… It isn’t really a business plan. It’s a recruiting tool. It’s a test.

I get e-mails like this:

“I’m applying for a job in sales and the company is asking me to submit a business plan first. What is that? What should I do? What should it include?”

It seems to happen most often for people looking to get sales jobs, particularly performance or commission-based sales jobs.

If you encounter this while trying to get a job, my advice is that you understand what it’s really about. They’re not really looking for a business plan. They want some kind of a sales plan, at best. Mostly, they want to see that you’re willing to stick your neck out, that you can be optimistic about prospects, and that you really want the job. In some cases they want to see that you can put together some kind of readable document.

What to include? The best tactic is to ask for examples. Try this line: “I’m sorry, but business plan means different things to different people. Do you have some examples of plans you’ve liked?” If that doesn’t work, ask directly for what topics to include. And take notes, so whoever is asking this of you takes responsibility for content. If they can’t give you either examples or topics, at least take a moment to reconsider whether you want to work for this company at all.

If you still do, then keep the plan short, make your headings include objectives, strategy and tactics–and good luck with it, because it’s almost impossible to produce something meaningful.

I think they want commitment. And promises. They’re probably hoping you’ll commit yourself to some very high goals they can hold you to. Or–best case–they just want to see that you understand what you’re getting into. And maybe just seeing if you can put a document together. They don’t really want a business plan. At best it’s a sales plan.

Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.