24/07/2013 - 15:44

Learning resilience in the face of rejection

24/07/2013 - 15:44


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If you don’t absolutely love the sales aspect of recruitment, then maybe it’s not the right career path.

Learning resilience in the face of rejection

If you don't absolutely love the sales aspect of recruitment, then maybe it's not the right career path.

A good number of bright and well-educated young men and women have passed through my firm’s recruitment consulting division over the years in pursuit of their passion for working with people.

Many of them say they like most elements of the job but do not want to do business development or sales. I have hired many of these candidates – and it has always been a mistake. Experience has taught me that the recruitment business is a very tough sales business and if you don’t absolutely love sales, you won’t make it.

So let’s look at the science of what makes an individual a potential sales success.

The great Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi is responsible for the oft-repeated quote: “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get back up.” 

What Lombardi was describing is resilience – the ability to be persistent in the face of adversity. It might seem common sense to recognise that resilience is required to be a great salesperson, but it took the research of University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman to prove this was the case.

Dr Seligman was studying depression and found the main cause of this dreadful malady was learned helplessness – these people were bowled over by the mildest adversity. On the other end of the spectrum were those individuals with learned resilience who were resistant to almost any adversity. The key here is that the capability is learned and therefore can be taught.

Dr Seligman established the Penn Resiliency Program, which successfully treated a large number of depressed individuals, and then went on to develop resilience programs in schools where it greatly reduced the rate of depression and anxiety among children.

Dr Seligman soon realised the rejection salespeople faced was one of the most significant and continuous forces of adversity in any business. He used his SASQ (Seligman Attributional Style Questionnaire), the instrument he had devised to measure resilience, in a number of sales-dependent corporations.

When Metropolitan Life insurance company used this assessment to select and hire salespeople, it saved millions in selection time and cost. At American Express Financial Advisors, a pilot program of resilience training increased sales enough after only three months to justify making it a standard training component. The principle discovered here is to select those who want to do business development or sales and marketing and develop their resilience to the maximum.

Dr Seligman has gone on to occupations where the adversity is ultimate – the military and international sports. He has developed the Combat Operation Stress Control program to teach resilience to the US Marines and has developed similar courses for the US Army and the Air Force.

The US plans to pass 1.5 million service men and women through these programs as a way to combat post-traumatic stress and to build a more effective fighting force in today’s highly complex and threatening battlefield.

Sports psychologists Robert Schinke and Christopher Peterson have adopted the SASQ and the resilience development program for Olympic athlete training.

So if you have a company where your people face adversity daily, such as a consulting, broking, or sales and marketing force and you want to make a step change in performance, the SASQ can play a key role in your selection process and help coach selected individuals or train your entire team to greater and greater levels of resilience.


• Jack Somerville is a founding partner of Somerville & Partners and a director of the 4HR Consulting Group.  


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