If you have strong communication skills, confidence, enthusiasm and a keen business sense then a sales graduate scheme could be for you

The prospect of on-the-job training from experienced staff means that competition for places on graduate schemes is fierce. Therefore, you'll need to let your personality and determination to succeed shine through during the application process

Why should I do a sales graduate scheme?

'The benefit of a sales graduate scheme is that it allows you the opportunity to learn and grow through mentoring while being in real life situations and appreciating the on-the-job experience,' says Yasmin Gallifant, sales graduate at Nestlé UK and Ireland. 'Nestlé's scheme provided me with high level training, as an individual and as part of a wider team, which meant that when I was placed in a customer-facing role, I felt prepared and able to contribute.'

If you're unsure of your route then a graduate scheme is a great way to gain exposure to different areas. 'I knew I enjoyed doing sales, but I wasn't certain on what specific role within sales,' says Chloe Voong, sales graduate at Nestlé UK and Ireland. 'Therefore, it was really important that I applied for a graduate scheme as I wanted to be exposed to a breadth of different roles, across the sales function. The rotational nature of the sales graduate scheme at Nestlé allowed that.'

Which companies run sales graduate schemes?

  • Diageo - the commercial sales leadership graduate programme is a two-year scheme covering areas such as account management, customer marketing and innovation.
  • Nestlé - based in either York or Gatwick you'll spend time on this sales graduate scheme working with brands such as KitKat and Quality Street.
  • Samsung - if you wish to become an area sales manager or national account manager then the two-year sales graduate programme is for you.
  • Virgin Media O2 - the two year sales graduate scheme will see you move across four rotations learning how to profile and tailor your approach to each customer.

What are the entry requirements?

Qualifications aren't typically a priority when it comes to recruiting sales staff - with companies willing and able to train motivated and career-focused individuals (see sales training courses) - but holding a degree still demonstrates self-discipline and a serious approach to learning.

Large companies usually request that those applying for their graduate schemes have a 2:1 in any subject. While those companies operating in certain industries such as pharmaceuticals or technology may require a relevant subject to be studied at degree level so that you understand the market.

What do sales graduate schemes involve?

You'll likely be handed responsibility from the outset, engaging with a variety of sales and management projects - for instance, working on business plans, devising promotional sales strategies and managing customer relations.

'The variation of the roles has really surprised me, along with the real commitment from Nestlé to immerse me in the day-to-day running of the business,' says Yasmin. 'We are actively encouraged to contribute and are given set tasks and goals to achieve during each rotation.'

From account management where you develop strong relationships with existing contacts to field sales where you are out there identifying opportunities and closing deals, you'll get to experience all that a sales role has to offer.

In order to sell the company and its products you need to know all about them so you'll spend time on your sales graduate scheme learning about the brand and it's customer but also the market and what competitors are doing.

At Nestlé graduates complete four six-month rotations across sales planning, ecommerce, and field sales to give graduates a real breadth of experience. 'By the time our graduates have been on the scheme for 18-months, they will move into their first customer business manager role where we assign them to our experienced sales leaders to learn how to expertly manage our customers,' explains Sharon Falgate, senior ecommerce grocery leader and sales graduate champion at Nestlé UK and Ireland.

On many programmes graduates are assigned a buddy to help them settle in and mentors to help them develop as Sharon explains. 'Our graduates are connected to a high-profile mentor to support their career development and give them practical advice on how to build their professional network.'

How do I apply?

You'll generally apply online with your CV so make sure it's tailored to the role and the company because employers won't look upon generic CVs and cover letters favourably.

The application process may be broken down into stages and you could also face psychometric tests set by the recruiter. If successful you might move on to a video interview before facing an assessment centre. The final stage of the process is usually a face-to-face interview with the employer.

Some sales graduate programmes recruit all year round while others have set application deadlines.

How much will I be paid?

Salaries vary between companies and often depend on where in the UK or world you will be working. As a guide Nestlé pay £32,000 a year while Virgin Media pay a salary of £35,000 with a £2,000 welcome bonus and £5,000 commission if you hit your target.

Sales roles are usually a combination of a basic salary and commission or bonuses. How much you receive will differ between companies and can be capped or uncapped. There are also some roles where you work on commission only, which means you only get paid if you sell a certain amount. It's therefore important to check how your salary will work before you accept the job.

As there is often a lot of travel involved you may also receive a company car or petrol allowance on your own car.

Will I be offered a job at the end?

If you successfully complete the full programme, most schemes lead to a full-time role with the company. However, this isn't always the case so it's best to check before you apply for the graduate scheme.

How can I be successful on a graduate scheme?

Sharon offers this advice for anyone considering doing a sales graduate scheme:

  • Be passionate about the brands.
  • Be curious about how we work as a huge organisation and how we build powerful relationships with all our customers to deliver market leading results.
  • Aim to make a positive difference to our people, the planet, and pets, to be a future force for good.

Chloe advises that you reach out to people who are already on the schemes you're interested in. 'It's useful to hear first-hand their candid experience with the role and culture.' She also recommends thinking about the sort of role you're interested in at the end of the scheme as 'it gets you thinking about what skills you want to develop or gain on the programme, and therefore, setting you up for your future role.'

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