How Do I Get A Job At A Dealership?
Automotive Dealerships are fun, challenging, and often well-paying retail environments that are continually looking for help. Keep in mind – almost every dealership you see out on Main Street USA is a franchise, meaning the dealership is independently owned and operated (as opposed to being controlled by the factory or manufacturer). That being the case, every dealership makes its own hiring decisions and has its own process. But there are certainly some similarities among them.
First lets start off by looking at how a dealership’s workforce might be put together and what kinds of jobs may be available. Then we’ll talk a little bit about upward movement from within and pay. Finally, some tips on how to present yourself when applying.
Here’s what a large dealership’s organizational structure might look like:
So as you can see, there are quite a few different types of jobs available – management positions, customer service, sales, marketing, technology – a whole spectrum of skills. Naturally, the positions at the bottom of the heirarchy (in this case, the right side of the diagram) hire more frequently. These are positions generally held by younger or less experienced employees – and turnover can fluctuate as students go off to college or the dealership promotes from within.
Of course, the goal of any organization is to train-up from the bottom so that it can have the highest quality people possible. I feel this should be the goal of any applicant as well – to go in with an open mind and keep an attitude of “how can I learn to get to the next level?”.
Generally, dealerships are skills-based workplaces; if you can do the job, you’re in – regardless of your level of education. Since the dealership is a retail environment, charisma is important – but so is responsibility and self-motivation. Armed with these things anyone can succeed in a dealership – the education is an ongoing part of the job, but a dealership can’t teach you how to be friendly, how to be responsible, or how to be a go-getter.
When it comes to paychecks, dealerships have very healthy payrolls – but with a high level of income comes a high level of expectation, especially because the money is coming from the franchise owner (who is personally and financially invested in his/her dealership). In some of the dealership roles, the pay is hourly – some salary, some commission. Most of the entry-level positions are hourly or commission – or a blend of the two.
When I started in the car business I was a Service Porter – a valet who washed cars and brought them to the driveway as service customers came to pick them up. The pay was hourly and barely above minimum wage – but I didn’t care; I was working with some amazing automobiles (the store I worked at carried five franchises: Chevrolet, Rolls Royce, Bentley, Porsche, and Audi) and was meeting some really cool people along the way. When it comes to pay, it’s all about attitude. Even if you have to start at the bottom and work your way up it’s worth it – the retail end of the automotive industry could prove to be the most satisfying career move of your life.
Six Things You Should Do To Increase Your Odds of Getting Hired:
1. Before you start asking a dealership for a job, spend a few minutes walking around the store and getting to know where each of the departments are. See the receptionist and ask for an Application. Every new hire must complete an application at some point in the process – might as well be ready before you need it. Quite frankly, you can bypass the online job search and the endless amount of time you might spend submitting your resume.
2. Stop by the DMV and get a copy of your Driving Record. Every dealership has to carry insurance (for every car on their lot); even if you’re applying for a job that doesn’t require driving, chances are the dealership will still require your driving record. Some states may offer an ‘Online Driving Record’ that you can print out, but these usually don’t satisfy the insurance companies – you need to fill out a form and go to the DMV to get an official copy. You can look up the forms you need online (here is the California DMV Driving Record Form) – the cost is usually less than $10.
3. Get your ID current and bring copies. Most dealerships require a Front-and-Back Copy of Your Driver’s License. Same logic applies – though your job may never require that you drive a dealership’s car, their insurance carrier will want to see that you are qualified to do so, just in case. When you take the copy, see if the copier has a ‘Photo’ mode – otherwise the picture on the ID may come out as a big dark square. You want your documents to be legible and well presented – just like you.
4. Gather your Legal Hiring Documents such as your Social Security Card, Work Visa, or I-9 forms. Make sure that anything you have from the government that proves you are eligible to work in the United States is clean, legible, and most importantly – signed and dated. Like with the Driver’s License, you will need clear front-and-back copies so make sure you have everything in order ahead of time.
4a. If you’re applying for a Sales- or sales-support position (in the state of California for sure, other states maybe not), you’ll need your Occupational Sales License which generally requires a “Live Scan” (fingerprinting) session at the courthouse or Sheriff’s office. See this page for the California Vehicle Salesperson License Application. You can see the fees and requirements on the CA DMV Page, and read more about Live Scan.
5. Write or type a one-page letter that speaks about who you are, what you want to do, and Why You Think You Are A Good Applicant. You might surprise yourself when you sit down and write out why you want a job there – “getting paid” usually isn’t the #1 reason. In all candor, I am more excited to read these “cover pages” than an individual’s resume – as a hiring manager I am more interested in an applicant’s skill set, their attitude, and their personal motivation – not how many degrees they have or where they went to school.
6. Armed with the five items above, come back in to the dealership (cleaned up – hair and nails trimmed, clean and professional clothing, appropriate [shined] shoes). If you’ve done your homework, you will know which office to go to to find the Service Manager, Parts Manager, Sales Manager, or any of the various members of administration. My advice is to pass by the receptionist this time around – go straight to the decision maker. You should be able to accomplish this effectively in about 20 seconds by saying something like this:
“My name is [name] and I want to work here. I took the liberty of putting together a complete package for you, including a letter on why I think you should hire me [hand them your packet]. I’d like to sit down and talk with you when you have a moment – is later today or tomorrow better for you?”
The truth is that these managers are extremely busy people with a lot of responsibilities. They simply don’t have the time to sit down with you and explain the things you need to bring them – they expect you to show up with your game face on and have done the yeoman’s work for them. Handing them everything they already need from you makes their job easier – and displays your confidence and willingess to work and that, frankly, will make them remember you when it comes time to make a hiring decision.