How do I get started in the solar industry?



We get requests from plenty of people who want to make the jump into the solar industry, so we figured it’s about time to address how that may be achieved. In this article, we review steps you need to take if you wish to become a solar salesperson. Understandably, others of you will be interested to learn how you can become a solar installer or perhaps form your own solar contracting business. If that’s the case, hang tight, we’ll get to that in a subsequent post.

1.  Be informed. Perhaps the most pressing concern of any solar hiring manager is that you, as a prospective sales employee, don’t know the ins and outs of solar. Meaning, you don’t know what net-metering is, how energy usage relates to system sizing, why shading considerations are so important, what the purpose of an inverter is, or measures installation crews take to prevent roof leakage. From their perspective, they want to spend as little time training new employees as possible, especially if you are unproven and may soon quit.

Currently, there’s a push to get deals approved before federal tax credits expire at the end of the year. Therefore, free time to train new solar reps is at a premium. It’s up to you to gain as much knowledge and experience on your own, before you contact any installers for a job. Simply reading about all of this will not suffice. Why? Because when you are reading about the basics of solar from any other source, content is being delivered to you regardless of your curiosity about the interplay between different solar system components. You need to actively learn for any of this stuff to really sync in.

For me, I didn’t know an inverter from an invertebrate. So, I wrote about this stuff for over a year and learned a whole lot that way. A similar suggestion will follow for you in a bit, but I first recommend calling a solar installer in your area, asking to speak with a salesperson, then offering to buy them a really nice lunch or two for letting you ride along for a half day. That way, you can ask very basic questions without being judged as a peer. Your basic questions should lead to more complex questions. If not, you haven’t been asking the right questions.

While solar energy technology is relatively elegant and simple, there’s a lot to learn. Even seasoned professionals are learning heaps of new information at conferences, networking sessions, and classes. Once your most simple questions have been addressed, read through blogs and use google as your friend to get answers to the rest of your questions. Better yet, post them as a comment here and we’ll answer them for you.

2. Be persistent. Solar power installers get reams of resumes each week. Really, they do. I’ve seen them. It’s a little depressing. Clearly, you aren’t alone when thinking that solar is a good career move. Even if you’ve got a great looking font, some sales experience, and your paper smells like lemon squares, your resume most likely will not generate a phone call on its own.

Once you are somewhat solar knowlegable, have demonstrated you know concerns customers have when faced with an investment decision like this one, it’s time to pick up the phone and set some interview appointments so you can show what you know, and suggest ways in which you can help out. That’s right, ask for an interview up front. Your persistence and follow-through in this process can demonstrate a lot to your potential employer about how you will handle communications with stalwart customers in your sales funnel. Now, you need not only to be persistent but you need to…

3. Be professional. The days of hippy, weed toking, earth hugging solar fly by night installation outfits are over. Clean-tech is now one of the few well capitalized Wall Street investment sectors. While a lot of cash is flowing into solar, suppliers expect their installation partners to handle themselves with integrity, conscientiousness, and accountability. Otherwise, they will simply restrict their access to panels which are already in short supply and cultivate steadier relationships with other installation crews. Expectations for professionalism trickle all the way down to the point of contact with each prospective client, also known as, you. Therefore, dress sharp, be organized, prepare to be a consultative friend, and be alert (perhaps well caffeinated) before you speak with anyone about solar.

4. Sell your character. Investing in a solar energy system is not like buying a car. They are fundamentally different purchases, and you will not build a solid referral base without treating your customers with the utmost dignity, respect, and honor. Proof of outstanding customer service builds loyalty not just to you, but to the organization you chose to affiliate yourself with. 85% or more of your business will derive from referrals. They are gold. If it isn’t clear to any customer or business that you aren’t a stand up person with their best interests in tow, I don’t care if you’ve had experience and are facile with high pressure closes, you aren’t going to build a solid referral base, period. And you will flounder.

People do business with people they like, people they trust. In any interview, you need to be able to demonstrate through past behaviors ways in which you went above and beyond the call of duty to ensure your customers had positive experience with any service you were delivering. Doesn’t even matter if it is food-service. While solar hiring managers may not ask you these types of behavioral interview questions, make it a point to communicate how your past actions resulted in remarkable outstanding experiences that clients felt compelled to share with others.

5. Be in the industry. Hiring managers look for candidates that “get it”. Meaning, you understand the financials as well as the environmentals behind an investment in solar energy, have a handle on “net present value”, can speak carefully and accurately about depreciation expenses, tax credits, and renewable energy portfolio standards.

Here’s where I am going to make an offer to anyone who wants it. If you’re really smart, if you can write, and have the burning desire to land that solar sales job, send me an email. Attached to this email, add a writing sample of at least two paragraphs. I will use my network to put you on an assignment in your state to get some hands on experience. While that position will not pay, it isn’t that time intensive, you will be published, and your experience writing about how homes and businesses in your area went solar will be able to set you apart from 99% other candidates for any solar sales position you are after. However, I’m expecting a solid effort from you and want some more ammunition to fire when colleagues at dinner suggest that our educational system is in shambles.

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 - Author of Solar Reviews

Dan Hahn

Solar Journalist

Dan is a solar journalist and content advisor with SolarReviews. He also works with solar installers and solar nonprofits to develop and execute strategic plans.

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