Hired! Finding an Oasis in Water Treatment

Oasis in Water Treatment Software Sales

Dollar_SearchTrying to find a job after relocating is difficult. You’re in unfamiliar turf and may be far beyond the boundaries of the network you would typically rely on to make introductions and pass along your resume.

Try doing it from another country.

Mike Porter took the leap of faith in 2007 when he and his fiancée relocated to Hoboken, N.J., outside New York, after six years working in Mexico.

“She was starting grad school, and this is where she ended up,” he said. “When I was in Mexico, I made contacts, and had some possibilities for jobs; I even thought I had a job lined up, but that fell through.”

So Porter was back to square one a week into 2008, looking for a job in the area of environmental technology. In Mexico, Porter, a Florida native, was national sales manager for a company that sold measurement and control technologies for water and waste-water. His clients were municipalities, to which he sold meter-reading systems and hardware for sewage-treatment plants and local water companies.

“It’s such a specialized industry, and there has been a lot of consolidation,” he said. “While I had known people at smaller companies, once those companies had been absorbed into bigger companies, it was making it more difficult to get to the right people. And, although I know, America-wide, about the market, I didn’t know a lot about the market in the Northeast. I didn’t know anyone who lived here, so that made it more difficult.”

The challenge in the U.S. market, he found, was that the software systems being sold to municipalities were more sophisticated than he was accustomed to. Still, he was confident his skills would transfer to a new job, if only he could make the right contacts. Porter’s job-search strategy included talking to family friends in the industry to make those all-important contacts, and updating his resume.

“I felt really helpless and desperate for a while,” he said. “Going online and throwing my resume out there was not what I had in mind when I came to New York.”

To keep busy, Porter took some preliminary courses toward his MBA at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. Four months passed, but still, no interviews. With contacts not panning out and no takers on his resume, Porter decided to sign up for SalesLadder. Three weeks later he was the new business development manager for government and utilities in the mid-Atlantic region for, a company that sells and services automation solutions for manufacturing, production and process control.

“I sent my resume to 30 to 50 companies and recruiters. Out of those, I got five callbacks. Out of the callbacks, AutomaTech was the first to invite me to come in for an interview.”

And, while he admits that after four months of unemployment he would have seriously considered any offer, he knew after the first phone interview that “this would be a great company to work for. I was excited by what they do, and I was determined to get this job.”

After the second phone interview, Porter was invited to the Plymouth, Mass., headquarters for an in-person interview. “I was very frank with them about my experience,” he said. “I had a basic understanding of the technologies and how to talk to customers. But I told them I would need technical training, and they said that is what they do with all their salespeople. They told me, ‘We’re looking for good salespeople, someone who could not so much speak (AutomaTech’s) language but the language of the customers.’ ”

“Drinking from a firehose”

“A huge part of what appealed to me about the job was the opportunity to learn about the (software) systems,” he said. “I wanted to be on the cutting edge for my industry, and that’s where I am now. I’ve been drinking from a firehose this whole year — there’s been a lot of information coming in a short amount of time. There has been a lot to learn; there’s still a lot to learn”

Between learning the technologies and getting to know the customers, Porter has indeed had much to learn. Adding to the challenge is the fact that Porter’s territory includes the federal government. It’s been quite a change from the business life he led in Mexico.

“It was a very different way of doing business in Mexico; it’s a different culture.” One thing he had to deal with in Mexico is discerning which government officials are corrupt and which are not.

“Corruption and graft are not a part of the game here as they are in Mexico,” he said. “In terms of the job, the U.S. utilities market is more highly regulated and uses private engineering firms to generate specifications. In Mexico, a handful of government labs specify equipment for institutions nationwide. Now, I’m trying to break into the military-industrial complex, which is its own society. It’s a challenge to learn a new market. But once I’m in that society I’ll have business relationships for life.”

And while Porter was excited by the prospect of being on the cutting edge, selling software systems used in NASA research, he began to realize how valuable the training would be.

“I’m already getting calls from headhunters because I have understanding of these new systems,” he said.

But he’s not going anywhere. “I’m extremely happy where I am. The team is incredible. They’ve invested a lot in me, and I couldn’t walk away, even if I’m offered a little more money right now.”

And he feels good about the long-term prospects in his chosen field and country, even as the U.S. economy endures a recession.

“I don’t know how many people come out of college and say they want to sell to a sewage-treatment plant,” he said. “But, it’s not going to be hit by a bad economy. It’s a pretty stable market. All water needs to be treated.”