7 Reasons Why Business Development is the Perfect First Job Out of College
“So, what’s your plan after we graduate?”
We’ve all had a version of this conversation. It’s the last year of college, the Career Service Center is packed, and post-graduation plans are all anyone ever talks about now. It’s time to get a job, pay back student loans, and make some money! After spending the majority of our life in school, we should all know exactly what we want to do… and how to get started. Right?
“I don’t know. I’ll probably get a job or something. What about you?”
The first job out of college is a critical one. It can set you up for the highest potential income. Or the lowest. It can become your springboard for skill-building, promotions, and unimaginable opportunities. Or it can lead you down a windy path where it takes longer to achieve success. Your first job can open doors, but it can also close them. It can be your hyperloop to a strong professional network, or it can be your slow-moving conveyor belt. At this point, it’s up to you.
“I want to get a job too. I just don’t know where to start.”
My advice? Work in the tech industry. Start in business development.
Business development is the ideal first job out of college, and I say this based on more than ten years of experience in Silicon Valley startups and thousands of conversations with college graduates across the country. Business development provides the right opportunities and environment to launch your career in the Valley, and beyond.
First, let’s look at the numbers. In terms of salary, on average, in Silicon Valley, an entry-level position in business development (usually called BDR or Business Development Representative) earns $75,000-$85,000 in base salary and commissions. And it only gets better as you level up. For example, as you move up to an AE, or Account Executive, role, you can make anywhere from $150,000 to $300,000 — sometimes much more. In terms of opportunity, there are 8,667 open business development positions in California, and 49,057 across the country (just on LinkedIn!). These numbers will continue to grow as more and more companies shift to the SaaS (Software as a Service) model.
Numbers aside, the experience of business development is invaluable to anyone who is just starting out in their career. This is true whether you’re already hooked on joining a startup as a career path or are unsure of exactly what you want to do. I say this because business development gives you a vantage point unlike any other: you get to interface directly with customers; learn about other parts of the company (including product, marketing, finance and engineering); and have the chance to develop a deep understanding of how Silicon Valley companies operate.
As the co-founder and CEO of Involver, and later as an executive at Oracle, I had the opportunity to hire and manage many young people in business development. Business development is perfect for motivated, passionate, and bright young people. It doesn’t matter if you lack a tech background, if you’re missing the stamp of a big school, or if your network is devoid of contacts in the tech industry (when I started out, I fit into all three of these categories). If you want the perfect job coming out of college, business development is for you.
Based on personal stories from employers and employees in Silicon Valley, here are 7 reasons to choose business development as your career launchpad. These are marketable skills that you will certainly need to get ahead and earn the promotions you’re looking for over the course of your career.
Skill 1: Build Unshakable Confidence
In business development, you will talk to a lot of new people. And you will likely deal with a lot of rejection. But that’s ok. You might be nervous at first, but eventually it will stop bothering you. In fact, it will help you build self-confidence.
Meet Libby. She works as a BDR at Talkable, a software startup that helps ecommerce companies, like TOMS Shoes and Gymboree, accelerate their growth. A year ago, after graduating with a liberal arts degree, Libby started as a BDR in enterprise software. Today, she regularly engages with potential customers (known as prospects) to gauge whether her company’s product can be helpful in meeting their goals.
Because BDRs are constantly in conversation with people, Libby has developed confidence in communicating, especially when she is speaking to someone for the first time. “I’ve told people several times that this is the best first job I could have asked for. I feel so confident talking to people now. I’ve noticed I’m not afraid of rejection anymore,” Libby tells me with a smile.
Business development is a perfect career launchpad because you will build self-confidence as you converse and consult with individuals at all levels of a company.
Skill 2: Understand the Tech Ecosystem
In business development, you will learn about the bigger picture of the company, its market space, and the tech industry at large.
Meet Hayden. Hayden works with Libby as a BDR at Talkable. After graduating with a degree in marketing from Tulane University, Hayden originally avoided business development because she thought she would end up in a call center. That was far from the case. After a year as a BDR in a growing startup, Hayden is sure that this was the right step for her.
Hayden marvels at the knowledge she’s gained in business development: “I didn’t realize how much I would learn about how a business runs — how a company works — just by being in business development. I have learned so many things that I couldn’t have learned in the classroom.” Hayden feels like she and her fellow BDRs have a leg up in the industry because they “understand tech terminology, trends in the field, and issues that enterprise software companies face.”
Business development is a perfect career launchpad because all employers will admire your ability to see the bigger picture. It means you understand how a small detail can have massive impact. It means you understand how the collective goals of the company guide your daily tasks.
Skill 3: Succeed in Time Management
In business development, you will learn how to become a master of your own time. No more running to catch up — you’ll be far ahead.
Meet Steve. Steve was the first person on my business development team at Involver after graduating with a degree from Boston College in business and marketing. He now manages a whole team, as Director of Developer Partnerships at Skillz, an eSports platform that raised $28 Million from the owners of the New England Patriots, the Milwaukee Bucks, and the New York Mets.
On a day-to-day basis as a BDR, Steve managed a variety of tasks that directly impacted the entire business development team, including emailing, calling, using new technologies, negotiating, networking, and strategizing. He says, “The top skill I learned was how to work efficiently. I learned how to best prioritize my time to make the most of it. When I figured this out, I started hitting my most aggressive goals.”
Business development is a perfect career launchpad because you will practice time management until you master it. You will be able to focus your energy on the things that matter, and you will learn to ignore the things that don’t. This kind of efficiency will bring your goals into reach, no matter what they are.
Skill 4: Perfect Your Communication and Close the Deal
In business development, you will learn how to communicate effectively, whether you’re talking on the phone, writing an email, or making a presentation. You will learn how to pitch, listen, converse, and close the deal.
Meet Jenny. Jenny graduated from University of Southern California with a degree in theater and American literature. She started in entry level business development at Involver, and now works at Oracle as an Enterprise Marketing Cloud Sales Manager for companies like Nintendo and Nordstrom’s.
When she worked as a BDR, Jenny had the rare opportunity to intentionally work on her communication skills in a variety of contexts with diverse personalities. And she got to practice on a daily basis. When you’re practicing that much, you learn to pay attention to the little things. “Through a lot of trial and error,” Jenny explains, “I’ve learned how to listen for nonverbal cues over the phone. A lot of the time, it is my comfort with silence that helps me close the deal.”
Business development is a perfect career launchpad because effective communication is arguably the most important, and one of the most challenging, skills to master, within and beyond the workplace. Employers can recognize these skills long before they schedule an interview.
Skill 5: Learn to Hustle
In business development, you will work hard and results will follow. It will definitely be worth it.
It goes without saying that business development is integral to the success of a company. As a business development person, you are contributing directly to the collective goals, and this is a big deal. Steve thinks back to his Involver days with inspiration: “I put in a lot of hard work and I could always measure my impact clearly. This drove me to bust my a**”. He adds, “the hustle attitude I learned here has gone on to shape me outside of my career and made me more motivated in general.”
Business development is a perfect career launchpad because your passion, commitment, and perseverance is an important signal to your employers. It says that you are willing to work hard and that you are not afraid to learn through failure. This attitude will be a deciding factor as you move forward in your career.
Skill 6: Problem-Solve with Empathy
In business development, you will see a given problem from another person’s point of view. And you’ll have a chance to solve it.
Meet Jack. Jack graduated with a degree in business administration from University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Jack has been working in business development for over 14 years, and he now serves as Co-Founder and SVP Sales at Aktana, a life sciences startup that helps 7 of the world’s top 15 pharmaceutical companies, with offices in San Francisco, New York, and Tokyo. Jack describes business development as a human-centered problem-solving service. He explains that “people buy things to solve problems — it’s not really about you or your quota.”
When you frame business development as a way to help others, it becomes an opportunity to see a difficult problem from multiple points of view. This empathetic approach involves asking questions with the aim to deeply understand and respond to the challenges of others. Jack leads his team through an empathetic approach: “I try to imagine myself as a colleague at the customer’s company. If I were a coworker of theirs, would I ask the same questions I’m asking now? If the answer is yes, then I’m doing my job.”
Business development is a perfect career launchpad because it provides you with opportunities to solve complex problems, just by stepping away from your own point of view, and trying to understand the experience of another. This empathetic approach will enable you to work with anyone.
Skill 7: Grow Your Network
In business development, you will make friends that you never expected. Silicon Valley executives included.
As we learned from the stories so far, people in business development have a lot of conversations and make a lot of connections. Each week, you grow your network and you don’t even realize it. If you pay attention, you will notice that you’re speaking to people at all levels of a company, because that’s how buying decisions are made. As an entry-level business development person, you may speak to executives of some of your favorite companies, and these interactions can set foundations for your entire career.
Steve, now a leader of a business development organization, says, “there are many connections I made through pitching at Involver that I’ve connected with while working at other companies. I reached out either for new business, recruiting, or partnerships, and to this day, we’re still in touch.”
Business development is a perfect career launchpad because you meet people you otherwise wouldn’t meet. You chat, you problem-solve, and you might even maintain a friendship. You take your network with you for the rest of your career, and the relationships you build early on can later change your life.
“I’m not an engineer, I didn’t go to Stanford, I don’t have a big savings account — how can I get into startups?”
If you’re looking for a place to start — a place where you’ll earn a good living, get promoted quickly, learn a lot of skills, and meet a ton of connections — find a fast-growing startup and join their business development team.
Don’t get me wrong — business development is not easy. They don’t pay you all this money and give you all the perks without expecting that you perform. If you are ready to work hard and learn quickly, this is the best entry level job for you at a startup. In business development, you will pick up marketable skills that will undoubtedly accelerate your career.
After a decade of working in the tech industry and after thousands of conversations with college students like you, I’ve helped start SVAcademy to bridge the gap between school and work. I want to make it easier for young people, who don’t have the connections or skills, to break into Silicon Valley and launch their careers.
Some of my friends are running the fastest growing startups in the Valley and we’re looking for motivated, passionate, and bright young people who want a springboard not a conveyor belt. Check us out at sv.academy and let’s get started.