” is missing what I thought I’d find in financial planning.

    Of late, I’ve been testing as an INTJ pretty often as well, and have settled on myself being an INXJ (where X = “T” or “F” in pretty much equal proportion). I take it that it’s my INTJ self who’s so drawn to my current role.

    One thing to note though, is that in my “information systems” role in corporate life, I’ve always relished the communication (and mini-wheeling-and-dealing) that goes on. I’m always selling ideas through writing (I take pride in my e-mails and any “status reports” that have to be written up) and through thinking of new ways to do old things (automating of reports, new technologies, and a myriad of other concepts I may believe in).

    That’s of course not to say it’s the perfect job, and that I’m perfectly happy where I am, but it’s something that has kept me satisfied till now.

    I hope what I say here makes sense, and good luck on finding your ideal career(s)!

  3. Great post. I’m finding myself in pretty much the same exact situation you’ve described and am on the fence regarding jumping into a CFP certification. From reading your other posts it seems as though you’ve gone a different route, but I enjoyed reading through your thoughts anyways. Cheers.

  4. I landed here because I Googled “INFJ and financial planning.” (I’m a huge Myers-Briggs fan and a light bulb turned on in my head when I tested as INFJ.)

    You got it right – INFJs do best in sales when they believe in the product they’re selling.

    I can share a personal anecdote to demonstrate this. I’m an exec in my Toastmasters club that I joined almost a year ago, with the aim of becoming a more confident speaker. The experience has changed my life – not only am I a more confident speaker, but I’m more confident overall.

    One of my jobs as an exec is to recruit people to attend our meetings and to persuade these guests to become a paying member. I believe so strongly in what TM can do for others that I truly enjoy when I’m able to achieve this.

    Plus, I’m competitive by nature and enjoy persuading people (perhaps a bit unusual for an INFJ), so it’s fun when I help my club grow in membership.

    Great post and good luck in whatever you choose to do.

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