Starting your career in IT sales

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
August, 2016

If you've got a strong interest in the latest digital technology and the skillset that employers are looking for, read these tips on how to make a success of your IT sales career

According to digital think tank IDATE, in 2016, the global IT industry is expected to generate a staggering €1,357 billion through the sales of software, hardware and services. So, if you have an aptitude for selling and a love for all things tech, it's a great time to enter the sector.

As you look for work, you'll find that the UK boasts many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are involved with digital technology products and services - and there are many benefits of working for a small business. However, for a more structured introduction to the world of IT sales, take a look at the graduate programmes offered by major players such as Apple, Google, Ubisoft and Microsoft.

We've spoken to Theresa McHenry, HR director at Microsoft UK, about the opportunities on offer to graduates interested in a sales-focused IT career, and asked about the qualities required to get onto the programme and make it a success.

A range of qualities

The first thing Theresa points out is that your choice of degree subject shouldn't hinder your chances of landing a graduate sales position. 'There are many roles that stretch across our organisation which require a cross-section of skills and talent, such as marketing, sales and project management,' she says. 'So we aren't only looking for computer science graduates.'

At a multinational technology company as large as Microsoft, you'd expect there to be various job opportunities and graduate schemes available. Not only do they take on graduates, interns (for undergraduates) and apprentices (for 16-24 year-olds), their Early in Career pathways offer sales, business services and technical streams. This encourages an influx of diverse applications and a true mix of skills.

Despite taking on people from many different backgrounds, Microsoft claims that all candidates applying to its programmes should have one thing in common: 'We look for a number of qualities and strengths in our early career hires, but motivation and a genuine interest in Microsoft and the tech industry are especially important,' explains Theresa.

In terms of specific key strengths, Theresa reveals how they expect their early career hires to have the ability to learn quickly and to be able to collaborate and navigate internally.

'We are also keen to find candidates that have the ability to listen to customers, and demonstrate empathy and understanding of the challenges they may be facing,' she adds.

Knowing the product

The Microsoft website describes how the tech company is looking to create 'world-class sales teams to make sure our customers understand what our technology is and how it can help them'.

To this end, the sales division is committed to selling technology that people believe in, with customer-focused strategies based on strong client relationships. This means that while selling is always going to test anyone's resolve, it's all about ensuring customers understand the product they're buying.

Therefore, you'll be expected to do your homework on the company's latest software, hardware and services to be able to confidently sell them to prospective customers.

Apply yourself

Online applicants to the Microsoft graduate programme will need to show what they can bring to the company, by undertaking an online test consisting of responses to business scenarios. Shortlisted candidates will then record themselves answering questions as part of a video interview. Success at this point will result in a Skype call with Microsoft interviewers.

The final stage of the process takes place at Microsoft's assessment centre. If you make it this far, it's advisable to research the latest technological advances and consider the direction the industry is heading in so you can discuss these pertinent issues with those asking the questions.

If you're graduating in the near future and have a keen interest in IT sales, you can see what's currently available with other leading employers, by searching for graduate jobs.

Non-graduates, meanwhile, can apply for apprenticeships and internships through the dedicated sections of the Microsoft site.

You can also view placement opportunities on offer from recruiters when you search for work experience.

Fast learning and development

If you're selected to join the Microsoft graduate programme as an IT sales professional, you'll join as a full-time employee and will be expected to hit the ground running. During the first 24 months, you'll also be enrolled into the US-based global academy, which provides access to training and networking events to help accelerate your learning and development.

While postgraduate qualifications are not usually necessary in sales, there's plenty of scope for continuing professional development.

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 & Marketing Management. It offers industry-recognised qualifications at levels 1-6 of the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF), with the latter the equivalent to a university degree. The skills and knowledge gained could help you to sell even more effectively and professionally.