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Careers in sales: what's involved and how graduates fit in

Jobs in sales are increasingly an option for graduates. Find out what a career in this area might involve.

Sales is the profession concerned with the selling of goods and services. Sales form the core of every business: whether it produces a physical product, such as cucumbers or tennis shoes, or offers a service, such as electrical testing or psychic healing, a link between the producer and the customer is necessary so that the customer is aware of and has access to the product.

Selling methods

Sales can be conducted in several different ways. The most traditional form is face-to-face selling, through shops, stalls or a travelling sales representative. However, technology has provided additional ways for the salesperson to peddle their goods without having to meet with the customer directly. For example:

  • telesales
  • mail order
  • 'sales engines'
  • vending machines
  • online stores.

While the rise in online shop fronts brings customers into direct contact with the product – seemingly removing the need for a mediator or salesperson – sales is still a major area of growth.

Where to find graduate jobs in sales

As a graduate, the majority of the positions you will come across will be business to business (B2B) rather than business to consumer (B2C) jobs, which are often on the shop floor. Certain sellers of expensive consumer items such as fancy cars or fitted kitchens may actively seek graduates. The extra skills you have acquired through your degree may make you eligible for management positions.

One of the first decisions to make is how much you like the general public. If the wealth and variety of human nature never ceases to amaze you then business to consumer sales would suit you well. This basically entails selling products directly to the public and can involve anything from life insurance to organic sausages.

B2C positions often command a lower wage than those in the business sector, but graduates going into retail sales can usually expect the skills gained through their degree to be recognised and as such may be fast-tracked to management positions.

Business to business, on the other hand, may appeal more to the high fliers. There may still be some degree of interaction with the public but your job will mainly involve trying to open new contracts in order to sell your products to businesses as well as maintaining existing accounts.

The pros and cons of a career in sales

Sales careers have long been misrepresented due to the ‘Del Boy’ image and the horror stories of dodgy double glazing salesmen and cold callers. This image is changing; sales is now seen as something of a glamorous option for graduates.

Many positions offer relatively high starting salaries with commission on top, so there are plenty of opportunities to make big bucks. Executive dinners, sharp dressing and company cars can be part and parcel of sales jobs these days, though others may have to make do with the odd bit of commission, the bus and a few sausage rolls at the Christmas buffet.

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In Partnership

This content has been written or sourced by AGCAS, the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, and edited by TARGETjobs as part of a content partnership. AGCAS provides impartial information and guidance resources for higher education student career development and graduate employment professionals.