Starting your career in sales: graduate jobs and schemes
You can enter a career in sales from any degree background, but for some sales graduate schemes you will need a 2.1 or higher, and a degree in business or economics may be preferred.
Sales roles are available with companies specialising in all kinds of different areas. The type of product you are selling and the nature of your role will make a big difference to your working life. You'll need to take time to do your research before applying to make sure you find the right job for you.
Here are some popular types of graduate schemes in sales:
- FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) sales – showcasing consumer goods products (such as toiletries or food) to retailers.
- Pharmaceutical sales – selling to GPs, hospitals and medical staff. Companies often stipulate a science or medical degree.
- Media sales – selling advertising space in media products such as websites and magazines. Some roles in this area have an increasingly technical focus as employers look for new recruits who can sell digital services.
- Recruitment sales – selling your recruitment services to clients and candidates. A degree in HR or business could help. If you want to go into a particular sector of recruitment, such as IT, a background in that area could be helpful.
- IT sales – selling IT products or services to customers or businesses.
You could start your career on a formal sales graduate scheme with a big employer, or in a sales job with a company of any size. Our advice on working life as a graduate sales executive explains what to expect from your first sales job.
Top skills to get a graduate job in sales
Here are some of the skills employers will be looking for in your applications to sales graduate schemes:
- Communication. You'll need interpersonal skills that are second to none. It's essential to be able to describe the product or services you are selling in a persuasive way, as well as listening to the customer’s needs.
Your role may call for you to submit written proposals, so it may also be crucial for you to be able to communicate effectively in writing.
- Confidence and the drive to meet and beat targets. You're likely to have contact with people at varying levels of seniority in the organisations you deal with. Being enthusiastic and personable will help you develop good relationships.
- Resilience. You have to be able to cope with the occasions when your sales pitch is rejected. You’ll also need the stamina and judgement to know when to go back, and how to turn 'no' into 'yes'.
- Commercial awareness. You’ll need to get to grips with the market your employer is operating in as well as understanding your clients' needs.
- The ability to work independently. You’re likely to have your own projects or clients to develop.
Pay, commission and bonuses in graduate sales jobs
Graduate sales jobs often offer commission on top of the basic salary, so if you perform well in the job, your efforts will be rewarded. You will often see a sales job advertised with a basic salary plus OTE, which stands for on-target earnings. In other words, you’ll be eligible for the additional payment if you reach certain targets.
Roles may also be advertised with uncapped earning potential, which means there is no limit to the commission you could earn in addition to your basic salary. You’ll also see graduate sales jobs that offer commission and/or bonuses in addition to the basic salary – these are all different terms for additional incentives and rewards for successful selling.
Prospects for career progression in sales are good, and the skills you develop will be highly transferable; there will be plenty of potential to move on to another industry or employer in the future, should you wish to. Our advice on what's involved in sales and how graduates fit in explains more about how your career could develop.
If you've got directly relevant sales experience such as telesales work, that will strengthen your applications for graduate roles. Retail work or fundraising for charity could also help you show employers you have the skills they want, as could any type of work experience that involves contact with customers.
Employers will be keen to know about examples of times when you persuaded someone to do something. They will also be interested in how you present yourself and how you communicate. Extracurricular activities such as sports, music and drama could help you to convince them that you're the driven, competitive, confident candidate they're looking for.
Would a graduate career in sales suit you?
Sales roles typically suit graduates who are motivated by deadlines, targets and commission, who enjoy building relationships with clients and who have the ability to clinch a deal. Our advice on how to get a graduate job in sales gives an overview of the type of opportunities available.