If you have the necessary communication skills, confidence, enthusiasm and keen business sense, joining a sales graduate scheme can encourage 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.
Best 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 Programme, you'll be supported by the BT Academy.
- Softcat - this IT infrastructure provider runs a Graduate Sales Programme open to those with a 2:1 degree in any subject. The training plan includes a three-week introduction, sales floor training and after 12 months you'll progress from the account manager role into a specific area of interest.
- Virgin Media - during the two years of the Virgin Media Business Sales Graduate Scheme, graduates will rotate across areas such as wholesale, enterprise and the public sector, successfully managing customer relations and achieving the ISSM Diploma in Sales and Marketing along the way.
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 Diaego Sales Graduate Programme.
- Mars - graduates embark on three placements during the three years of the Mars 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 office-based customer business executive role and a year in an area of your choice, such as strategy and development or retail for its leading brands (Nescafé, KitKat, Felix).
- Unilever - across three placements, which could be based at different European business units, those on the Unilever 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 areas of work for sales graduates
- BMW Group - the BMW 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.
- Jaguar Land Rover - the automotive pioneer runs a commercial engineering strand of its Jaguar Land Rover Graduate Scheme, giving graduates the opportunity to work in its marketing, sales and service team. You can either focus on aftersales or building supplier relationships. Successful applicants will be rewarded with a starting salary of £29,000, and a £2,000 joining bonus.
- 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.