FARGO-When Hogan Haas graduates from North Dakota State University in May, he will be one of the lucky ones who already has a job. The Lindstrom, Minn., native received an offer last summer following his sales internship with PepsiCo.

Haas is already well-versed in sales techniques thanks to his participation in NDSU's Center for Professional Selling and Sales Technology, a program approved by the State Board of Higher Education in 2013.

Students in the program, who earn a 16-credit certificate in professional selling, typically have a job offer one month to one year before graduation, said director Michael Krush.

The program, which is the only one of its kind in the North Dakota University System, was established to help alleviate the area's workforce shortage.

Sales positions ranked No. 5 and No. 17 on a list of the most in-demand occupations in a regional workforce study released last year.

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"There's a lot of discussion in the (Red River) Valley about workforce development, and we really think this is one of the opportunities for the College of Business to get students show-ready, so to speak, because it's a great skills set," Krush said.

A Certificate in Professional Selling is available to any student, regardless of his or her major.

He said enrolling is wise, considering that around 50 percent of all college graduates accept a sales position as their first job out of college whether it was their intention or not.

"When people first think about sales, there are some negative stereotypes based on pop culture, movies," Krush said. "Batman isn't a sales person, right? What we try to do is expose them to what sales really is."

Role playing is a crucial part of that. Students begin developing their approach by selling to one another, but eventually pitch to representatives from local business partners. Those sales meetings are taped and later critiqued.

Annie Skarphol, a senior from Eagan, Minn., said watching her tapes has been the most helpful part of the program.

She initially appeared a bit timid and didn't keep eye contact with the buyer, but today she's capable of delivering a more confident and aggressive pitch.

Krush said there are many benefits to hiring program graduates over their peers. They're typically ready to sell for the business 50 percent faster, have 30 percent less turnover and save employers $180,000 per hire.

The main reason is that employers only need to teach them about the business and its products, not how to sell them.

Midwest Sales Symposium

In an effort to shed some light on the program in the community, NDSU is hosting the Midwest Sales Symposium Friday, April 22, at the Holiday Inn.

Krush said that while students will likely attend, it's open to the public and aimed at achieving greater industry involvement.

The event will feature keynote speaker Sam Richter, an internationally recognized expert on sales intelligence and author of the book "Take the Cold Out of Cold Calling."

Multiple sessions are also planned on topics such as "Dealing with 'No'-A Real World Approach" and "Entrepreneurship & Sales: The Intersection."



What: Midwest Sales Symposium

When: 8 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. Friday, April 22

Where: Holiday Inn, Fargo

Cost: Tickets range from $79 to $99. Register by noon Tuesday, April 19, at www.midwestsalessymposium.com.