Sales jobs escape slowdown

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In a stark contrast to the hiring freezes and job cuts hitting technology and human resources departments, companies plan to step up sales-force hiring efforts, according to a new survey.

Job growth is forecast to be especially strong in the health care, pharmaceutical and financial services industries, with the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions leading the way, according to the survey by Management Recruiters International Inc., a Cleveland-based search firm. The construction and electronics industries, and New England and the West are forecast to have less robust, though still strong, growth.

Sixty-one percent of executives polled at health care companies and 60% at financial services companies said they plan to increase sales hiring during the second half of this year. Fifty-nine percent of pharmaceutical executives plan to boost hiring.

The strong hiring projections can be chalked up to companies betting that sales can bring in revenues faster than any other department, said Allen Salikof, CEO of MRI.

"Companies see that they really have to turn around these earnings, so the need for top-quality sales professionals is growing," Salikof said. "To increase profit share, you have to start with your sales force."

Salikof said businesses, responding to the economy, are increasingly trying to hire proven sales reps. "The business climates lost some of its promise," he said. "Before, you could have just about anybody in the territory to maintain sales."

The strong hiring forecast for the pharmaceutical and health care industries can be attributed to harsh competition and the constant arrival of new drugs, Salikof said.

Financial companies, meanwhile, are realizing that e-commerce initiatives are not proving the boon many thought they would be, and that keeping live salespeople in front of key customers during a slowdown is important, said Dennis McCarthy, CEO of Paradigm Group, a Fairfield, Conn.-based sales consultancy.

One thousand executives were polled for "The MRI National Hiring Projection Survey.

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