Known for being a competitive industry driven by targets, the sales sector has lots of opportunities for skilled graduates who can sell products and services to clients

What areas of sales can I work in?

Employment opportunities in the sales industry can be grouped into:

  • business-to-business (B2B)
  • business-to-consumer (B2C)
  • customer service
  • direct/field sales
  • export sales
  • fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG)
  • IT sales
  • media and advertising sales
  • medical/pharmaceutical/scientific sales
  • online sales
  • retail motor sales
  • telesales.

Sales roles can be found in all industries, including retail, finance, transport and manufacturing. You could also consider estate agents, travel agents and recruitment consultancies for other sales-related jobs. Depending on your interests and area of specialism, you could be selling medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, IT software, a holiday, a car or a house.

For examples of how your sales skills could be put into practice, see sales jobs.

Who are the main sales recruiters?

Many large companies - from car manufacturing and pharmaceuticals, to IT, electronics and TV, broadband and mobile services - employ graduates in sales and customer service roles.

Leading employers include:

  • Amazon
  • AstraZeneca
  • Bloomberg
  • BT
  • Coca-Cola
  • Danone UK
  • EE
  • Ford UK
  • Fujitsu
  • GSK (GlaxoSmithKline)
  • KPMG
  • Mars UK
  • Mercedes-Benz
  • Microsoft
  • Mondelēz International
  • Nestlé
  • Nissan
  • Philips
  • Samsung
  • Schroders
  • Softcat
  • Unilever
  • Virgin Media.

What's it like working in sales?

Graduates can expect:

  • varied working environments as sales departments are target-driven, challenging and very busy, while field work or medical sales involve long hours away from home, and telesales involves regular office hours or split shifts
  • a basic starting salary of between £20,000 and £30,000 for a sales executive, with the chance to earn more for meeting targets - especially in companies where the level of commission is uncapped so there's the potential for high overall earnings for talented sales employees
  • an emphasis on creating, building and maintaining profitable customer relationships, which requires a mix of soft skills including communication, diplomacy, confidence and the ability to deal with rejection
  • to be judged by your results.

To find out more about typical salaries and specific industry roles, see sales job profiles.

For many sales positions, your personality and aptitude for the profession may be viewed as more important than particular qualifications. In most cases, employers will consider candidates with any degree subject, although some will require at least a 2:1.

For specialised vacancies, such as those involving sales of engineering, IT or medical equipment, it's expected that you hold a related technical degree. If you're starting out in IT sales, a business or computer science degree may be preferred, otherwise you'll likely have to demonstrate commercial awareness and a strong interest in IT.

As you get established, you might want to think about becoming a member of an organisation such as the Institute of Sales Management (ISM). You'll find industry recognised ISM qualifications at Levels 2-6 of the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF), with ISM Level 6 equivalent to a university degree.

Explore your study options and consider sales training courses.

What skills do employers want?

Recruiters typically look for candidates with:

  • excellent communication skills to clearly explain what you're selling but also to listen to what your clients want from their services or packages
  • effective time management as you will have a lot of client visits to juggle and may be working to deadlines to get things signed off in time
  • honed presentation skills as you'll usually have one shot at meeting potential clients and showing them what you can do, and a great presentation is what could swing it for you
  • confidence, resilience and persistence as not everyone will say 'yes' and want what you're selling but it's important that this doesn't knock you, particularly after a day of hearing 'no'
  • good customer service skills as if the customers don't like you it's unlikely they will buy from you
  • ambition and drive are particularly important when it comes to meeting your targets
  • networking and relationship-building abilities are important to allow you to make new leads and keep existing customers coming back
  • initiative to work independently, as well as being part of a team as it's likely that you'll be speaking to customers on your own, so you need to be comfortable in doing so.

Find out what leading graduate employers think are the top 5 skills for a career in sales.

Where can I get sales work experience?

Employers taking on sales staff will value any work experience that allows you to develop your customer service skills and ability to communicate. Jobs in retail, hospitality or telesales are widely available on a part-time basis - for example, working as a retail sales assistant.

Some larger companies, such as MicrosoftNestléNissan and Unilever, offer summer placements or one-year industrial internships in sales or customer management. Other recruiters offer sales, marketing or general management internships that can provide a fast-track to graduate sales positions for successful applicants.

Explore what's currently available and search for sales work experience.

How do I find a graduate sales job?

Large companies across a variety of industries offer sales graduate schemes, including Microsoft, Softcat and Nestlé. Other companies offer sales, marketing or general schemes where you could be given the opportunity to rotate between the different departments.

You should check employer websites for details of how to make an online application.

Graduate sales positions, such as that of a sales executive, can be found through specialist sales recruitment agencies or job sites. For example, if you're searching for a medical sales position in pharmaceuticals or healthcare then visit CHASE.

If you've got the characteristics of a salesperson, such as the ability to be decisive and multitask, you're results-orientated and have plenty of business ideas, self-employment is another option. While being an entrepreneur has its challenges, those with sales skills and an abundance of self-belief may find this route fits in perfectly with their ambitions.

To explore sales jobs offered by leading recruiters, search graduate jobs in sales.

What are the key issues in the sales industry?

Online shopping and globalisation have given the buyer more choice and in turn greater power. This has pushed customer care to the forefront of any successful organisation and resulted in salespeople needing to come up with new ways to sell their products.

This has also led to an increased demand for graduates with digital marketing and relationship-building ability. You're more likely to require skills in relationship management and consultative selling - a personalised service leading to repeat sales - as opposed to relying on strong negotiation, resilience and persistence tactics to clinch deals.

Also, with social media having such a huge impact on society, customers are taking to popular sites such as Twitter and Facebook in significant numbers and raising complaints via these channels. The sensitivity and diplomacy required in responding so publicly calls for customer service professionals with digital skills and the ability to resolve issues quickly and professionally.

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