Working on Commission: What No One Ever Told You

Working on commission is sometimes mythologized as being a simple matter of making a few sales, and living a comparatively wealthy lifestyle. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Please note:
 This article is about bona fide, professional commission jobs. The "great jobs for students"  and other forms of time wasting are usually better avoided entirely. You can literally starve, while in full time employment, in those jobs. If you're interested in this line of work, check out the professional sales jobs first, to get an idea of the employment market, the types of work, and the working environment. Speak to the professional sales people, get a clear idea of the work before applying.

The truth about commissions

The people who can live on their commissions are usually the top salespeople, who've done their time in the trenches, and have learned and earned their way up the ladder. If you're not used to sales or other forms of commission based  work, the learning curve can be nothing less than brutal. 

You earn a commission based on the value of the sale, or the service you provide. If you're on a good commission, like 20%, you do have the potential to make good money, if you're selling high value goods or services.

There's the catch: "If you're selling..." The fact is that most people starting out in commission jobs usually don't sell well at all at first, often for quite a while. Those who survive usually scrape through, and some of those last long enough to become expert salespeople.

The reality at this point of the commission based career is that 99% of people don't make it. It really is very tough, unless you're a natural sales person.

The very good side to commission work

Although the environment is an experience which you may never forget, there are some very valuable parts of this work which are worth the effort. The training is priceless. If you've got a good trainer, you can learn more business skills in a week than you would in years, elsewhere:

Sales training: This can be invaluable. Sales techniques are excellent social training skills. You learn how to present yourself, and how to make an assertive commercial statement. Those skills are fundamental to these jobs, and there are few better places to learn them.

Customer training: Another extremely useful skill set, dealing with customers, handling commercial situations, and developing your credentials in customer service on a comparatively advanced level.

Deal making: Sales are deals, in one form or another. You receive practical understanding of deal making in these jobs, a very portable skill which applies across all forms of business, finance and commerce.

The reality check effect

Commission work makes you conduct regular reality checks on your skills and your career direction. To progress in commission based careers, you have to be not only good, but have some real agility in your career moves. Some commission jobs are excellent, and to get them you need to have great situational awareness.

To get to the top, the professionals learn their employment market. They become experts in where to get the best jobs, and how to get the best retainers to go with the commissions. When you reach that level of professionalism, you're well on the way to a great career.