With starting salaries reaching as high as £30,000 or more (excluding a wad of commission on top), sales is definitely not a profession to be sniffed at. So, why do sales careers get the cold shoulder? Contrary to popular folklore, graduate sales careers can in fact be pretty glamorous. Wining and dining, sassy dressing and executive cars are often all part of the package.
If you think sales isn't a career for those with a degree, stop being such a snob! The skills you develop during your degree will be invaluable. The reason why many multinational companies run graduate sales schemes is precisely because they want to exploit the skills, knowledge and talent which graduates can bring to the marketplace.
Go on, sell it to me
Still not convinced? One of the best things about a sales career is the salary package – unlike most other careers, you are actually rewarded for the work you put in. Companies usually offer a neat basic package, plus the chance to earn commission if you reach your sales targets. (All that ‘OTE' jargon in job ads basically means ‘on target earnings' or ‘opportunity to earn'.) Some companies also offer uncapped earning potential, which means the sky's the limit if you're really good.
Other perks often include a company car after a certain time period and benefits such as life assurance. Career progression in sales is usually good too. Since sales is across all sectors, you can quite easily move into other positions and industries. Depending on where you work, you can, relatively speaking, climb to the top in a very short time period. Most people have heard of some lucky bleeder who went into sales after uni, did really well and now drives around in a Porsche having reached a senior position in the company after just four or five years. Not that we're jealous or anything.
Of course, to be successful in sales you need to be able to convince people that your product is just so utterly indispensable that they have to buy it, no matter what. Accordingly, sales people usually have an uncanny ability to make things like detergent and cheese sound sexy. While most companies train you on the basics of selling, there's something indefinable and very personal which makes some people fantastic at selling, and it's usually down to their own personality.
Employers definitely don't want wallflowers – you need to be super-confident, very articulate and love meeting new people face-to-face and over the telephone. Most companies ask for any degree discipline rather than requiring specific technical knowledge, which can be acquired on the job; sales potential, ambition, and good communication skills are more important.
- Pharmaceutical sales – selling to GPs, hospitals, medical staff. Companies often stipulate a science or medical degree.
- Media sales – selling advertising space in magazines to clients. Usually telephone sales, though occasionally face-to-face.
- FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) sales – showcasing products (anything and everything from food products to toiletries) to retailers.
- Recruitment consultancy – selling your recruitment services to clients and candidates.
- IT sales – selling IT packages to customers and business over the telephone and face-to-face. Some companies prefer people with an IT background.
Buying your way
Convinced yet? Well, before you start hunting for jobs, it's worth deciding which area of sales you want to work in. Although in essence recruitment consultancy and medical sales are ‘sales' jobs, they will be very different from each other. It's worth doing a bit of research before you apply to find out what the job really entails day-to-day. Find out how much of your time will be spent on field visits and on the phone.
Commission rates vary from company to company, so hunt around for a job and pay structure that's best suited to you. Some recruitment consultancies specialise in graduates sales careers – do some research online to find one suitable for you.
Clinching the deal
When it comes to applications and interviews, if you don't have any direct sales experience, retail work and collecting for charity can be useful to show you have experience of talking to customers. Employers will want you to give examples of a time when you persuaded someone to do something. They'll also be looking at how you present yourself and how you communicate.
Remember the interview (whether face to face or telephone) is a trial of how you come across to new people, so it's important you ‘sell' yourself well. Finally, remember that enthusiasm counts bucket loads – eye contact, smiles and good questions at the end of an interview are a sure fire way of clinching the deal…