Everyone’s Looking for STEM Grads — For Sales!

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Oct 22, 2018

With the forecast for rapid growth in STEM-related occupations, today’s STEM jobseekers, especially those in technology, enjoy a vibrant career marketplace. Narrowing the focus just to technology, the future outlook is even better. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts employment in computer occupations will increase by 12.5% by 2024, creating nearly a half million new jobs.

But despite the opportunity in traditional STEM fields, a growing number of STEM graduates are employed in non-STEM occupations, including sales. Although sales may seem like an unlikely career path for these candidates, the disciplines of science and sales are converging in ways that open the door to lucrative opportunities for individuals proficient in the use of data and technology.

Why sales?

Here at the Miller Heiman Group, a sales research, training and consulting firm, we’re finding that employers are increasingly looking to STEM graduates to fill sales positions. Evolving buyer needs, emerging technologies and other disruptions force sellers to adapt processes to new realities. Across industries, sellers are asking hard questions, including whether their sales teams have the right mix of talent to compete in today’s marketplace.

The changing nature of sales creates an opening for STEM candidates to apply their skills in a field that offers significant financial and career advantages. For hiring managers looking for sales professionals who understand the technical details and are comfortable with data and analytics, STEM graduates from appropriate fields can mean a quicker time to productivity.

Here are three trends that are driving the shift to hiring STEM candidates in sales:

1. Desired skill sets are shifting from EQ to IQ

Sales leaders recognize that yesterday’s skills no longer offer the right mix of tools for the current sales environment. Organizations previously valued candidates who exhibited emotional intelligence (EQ) – they could build relationships and ask great questions. But our 2018 Sales Talent Study found that indicators like learning agility and the ability to extract insights from data – aspects of cognitive intelligence – are becoming more important to success in sales. Although EQ still matters, IQ separates top sellers from average performers.

As a result, organizations are recasting sellers’ roles to emphasize IQ skill sets. In addition to an inquisitive mind and the ability to forge relationships with decision-makers, sellers must now act as problem-solvers who know how to develop data-based insights that help meet buyers’ needs. Going forward, the demand for IQ skill sets will only increase, positioning STEM candidates to excel in a field previously dominated by individuals who relied primarily on emotional intelligence.

2. The sales landscape can offer more financial stability than startups

Tech companies both massive and small offer the often-coveted stock option, providing a chance to become the next dot-com millionaire. Taking smaller salaries upfront for the chance at a future windfall might appeal to starry-eyed optimists. But consider this: 75% of venture-backed startups fail, many due to leadership issues.

What sounds more stable now: Basing a portion of your income on stock performance outside of a typical employee’s control, or on personal sales performance, a far more controllable variable? Combine this with the fact that sales bonuses and commissions often are issued quarterly or annually instead of as a one-time windfall, and STEM graduates who do the math will see the opportunity to make big dollars sooner.

3. Opportunity to lead from the start

At a tech startup or laboratory environment, STEM graduates likely will be starting at the bottom of the ladder and working their way up. But because of the shift from EQ to IQ-based sales, they would enter the sales workplace with the kind of skills veteran employees will need to catch up on.

As new hires learn the ropes of their sales roles, they can become leaders among their new colleagues in the STEM side of selling—or “sales enablement.” Their job: To modernize current sellers and help them transform.

As sales evolves into a cross-functional practice that relies on technology and data-based insights to improve performance, technologists have an obvious advantage over sellers who aren’t familiar with data management practices and advanced analytics tools. Technologists who enter sales can use their knowledge to improve win rates, close bigger deals and become the heroes of their sales organizations.

There was a time when a degree in STEM science meant a career in the public sector, academia and other niche segments of the employment marketplace. Those days are over. Sales organizations are transitioning to a more disciplined sales process and integrating technology into day-to-day selling activities, creating new opportunities for technologists and STEM jobseekers to leverage their training for fulfilling and rewarding careers in sales.

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