If you have strong communication skills, confidence, enthusiasm and a keen business sense, joining a sales graduate scheme with a leading employer can boost your personal and professional development

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.

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

If successful, 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.

Top sales graduate schemes

Sales graduates are required across all sectors, with many organisations running graduate schemes that combine sales with other disciplines such as marketing, or include it as part of a holistic leadership or management training programme.

Technology, media and communications

With digital technologies integrated into all aspects of society, there's never been a better time to work in this sector. Although it's often assumed that technology companies tend to pick candidates with related degrees, this is not always the case. However, you'll still need to have an aptitude for selling software, hardware and services, as well as a love for all things tech to become an IT sales professional.

If you've chosen an IT sales career, multinational technology company Microsoft's Early in Career pathways include a graduate programme with a sales stream for graduates of all degree disciplines.

'There are many roles that stretch across our organisation that require a cross-section of skills and talent, such as marketing, sales and project management,' says Theresa McHenry, senior HR director at Microsoft UK. 'So we aren't only looking for computer science graduates.'

To secure a place at the Microsoft Academy for College Hires (MACH) and work as a full-time account executive, solution sales professional or licensing sales specialist (among other sales roles), you'll need to make it through the stringent application process. This includes an online test and video interview, with the final stage taking place at Microsoft's assessment centre.

Visit the Microsoft sales graduate scheme to find out more about when and how to apply.

Technology businesses that run sales graduate schemes include:

  • Apple - the global technology giant provides a range of sales opportunities for those enthusiastic about connecting customers and businesses to its products. To get onto the UK Apple Store Leader Program, you'll need to be a natural leader with a good degree and a passion for Apple. This two-year programme involves rotation across different functions within the company's retail stores, with a focus on leadership.
  • BT - to join this long-established communications company as a sales graduate, you'll be expected to rotate across a number of different teams as you sell products and services to businesses ranging from small start-ups to large organisations. While on the BT sales graduate scheme, you'll be mentored by a senior manager and supported by their network of graduates.
  • Virgin Media - during the two years of the business sales graduate scheme, graduates will rotate across areas such as wholesale, enterprise and the public sector, successfully managing customer relations and becoming a master of B2B sales.

Consumer goods and retail

The sale of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), such as chocolate and soft drinks, in large quantities can result in significant profits. So it's no surprise to find that large businesses are constantly on the lookout for new sales talent to reach new markets. Here are some examples of consumer goods manufacturers and retailers that take on graduates for their training programmes:

  • Diageo - working directly with customers to maximise sales, you'll be responsible for promoting the company's iconic brands, including Baileys, Guinness and Smirnoff, if you make it onto the three-year sales graduate programme.
  • Mars - graduates embark on three placements during the three years of the sales management graduate programme, becoming the main point of contact between Mars and the UK's wholesale or retail businesses, while helping to grow sales. To be eligible you'll need a 2:1 in any discipline and be willing to be based anywhere in the country. The starting salary is £32,000 with a £2,000 joining bonus.
  • Nestlé - the food and drink company's customer development graduate scheme sees you spending six months in field sales as a territory manager, another six months in an ecommerce role and a year in customer business management.
  • Unilever - across three placements, which could be based at different sites, those on the customer management (sales) graduate scheme will build their experience and develop commercial expertise. You'll be working with renowned brands such as Dove, Lynx, Magnum and PG Tips.

Other sales graduate schemes

  • BMW Group - the Global Leader Development Programme has opportunities for graduates interested in automotive sales or aftersales. During the 18-months you'll be rotated throughout the UK and abroad. As well as a Bachelors degree, candidates will need to have previously undertaken six months relevant work experience, while a Masters qualification is also preferred.
  • KPMG - the professional services firm's two-year sales and marketing graduate scheme, based in London, gives graduates a chance to undertake placements of up to six months at a time in sales operations and marketing. You'll also be able to study towards a relevant Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) qualification.

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