Every few days, I open my email inbox, and sitting there — in between notes telling me that my tongue is too large — is an email from someone asking how they can get a job in the car industry. People ask me this question because I used to work in the car industry, although they seem to forget that I gave up this profession in order to make YouTube videos with a microphone the size of a squirrel.
Their story is almost always the same: I currently work in a boring job. I want to work in a more exciting job. I love cars. So I’d love to work in the car industry. But why is the car industry so hard to get into?
I admit this is a reasonable question, because the car industry very rarely opens up and swallows an outsider. It’s one of those things where you have to be in it in order to be in it, sort of like how applications for entry-level jobs say you have to have 3 years of experience, but you cannot possibly get 3 years of experience without getting an entry-level job.
This was certainly true at my old car company, Porsche Cars North America. We had people who had previously worked at what I believe was every single other possible car company in historical existence. We even had a guy from Mahindra. I’m serious. I would not be surprised to find that there were people in some department I didn’t work with very much who had started their career convincing Russian pig farmers to buy the Lada Niva.
But this doesn’t really make sense, if you think about it: The auto industry can’t possibly only hire people from within the auto industry, or else it would just become older and older, and eventually everyone working there would die off or retire, and General Motors would be comprised of seven total humans who formerly worked for Hupmobile. So how do you break in?
I’ll tell you how I broke in: I worked at a dealership. And I think you should do the same.
Before I address why I think you should work at a dealership, allow me to explain my situation. I worked at a Saturn dealer, selling Saturns during the height of the economic recession in 2008 and 2009. This was the single worst job at the single worst time. Back then, nobody was buying cars, and even less than nobody was buying Saturns, and the brand was going out of business. I think we would’ve made more money if we were selling individually wrapped toothpicks.
But I learned a lot from this job (namely, do not sell Saturns during a major economic crisis), and it stood out on my resume so much that I was hired ahead of dozens of other candidates when I applied to work for Porsche.
And so, whenever anyone asks me how to break away from their boring desk job and get into the auto industry, I always say the same thing: Start at a dealership. And then they always reply in the same way. In person, they give me this face as if I’ve just told them I’ve been thinking about cutting off a few of my toes, and what do they think? Over email, they politely tell me thanks for the suggestion, but they want to work for a car company, in a corporate office, with a sweet company car, and an office with at least one fake plant. They don’t want to haggle over the price of a 2009 Hyundai Elantra.
And I understand this feeling. In many circles, car sales is considered one of the lowest possible occupations. Lower than YouTubers with squirrel microphones. Lower than working for a place that sells individually wrapped toothpicks.
But you might be surprised at what happens if you work for a well-run car dealership. Work for a dealer that puts customers first, employs car enthusiasts and really focuses on maintaining a good reputation, and you’ll be surprised by how quickly your preconceived notions of a car dealership fade away. More importantly, you’ll probably learn a lot: Before I worked at a dealer, I didn’t know what holdback was. I also didn’t know about floor planning. I didn’t know how wholesale auctions worked. I had never heard the term "money factor," I didn’t know what gap insurance was, and I never knew what happened in the back room when the salesperson goes to talk it over with the manager. When I started at Porsche, my knowledge of all these items gave me a huge advantage in knowing what my colleagues were talking about.
And so, boring-desk-job person who wants to work in the car industry, consider working for a dealership first. It may not be the most glamorous life, but you might be surprised to find that you actually enjoy it. You’ll certainly learn something from it. And when it comes time to apply for a corporate car-industry gig, you’ll have a leg up over a fellow boring-desk-job person with no car dealership experience. And who knows? Stick around long enough once you’re hired, and you might even run General Motors one day. After everyone else dies.
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