Ask the Experts: When to Accept a Straight Commission Sales Job

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January 27, 2011


I’m in my senior year in college and interviewing for jobs. Almost all of the interviews that I’ve been able to land are for sales positions, but they’re almost all only willing to pay me on a commission basis. I have some sales experience and feel that I can do well, but I’m nervous about having no base salary. Should I take a job that pays straight commission?

First Answer:

NEVER work for straight commission. Even if you never sell a single widget for your company, your efforts on behalf of the company have value – you are
providing market research, lead generation, public relations, and building
brand awareness. Your groundwork may very well pave the way for a big
account or lucrative sale that happens at a later date. Marketing
professionals are paid a salary, so sales people should be paid one as well.
A good entry-level sales position is one that offers base salary,
commission, bonuses, sales contests, and extensive paid training

Also, before accepting a position, ask to talk to the top three sales professionals with company, as well as a few of the more junior sales
staff – a company that rewards their sales staff will love to have their
happy sales staff sell *you* on the job.

Tracy Laswell Williams, certified job and career transition coach, accredited resume writer and founder of

Second Answer:

First of all, ask yourself: “Do I want a sales job?” If the answer is “no,” then it’s the wrong track for you. That being said, assuming you can “get by” for six months, why not give one of these sales jobs a try if you think you would like sales and have an aptitude for it? Many sales jobs do compensate the bulk of your salary in commission, but many also offer a modest salary because they know that there is a learning curve. Negotiate so that you aren’t completely dependant on commission and don’t accept a straight commission job unless you have the financial ability to be self-supporting while you get up to speed.

Alison Blackman Dunham, life & career expert, columnist, personal public relations consultant, half of THE ADVICE SISTERS®, and the author of the ASK ALISON career advice column

Third Answer:

That’s a call which depends largely on your life situation (what are your obligations?)–as well as the company that you may represent. Straight commission is not unusual–and ultimately if you have a base salary your “security” in the long haul will still depend on your ability to produce sales.

Other considerations for each opportunity should include the following:

  1. length of sales cycle
  2. average amount of a sale (highly relative–but the larger the amount typically the longer the cycle)
  3. policy on expenses
  4. benefits and retirement plan
  5. opportunity for residual commissions (pointing to customer relationships based on ongoing/renewed sales, vs. mere transactions)
  6. what you are selling.

Number 6 is not to be ignored. Will you be selling something that is quite specialized, which gives you a competitive edge? Or, will you sell something that is highly commoditized, and thus is faced with heavy competition and slim margins?

Further, you have to really believe in the product you are selling, from your heart. If you don’t truly believe in what you offer, then it will be very difficult to lead a successful career in sales.

Keith F. Luscher, Creative Director with Goettler Associates, Inc., a fund-raising consulting firm serving non-profit organizations nationwide, and author of Don’t Wait Until You Graduate!

Fourth Answer:

During the dot com boom, many people were “paid” with stock options that were worth nothing after the crash – you are wise to consider your options. Most sales jobs are straight commission. With that said, here are some alternatives. Some companies pay on a draw. This means that they pay you a certain amount regularly, but you don’t see any of the commissions until the draw is paid back, can you ask for this option? Some companies pay a small base salary with a low commission for an agreed upon time. After that there is no base and a high percentage rate on your commissions – this gives you a chance to grow your market base, is this an option? Are you receiving any other benefits from these companies – health insurance, training, 401K? Are they providing you with client base or are you starting from nothing? Will you be working with a senior person in the company and sharing existing accounts? These are all ways to determine how long it will take until you see a check. What is the track record of the company? What is the track record of other entry-level sales reps? Is this a company where you will get great training and exposure?

If you are still wondering, work with a professional coach who can guide you through the process easier and faster. I am offering a 20% discount on one month of coaching to anyone who mentions this article.

Janine A. Schindler, Professional Coach and owner of the Jas Coaching Company

Originally posted by alwin

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