Sales forms the core of every business: it is the crucial link between the product or service and the customer or client, creating awareness and providing access. Sales can be seen as the profession concerned with the selling of goods and services.
Sales careers are fast-paced, and whilst the financial rewards can be exceptional, the work is often demanding and stressful due to its competitive nature and the need to meet challenging targets. But, if you are target-driven, work well under pressure, are confident and ambitious your hard work can be rewarded and it is possible to quickly progress in this industry taking on prestigious accounts or moving into senior management.
Whilst years ago sales people may have suffered a poor stereotypical image, today's image of the sales professional is changing, and sales is now seen as a glamorous option for graduates.
Where do I start?
The sales industry encompasses many sectors, and is divided between B2B (business to business) dealing with companies and the professional audience, and B2C (business to consumer) dealing with the end customer. Typically career paths can lead to a specialisation in a particular industry or product. Prospects has a useful list of job profiles each containing relevant information about key responsibilities, skill requirements, starting salaries, entry requirements, career prospects with links to major employers and current graduate vacancies.
- Call centre manager
- Customer service manager
- Estate agent
- IT sales professional
- Marketing executive
- Medical sales representative
- Product manager
- Purchasing manager
- Recruitment consultant
- Retail buyer
- Retail manager
- Retail merchandiser
- Sales executive
- Sales promotion account executive
- Technical sales engineer
- Travel agency manager
- Visual merchandiser
As part of your job-hunting strategy you will need to keep up to date on developments in this sector and keep track of any vacancies that are coming up. Below are some resources to help you research the sector generally and for a selection of sales sectors. The knowledge gained through your research may help you to target your applications and will help when preparing for interviews.
- Association of Professional Sales - Providing news and insight into the sales careers market, along with useful news of professional development opportunities and sales-related events.
- Targetjobs Sales - Helpful overview of sales graduate careers.
Undertaking work experience is crucial in securing a graduate job in the sales sector, relevant skills are often considered of greater importance than specific qualifications. Key skills required to be successful include client-facing skills, effective communication, negotiation, strong commercial awareness, and highly competent IT skills, so focus on gaining experience in roles where you can practise and hone these all-important transferable skills.
Fortunately customer-service experience is comparatively easier to gain than experience for some other sectors: many graduates, at some point during their studies or the holidays, will have found paid work as a sales assistant or in a front-facing role in the hospitality sector. If you are looking for part-time work in a customer-service role whilst you are at university, the MyCareer jobs board provides a wide variety of local vacancies that might fit around your study.
Finding experience will take time and effort; employers receive many CVs every week so you will have to work hard to stand out from the crowd. You can find out more about how to create a targeted CV through the Careers and Employability website.
It is also worth considering the voluntary sector for work experience; the Careers and Employability Service offers current students and graduates access to a Virtual Volunteering Bank which provides local opportunities to undertake alongside your studies. Similarly you can access these opportunities through the paper-based bank located in the Careers and Employability Centre.
If you wish to instigate voluntary work experience during the vacation periods please refer to the 'External sites' on the voluntary work experience section of our website.
Volunteer to get practical experience
Approaching local organisations, charities or community groups who would benefit from your skills is one way of gaining that all-important experience. The competencies developed will be invaluable and enhance any speculative applications you make.
The Careers and Employability Service offers current students and graduates access to a Virtual Volunteering Bank, which provides local opportunities to undertake alongside your studies. Similarly, you can access these opportunities through the paper-based bank located in the Careers and Employability Centre.
Examples of Sales related support roles that the Volunteering Team have previously advertised and recruited for include:
- Office Administrator Volunteer with Learning Links – updating databases and information systems, taking minutes, greeting clients, gaining admin and customer service skills.
- Trainee Generalist Adviser Volunteer with Citizens Advice – interviewing clients, negotiating, drafting or writing letters, completing clear and accurate case records, acting where necessary, on behalf of the client.
- Sales Assistant Volunteer with Sue Ryder – practical experience helping others and interacting with customers from different backgrounds.
- Administration Volunteer with The Roberts Centre - assisting with a variety of administrative tasks, including data inputting, statistics collection and inputting and dealing with enquiries over the telephone.
If you have any questions regarding the volunteering opportunities available to you in Portsmouth then please contact the Volunteering Team on email firstname.lastname@example.org
Tips to build experience
- Roles in sales can be very different, so do some research around the different types of positions to find the one that will suit you best and seek out work experience in that area.
- A limited number of companies offer internships, research these online to find out when to apply.
- Look for opportunities to develop your entrepreneurial skills so that you can demonstrate your natural talent for sales.
- Remember at interview potential employers will want you to give examples of a time when you persuaded someone to do something, so seek out opportunities to develop those all-important skills.
- Get involved in relevant University or external groups in roles that offer the opportunity to develop key transferable skills.
- Be proactive and make direct contact with organisations that interest you and apply speculatively; send a targeted CV and a covering letter focused on why you are interested in them and why they should be interested in you.
- Create a LinkedIn profile to network with sector employers - see our Networking and Social Media section for further guidance.
Finding a job
The majority of sales roles are open to graduates of all degree subjects, however, 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.
As a graduate, the majority of the positions you will come across will be B2B rather than B2C jobs, which are often on the shop floor. Certain sellers of expensive consumer items such as high-end cars or fitted kitchens may actively seek graduates. The extra skills you have acquired through your degree may make you eligible for management positions.
Larger firms across a range of sectors from financial services and insurance, through IT to the hospitality industry offer graduate programmes in sales roles. Recruitment consultancy is also considered a sales role whilst it might appear as different from a more traditional sales role.
Employers who recruit sales professionals
- Pharmaceutical sales – selling to GPs, hospitals, medical staff.
- Media sales – selling advertising space in magazines to clients.
- FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) sales – showcasing products (anything and everything from food products to toiletries) to retailers.
- Recruitment consultancy – selling recruitment services to clients and candidates.
- IT sales – selling IT packages to customers and business over the telephone and face-to-face.
Useful websites to help you start your job search
- emed Careers - Major recruitment channel for businesses in pharmaceutical, biotechnical, and medical sectors, with significant job vacancy listings.
- Careers in Recruitment - Specialist recruitment role vacancies website - including graduate roles and trainee schemes listing.
- Pareto - Sales professionals recruitment specialist advertising numerous roles across all sectors.
- Pharmiweb - Sales vacancies in the UK and worldwide.
- Sales Jobs - Search for and sign up to job alerts for sales roles across sectors.
Tips for finding a job
- Decide which area of sales you want to work in; it's worth doing research to find out what is involved on a day-to-day basis in individual sector roles, and to 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 search for a job and pay structure that's best suited to you.
- Some recruitment consultancies specialise in graduate sales careers – do some research online to find one suitable for you.
- Do your research early in terms of graduate schemes so that you can be well-prepared and well-informed, when you apply.
- Be willing to consider entry level sales positions, for example in contact centres, these can provide excellent insight and experience to support your progression in the sales sector.
- Keep your online job search flexible as some employers might use different titles to describe the same job role.
- If you are keen to focus on a specific area within sales check out the specialist websites for these areas for current vacancies.
- Most companies have a Twitter and/or Facebook account, register with them as this is often a place where new opportunities are posted, and where you can keep in touch with their current activities.
The Careers and Employability Service offers support to students throughout their studies and provision for graduates up to five years after graduation, with advice and guidance on:
- Career options
- Further study
- CV and covering letters
- Application forms
- Job search
We have an online jobs board advertising a variety of graduate jobs across different sectors and locations. We also have a dedicated in-house Graduate Recruitment Consultancy that delivers a personalised job matching service.
You can also access our services by calling or emailing us:
Email us: email@example.com