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How do graduates get a job in sales?

All businesses operate by selling goods or services and as such, sales jobs exist in nearly every sector. Roles for graduates range from working in a retail environment to travelling the country (or even the world) meeting potential clients.

Sales people link the potential consumer with the producer of the good or service. In the case of graduate roles, the customer will usually be another business and the product may be anything from advertising space in a magazine to a jet engine. Technical knowledge can stand you in good stead for some roles but all comers are welcomed into the sector, providing you have the skills necessary to make sales.

Getting a graduate job in sales

Graduates of any degree subject will be eligible for the majority of sales roles, as relevant skills are considered more important than specific qualifications. The ability to communicate well, both in terms of describing a product, as well as listening to the customer's needs, is vital in order to be successful. You will need a degree of confidence too and it is these aspects of your personality that recruiters will be looking for in face-to-face meetings as well as over the phone. Ambition is also an advantage as the desire to meet and beat targets will endear you to an employer, as well as boost your salary where commission is involved.

As meeting clients and encouraging them to purchase your products is the core of the profession, good interpersonal skills are a must, as well as a degree of resilience. No is an answer you may hear often, particularly in the early days of your career. Demonstrating commercial awareness, both in terms of knowing the market that your prospective employer operates in as well as that of the clients you will be facing, will also help you to get a job.

If you have a technical or scientific degree you may like to consider the more specialised roles within the sales sector which will make use of the specific knowledge you have gained throughout your degree. Areas such as IT, pharmaceuticals and heavy industry will require applicants to have a detailed knowledge and understanding of the products, their applications and the advantages over competitors.

There are various professional qualifications available in sales offered by the two main professional bodies, the Chartered Institute of Marketing and the Institute of Sales & Marketing Management. These are not necessary to begin your career but they may help you to progress more quickly and build the required skills to advance your position.

What are the different areas of work?

Sales roles can be split into two basic groups, B2B (or business to business sales) and B2C (where the business sells to the consumer). The majority of graduate roles will be in the B2B market, though retailers will often seek graduates for management roles, with many offering fast-track graduate programmes. More details of these can be found in our retail careers advice.

Roles in sales can be very different, so it's worth doing some research to find the type of position that will suit you best. You may find that firms will advertise sales roles under a wide range of job titles so look out for combinations of the following key terms:

  • Business relationship management
  • Business to business sales
  • Commercial negotiation
  • Consumer goods sales
  • Media sales
  • Recruitment sales
  • Telesales

Recruitment consultancy is also considered as a sales role though differs from the traditional sales position in that the job requires you to 'sell' the skills and experience of an individual to a recruiter.

What does the application process involve?

The application process for sales jobs is fairly standard. The first stage is usually an online application form and/or the submission of a covering letter and CV. Interviews are likely to play an important part in the recruitment process as a test of your communication and interpersonal skills. Larger employers may also set you online aptitude tests and invite you to attend an assessment centre or undertake role play exercises in order to gauge your ability.

As with any application, you should aim to draw out those skills from your portfolio that best suit the role and make the most of any relevant experience gained, for instance in customer service roles. Having worked a part-time or holiday job in retail or telesales can be a help.

You should research your prospective employer fully, using their own sources, such as the company website, as well as any mentions in the relevant trade publications and the news in order to tailor your application to the specific role and organisation. The employer profiles on this site will help. You can also practise for psychometric tests.

When should I apply?

Vacancies in sales are available all year round but larger organisations may have a specific recruitment cycle linked to graduation dates or the sales calendar. You should always check closing dates carefully to prevent mistakes.

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