Amid a shift from traditional channels towards online sales, employers in all sectors are looking to recruit skilled sales people who can effectively get their products or services to market

What areas of sales can I work in?

Employment opportunities in sales 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
  • online sales
  • retail motor sales
  • medical/scientific sales
  • telesales.

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

For examples of the different roles where your sales skills could be put into practice, see graduate sales jobs.

Who are the main graduate employers?

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

These include:

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

In addition, there are opportunities to work in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which span the full range of industries, while there are also sales jobs in the education sector.

What's it like working in sales?

Graduates interested in sales careers 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 salary with a chance to earn more for meeting targets, especially because in some companies the level of commission that can be earned is uncapped so there is 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 working conditions in sales positions, see job profiles.

For many sales roles, your personality and aptitude for the profession may be viewed as more important than particular qualifications. In the majority of graduate-level positions, employers will consider candidates with any degree subject, although some will require a minimum of a 2:1.

With some 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 usually have to demonstrate your commercial awareness and interest in IT.

As you get established in your profession, you might want to think about becoming a member of an organisation such as the Institute of Sales Management (ISM). It offers industry-recognised qualifications at levels 2-6 of the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF), with ISM Level 6 the equivalent to a university degree.

Explore your study options and consider sales training courses.

What skills do employers want?

Recruiters in this industry typically look for candidates with:

  • excellent communication skills
  • effective time management
  • honed presentation skills
  • confidence, resilience and persistence
  • good customer service skills
  • ambition and drive (to meet targets)
  • networking and relationship-building abilities
  • initiative to work independently, as well as being part of a team.

You can also read about the top 5 skills for a career in sales to find out what leading graduate recruiters are looking for in their candidates.

Where can I get sales work experience?

Any work experience that allows you to develop your customer service skills and ability to communicate will be valued by employers taking on sales staff. Jobs in retail, hospitality or telesales are usually readily available on a part-time basis - for example, you might find work as a retail sales assistant.

Some larger companies, such as Microsoft, Nestlé, Nissan 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.

To discover which companies are currently offering work placements and internships, search for sales work experience.

How do I get a graduate sales job?

More than a quarter of those featuring in The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers are looking for graduates to work in sales, according to High Fliers' The Graduate Market in 2016.

It also reported that 32% of recruiters' entry-level roles are expected to be taken up by graduates with previous experience of working for their companies, either through industrial placements, paid internships or vacation work. This would suggest that gaining relevant experience is vital to your chances of landing a graduate 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.

You can find graduate sales positions, such as that of a sales executive, through specialist recruitment agencies or job sites. For example, if you're searching for a medical sales position in pharmaceuticals or health care then head to CHASE.

For jobs with small and medium-sized enterprises, you should consider making a speculative application. Find out what should be included in your CV and cover letter.

If you've got the right characteristics, such as the ability to be decisive and multitask, you're results-orientated and have plenty of business ideas, then 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 find sales jobs offered by leading recruiters, search graduate jobs in sales.

What are the key issues in sales?

The nature of sales jobs is already changing, with more of a leaning towards online retail. This shift towards web sales is only set to continue, with customer interaction now heavily weighted towards this domain.

In response, there's been an increased demand for graduates with IT and relationship-building skills. 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.

As globalisation has led to increased competition, giving the buyer a wider choice and greater power, there's been a rise in customer service expectation levels. Indeed, customer service is an occupation in its own right, rather than just an after-sales service.

It's also an area where graduates are recruited to management positions, with some large companies offering customer service focused graduate programmes. Find out what it's like to work as a customer service manager.

Social media has such a huge impact on society that customers are taking to popular sites such as Twitter and Facebook in significant numbers and raising complaints via organisations' accounts. The sensitivity and diplomacy required in responding so publicly requires customer service, digital marketing and sales professionals with a completely different approach and skillset.