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How To Make Six Figures Without a College Degree

Not every high paying job requires a college degree. There are tens of thousands of sales pros who have never darkened ivy-covered halls, but who take home six (or even seven) figure salaries. Even better, a career in sales can mean doing what you truly love, with people whom you truly like. Here's a simple seven-step program to get your dream job.

  • STEP #1: Forget everything you think you know about selling. Popular culture in movies and television characterizes a salesman as a fast-talking manipulator who convinces people to buy stuff they don't want or need. That's total BS. "Today's sales jobs require, beyond all else, the ability to listen to customers and the commitment to help them, even if it means you don't make the sale," explains Jeff Thull, author of the bestseller "Mastering the Complex Sale"
  • STEP #2: Choose an industry that you truly love. Into football? Think about equipment sales. Into ballet? Think about fund-raising. Into cool cars? Think about selling rental contracts for them. Into architecture and design? Think about selling design services. "There isn't a pastime or hobby on earth where there isn't selling activity taking place," says sales guru Barry Rhein. "Sales is the lifeblood of every business everywhere."
  • STEP #3: Figure out where the big money is. When it comes to selling, every industry has small potatoes and big potatoes. For instance, if you're a football nut, don't look for a job clerking at Sports Authority. Look for the companies that sell equipment to entire school districts, or companies that sell training packages to professional teams. "Most people never bother to figure out what they love, and so they spend their careers doing things they dislike," points out renowned motivational speaker Art Mortell.
  • STEP #4: Plug yourself into that segment of the industry. Every industry has venues where decision-makers and business owners congregate and network. Start attending conferences, meeting people, and learning how the industry works. Study everything you can about how those companies make money serving the needs of their customers. And get plugged into the social networks frequented by industry mavens. "Selling is all about connecting with people and making new friends," says Clara Shih, author of The Facebook Era.
  • STEP #5: Learn the basics of professional selling. Selling is an art and a science. To be good at it, you need to know how to manage your emotions, how to listen actively to customers, how to "sense" where they're coming from, how to understand their desires and ideas, how to create a workable solutions, and how to help them make good decisions. "Your personal commitment to your personal development will always be your greatest limitation," says Chris Gardner, the sales professional portrayed by Will Smith in the hit movie "Pursuit of Happyness."
  • STEP #6: Make your first big sale... your dream sales job. The skills that you developed in STEP #5 are exactly the skills that you'll need to present yourself as a candidate for a sales job. What's great about this is that, when you get that job offer, you'll know you're ready... because you made the sale. And if you don't, you know you'll need more of STEP #5. Don't be discouraged, though, if it takes some time. "Many sales managers are looking for people with the right attitude rather than prior experience," says Patrick Sweeney, EVP of marketing at Calipers, a company that tests candidates for sales job aptitude.
  • STEP #7: Constantly hone your sales skills. Once you've gotten a position selling something that you love, your career will be limited only by your willingness to increase your knowledge of your products, your customers, yourself, and your sales skills. A sales career is a journey. There is always more to learn, and always ways to better yourself. Bon Voyage!
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