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Sold on sales: How to kick-start that career by closing the job deal

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

There's a critical disconnect in Canada's workforce today. The Statistics Canada youth unemployment rate has stubbornly hovered around 13 per cent for the past five years, yet Canada continues to be challenged by labour shortages.

Skilled trades, sales representatives and engineers make the list as the most difficult jobs to fill in Canada and around the world, according to the ManpowerGroup's most recent annual global Talent Shortage Survey. The top reasons provided by survey respondents are too few applicants, little experience, lack of technical competencies or hard skills, salary not high enough, and weak workplace soft skills.

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ManpowerGroup doesn't see this skills gap disappearing anytime soon despite its impact on client service and a company's ability to compete. Employment expert Hays PLC, which produces the Global Skills Index, contends that the skills gap is widening. Canada received one of the highest scores in its most recent indicator measuring talent mismatch (or talents Canadians are offering versus what the marketplace requires) of all of the countries Hays surveyed in the Americas.

Sales professional is a role I am often looking to fill. As I evaluate candidates, I am open to hearing from enterprising job seekers who are keen to prove that they are the right candidate and can demonstrate how their unique skills can help close a deal. For millennials, who may be jumping into sales with little direct experience, the key to landing a job in this field may be identifying the "sellable" skills.

This was my approach when I graduated the mid-1980s in an even more challenging job market when the Statistics Canada youth unemployment rate peaked at more than 20 per cent. As a Franco-Ontarian, I had a degree in business, wanted to live in Toronto and I was still honing my English language skills. While I may have lacked experience, I knew I had skills that could help me land my first job.

Here's my advice for millennials who want to make the exciting leap into sales.

Sales has changed – the used car salesman retired long ago

Professional sales is much more about managing relationships than meeting quotas. You are the face of the account and have a team of experts working with you to enable the customer's success. We use sophisticated analytics and tools to manage existing relationships and identify organizations whose needs align with our solutions. Seek out a respected brand with a great product offering, and you can go to bed knowing you are bringing something that can improve customers' lives.

Solve a problem, get a job

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The digital revolution has the potential to significantly impact business in Canada. Many of my clients are transforming their IT infrastructure to serve digital customers. Helping businesses transition to the digital age is meaningful work and I've found that business leaders will listen to good ideas. Do your research to find a company you want to work for and find out what its 'pain points' are. Pitch it on how your ideas and skills can help it overcome its challenges and provide the type of services today's digital consumer cares about.

Can they mould you into the role?

Many companies offer training programs. Find out what they offer. Do an honest assessment of your talent. Be prepared to succinctly tell an employer about your strengths and your commitment to not only learning the role, but ongoing education and advancement. Don't forget that "soft" skills (conflict resolution, communication skills, relationship building, etc.) can also be a source of competitive advantage. In Canada West Foundation's 2015 report "Smarten Up: It's time to build essential skills," it stressed: "If Canadians want to improve productivity, maintain competitiveness in the global economy and continue to justify comparatively higher compensation packages, we must perform jobs at higher levels with adequate levels of essential skills (like language, literacy and numeracy)."

Analyze how your digital advantage can help an employer

A recent study by Accenture contends digital skills are helping narrow the workplace gender gap. How can your unique perspective or skills help employers solve their biggest challenges?

Make diversity your advantage

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The Canadian workplace is a multicultural and multi-demographic group of millenials, Gen Xers, and boomers with unique skills, needs and demands. Demonstrate that you have the savviness and flexibility to work with everyone and get results. This is a valuable skill because we need the contribution of everyone working together.

As Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat's CEO says, the future is all about the power of participation. Getting your ideas heard and your foot in the door can help drive your career.

Luc Villeneuve is the Canadian country leader at Red Hat, Inc., a global open source leader.

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