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Published: Saturday, 10/18/2008

Sour economy no match for University of Toledo sales school

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
T.J. Fontana, left, manager of training and operations at Tenneco Inc., an automotive supplier, greets University of Toledo student Demetrius Harvey during the speed-recruiting session. T.J. Fontana, left, manager of training and operations at Tenneco Inc., an automotive supplier, greets University of Toledo student Demetrius Harvey during the speed-recruiting session.
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Think of it as "economic speed dating" - a six-minute exercise in frenetic human relations between dozens of willing employers and scores of ambitious University of Toledo students - with no emotional commitments and virtually guaranteed matches.

For two hours yesterday afternoon, the auditorium of the UT's student union was transformed into a virtual hiring hall, matching representatives of some of the nation's most successful companies with young, enthusiastic, and desirable potential employees.

"I've hired 10 people here in the last three years, and they're among my best performers," said Brad Carson, a sales recruiter with Hilti Inc., a European manufacturer of construction equipment. "This event is great. That's why I keep coming back."

At times it was a surreal scene, considering Toledo's overall economy: almost six dozen employers like Mr. Carson paying - yes, paying - for the privilege of interviewing as many as 17 of nearly 170 UT students on hand. Every student was either majoring or minoring in professional sales, and UT is among a few universities in the nation offering students a bachelor of science degree in the field.

"We have the largest major in sales in the country," said Ellen Bolman Pullins, a professor who oversees UT's professional sales program. "We have nearly 100 percent placement of our students. Employers seek them out."

Sandra Parent, one of three representatives from Northstar Recycling Group of Springfield, Mass., planned to talk to dozens of students to fill one sales job in the Dayton area.

"I'm looking for that spark," she said of potential candidates who can sell a product and themselves. "The students have been taught the skills of selling, but you can't teach the personality of sales."

Recruiters got six minutes to connect with prospective employees, gauge their talents and eagerness, and determine who might become valuable additions to their sales forces.

It was as if - for two hours anyway and in an admittedly small area - Toledo's economy was booming.

Elan Pessoa, 23, of Toronto, came to UT for a sales degree and will graduate in December. She admitted to being a little nervous before embarking on the series of frenetic meet-and-greets with prospective employers.

"This will be my first time doing this," she said. "I prepared a little two-minute presentation about myself, but mostly, I compiled some questions I want to ask about the companies."

The second-annual speed recruiting event is an outgrowth of UT's Edward H. Schmidt school of professional sales, a program that started 10 years ago with just 40 students but which has grown into a respected major with now more than 400 students enrolled.

"You hear about all the doom and gloom, but the [sales] jobs are there, even in a down economy," Mrs. Bolman Pullins said. "The last thing a smart company wants to do is cut your sales force. That's where the revenue comes from."

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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