JOB SEARCH / JAN. 16, 2014
version 5, draft 5

Commission-only Job offers Life in the Fast Lane? - Applicants Beware!

You know how it is. It's early January, Christmas and New Year have come and gone and the rest of the winter stretches ahead of you. Long, dark evenings. Cold, damp mornings. And then there's the job. You know, the one you vowed you would leave by the end of the year and didn't.

You know there are jobs out there for you. You know there are plenty in which you would excel. But in that moment. That one moment of self-doubt, an advert catches your eye. Short on detail and big on promises, you've skimmed over it dozens of times. Now though, it seems strangely appealing.

You call the number at the bottom (there's no email address or website).

That was me, several years ago now. A few days after the phone-call, I found myself sitting in a plush office just off London's Russell Square, all leather sofas and chrome fittings. I was there for what I thought was a job interview but as soon as I met…, let's call him Andrew, it was obvious he was selling the company and the job to me. Flattered, I ignored the alarm bells. He told me just enough to make me want to go back for a second meeting and skillfully batted away those questions I managed to ask. 

By the end of the second meeting, I was sold. Sure, it would be hard work. There'd be long hours. But I'd get all the training I needed and wouldn't be required to do anything I wasn't comfortable with (again, those alarm bells). 

The job, essentially, was financial consultancy. It involved selling the insurance policies, savings plans, and pensions of one large US insurance company to prospects. The strategy was two-fold. Choose prospects who trust you (i.e. your friends and family) and warn them of the impending doom if they don't sort out their finances (there was a very handy graph with a startling downward trajectory which illustrated this perfectly).

By the time I realised a) I would be selling insurance to my own family and b) I would be paid entirely on a commission basis, it was too late. I was hooked. By the time, at the end of the third meeting, Andrew told me I'd got the job, I was grateful for the opportunity.

I lasted six weeks. And three of those were classroom-based training (I was good at that bit). I realised quickly that I couldn't sell to people I liked and that no matter what Andrew had said about only doing what I was comfortable with, pressure was being applied steadily to pick up the phone and get on with it.

I was embarrassed during the few appointments I did make – all of them with friends who wanted to be supportive. I was also skint. What savings I had left after I quit my job were gone and the chances of seeing any money from this one rapidly diminishing.

I finally decided to quit one morning when one of my colleagues – it wasn't the kind of place you made actual friends – didn't turn up for work. He'd been having a bad month and it was pretty obvious he had got to the point where he was almost scared to come in. Nevertheless, his manager did everything short of actually going to his house and dragging him out of bed, to make sure he came in.

I wanted no part of that. Commission-only sales jobs clearly work for some, and they promise life in the fast lane, but I firmly believe you have to be born to do it. You can be trained to sell; you can't be trained to have the kind of 'sell at all costs' attitude needed to succeed in that business.

So, next time you're tempted by that tiny advert that promises the world but tells you nothing, move on. There are plenty of real, proper jobs that will allow you to flourish.

Me? I was very lucky. I got out quickly and within six months landed a brilliant job in which I spent the next 14 years.


Racing car image by AngMokio

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