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How do graduates get a job in sales?

Employers that sell goods or services, whether that’s Nestlé selling food or Microsoft selling software, need sales professionals. We let you in on what you need and how to go about securing a position, wherever your interest lies.

Sales professionals 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.

Who qualifications do you need for a job in sales?

For most sales roles, candidates are accepted from any degree subject. The right mix of skills (see below) is typically prioritised, although you may be expected to have secured a 2.1, particularly for graduate programmes with large employers.

For certain employers, however, evidence of your understanding of the field may be beneficial – and so they may specify a set of degree subjects. In particular, companies specialising in pharmaceuticals, technology or engineering may look for STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) graduates for its sales roles or graduate schemes.

However, this won’t be the case across the board; you may, for instance, be able to secure a sales position with a technology company with an unrelated degree, along with a clear interest in technology and the products/services offered by the employer.

There are various professional qualifications available in sales offered by the Chartered Institute of Marketing and the Association of Professional Sales. 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 skills do you need for a sales role?

As different skills and qualities will be emphasised for each job in sales, you should check the job description, recruitment literature and website of the employer to discover those to emphasise in your application and CV. However, it’s likely that these will be required for most sales positions:

  • Communication – you’ll have to be confident when communicating with clients, both when talking to them and writing emails. Sales professionals also have a knack for finding out what other people/companies need (which involves strong listening skills) and presenting their products/services in a way that meets this.
  • Resilience – sales can be a fast-paced and target-driven environment, in which success can be thwarted by a client’s change of heart or a competitor’s new offering. So, you should be able to weather disappointment while staying motivated.
  • Decision making – weighing up what you – and your colleagues – can offer with what the client wants and coming to a proposition that is both realistic and desirable is something that you might have to do pretty quickly.
  • Ambition – often, terms such as ‘growth mindset’ and ‘goal orientated’ are used by companies when advertising sales roles. These involve having a constant level of ambition or motivation, so you can achieve targets and secure sales.
  • Commercial awareness – Employers will expect sales people not only to have an in-depth knowledge into the market they’re working within, but also to understand the markets clients operate in – so as to know their priorities and anticipate their wants.
  • Problem solving – the ability to come up with creative and realistic solutions to clients’ problems, or difficulties you will face with meeting a request, will stand you in good stead for a sales role.

Starting your career in sales

Sales roles can be split into two basic groups: business-to-business (B2B) sales, where the business sells to another business, and business-to-consumer (B2C) sales, 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. Find out a bit more about the different types of sales roles by reading our article on what’s involved for a sales career.

Large employers in a variety of sectors offer sales graduate schemes. Alternatively, you might decide to search for a graduate-level or entry-level sales position. To begin your search, take a look at the sales vacancies on TARGETjobs.

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.

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