I Want to Work In … Selling



You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.

Steve Jobs

Graduate sales posts should not be confused with sales work in shops, door-to-door

sales or telesales! Most students view sales as a thankless job but the reality is very different. The work is nearly always salaried (plus bonuses for good performance). You are likely to have a company car, blackberry and laptop, and the work may offer progression into sales management, marketing, sales training and other functions. Because of the negative image of sales, it's much easier to get good quality sales jobs than jobs in related fields such as marketing.

Ford Retail commissioned a study of over 200 sales executives to analyse traits when hiring sales people. Each person’s results were compared against their sales profits, sales volumes and customer service rating. The study found that those who achieved the most sales were open communicators with strong verbal reasoning skills and an ability to build rapport. However, those rated highest for customer service were strong in empathy and were supportive, relaxed and consultative. "Our philosophy is to create customers for life, not just make an initial sale, so we need to recruit well-rounded people who can perform well in both the sales and the customer service aspects of the role".

You may be responsible for sales of a product (e.g. food, pharmaceuticals, software, cars or manufacturing equipment) or a service (e.g. mortgages, legal advice, advertising space). You will maintain relationships with clients, negotiate prices and specifications, gather and disseminate information. You will obviously need extremely good people and communication skills, and employers will generally place a higher value on these than on the subject or class of your degree.

Medical Sales

Medical Sales representatives are employed by pharmaceutical companies to promote medicines to doctors and pharmacists. You are largely your own boss. Your company car is your office but need room at home to store company gifts and samples. Constant people contact but can be lonely. Can spend a lot of time sitting in doctors waiting rooms. A useful route into areas such as marketing and sales management. Can progress in sales to sales management, or move to marketing or training. Promotion depends on mobility, experience and ability.

PROFILE: Medical Sales Representative

INVOLVES: Visiting doctors, nurses, midwives, pharmacists etc to make presentations on medicines developed by the pharmaceutical company you work for. Tasks include:
  • Arranging appointments with doctors, hospital consultants, nurses, midwives, pharmacists etc.
  • Making presentations on medicines developed by the pharmaceutical company you work for to them.
  • Organising symposia for doctors.
  • Managing budgets (for catering, outside speakers etc.).
  • Learning about new products.
  • Keeping chemists informed e.g. which drugs GPs are likely to prescribe.
  • Attending company's regional meetings.
  • There is an initial training course lasting 6 to 8 weeks covering sales and product training and background physiology and anatomy. Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry exam must be passed within first two years.

EMPLOYERS: Pharmaceutical Companies
RELATED JOBS: media sales, other sales jobs, marketing, clinical research associate (this involves arranging clinical trials of new medicines on volunteer patients with doctors.
SATISFACTIONS: Lots of independence. Largely your own boss. Company car. Well paid.
NEGATIVES: Lots of driving & waiting in doctors waiting rooms. Some doctors can be arrogant. Can be lonely. May have to work unsociable hours sometimes to meet exacting targets
TRAINING. All representatives undertake a training course and are then examined under the ABPI code of practice.
ADVANCEMENT: Can move into sales management, sales training or marketing. Many managing directors have started in medical sales
DEGREE: Any degree subject is acceptable. Life sciences or medically-related degrees are useful. Can enter from nursing.
TIPS: Work shadow a medical representative: this can sometimes be arranged via your medical centre, ask the receptionist for the business cards of visiting reps. Your local pharmacist will also have good contacts. Contact the major pharmaceutical firms. Try to get some experience of a sales type job. Learn to drive.

Skills required

Medical sales recruitment agencies and other vacancy sources:

Further Information:

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FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) Sales

Sales is a key route for developing a career here : if you have experience of managing an account with Tesco, many employers will be very interested in you. Many sales directors in FMCG companies have started their career in graduate sales. You may become an account manager which involves building successful customer relationships and working with contacts to develop plans for the retail environment. One benefit of the work is that your work has a visible impact on business results.

There are three main areas of sales:

Export Sales

Export sales managers are responsible for managing the sale of products or services to overseas customers. They research potential markets,combining the results of market research with their knowledge of consumer tastes and the cultural and political background of the countries they are responsible for, in order to decide what to sell and how to sell it. They negotiate with customers (often in a foreign language) to try to make a sale. They may have to decide whether the product can be altered to meet the client's requirements or whether special discounts can be offered. They organise sales promotions, negotiate contracts and arrange the transport of goods.

Media Sales

PROFILE: Media Sales (also called Advertising Sales)

INVOLVES: Initially: selling advertising space in newspapers, magazines, TV & radio. Telephoning potential advertisers to persuade them to buy space. Keeping records. Making calculations for costs of adverts. When more experienced: visiting clients (companies & advertising agencies). Generating fresh ideas for features. Generating income & new business.
EMPLOYERS: Local & National newspapers. Periodicals (e.g. magazines) Commercial TV & radio companies.
RELATED JOBS: sales representative, media buyer in advertising agencies
SATISFACTIONS: 'Working in a team. Regular hours. Good bonuses. Good promotion prospects.
NEGATIVES: 'Being practically tied to a chair initially. Being supervised. Working to targets.'
SKILLS: spoken communication persuading negotiating, listening.
ADVANCEMENT: to field representative (visiting clients - have company car); to media buyer in advertising agencies; to sales manager: promotion can be rapid.
DEGREE: Any degree subject.
POSTGRADUATE STUDY: None required. You are trained on the job.
VACANCY SOURCES: Daily Telegraph (Thursday), Guardian (Saturday & Monday) word of mouth & 'who you know.' Use Willings Press Guide for employers. Media Sales Recruitment Agencies advertise in the national press. Companies such as Conde Nast and Bloomberg regularly recruit media sales staff. See our media careers page for a list of media recruitment agencies that offer media sales vacancies.
TIPS: Get experience through work shadowing. Vacancies regularly advertised in the above sources. 'Many applicants think incorrectly that it is a first stepping stone into the creative media jobs so don't say that your real ambition is to be a journalist!' Normally enter directly & are trained on the job.

www.MediaSalesJobs.co.uk information site for graduates wanting to get into media sales. Detailed overviews of the media industry and how to get a job – written by hiring managers in the industry.

Computer sales support

PROFILE: Computer Sales Support

INVOLVES: Backing up computer sales staff with technical information & support. Demonstrating & presenting products to customers. Making sure that the product meets the customers requirements. Writing sales literature. Writing tenders & proposals. Working out future areas for sales growth.
EMPLOYERS: Computer manufacturers, computer peripheral manufacturers & suppliers.
RELATED JOBS: systems analyst, IT consultant, technical sales & marketing, medical sales representative
SATISFACTIONS: The blend of people contact & working at the forefront of IT. Working in a fast changing environment. Varied work.
NEGATIVES: Quite a lot of pressure. Frequent deadlines to meet.
SKILLS: spoken communication, written communication, persuasiveness, planning & organising, listening, business awareness, customer handling.
ADVANCEMENT: To sales & marketing jobs, IT consultancy or training roles.
DEGREE: Any degree subject, but those with a business or computing content may be preferred.
POSTGRADUATE STUDY: None needed but a postgraduate conversion course in computing or business studies course may prove helpful.
TIPS: Apply to computer manufacturers & computer peripheral manufacturers e.g. printer manufacturers. Quite competitive to enter. Need to make speculative applications using a CV.
Case Study : Moving from IT into Marketing (separate page)

Questions asked to Kent graduates at sales interviews. See also Answers to 150 interview questions

If you have been to an interview or assessment centre recently please fill in our interview report form to help other students.

Competency questions. See our page on How to Answer Competency-based Questions

Commercial Awareness Questions. See our page on How to answer Commercial Awareness Questions

Hypothetical questions

Tests given: (See our practice aptitude tests)

Group exercises and presentations

At an interview for a sales job in the United States an interviewer reached into her drawer and tossed a hand grenade onto the table. "If you're so good, sell me this!" she demanded.

The candidate didn't miss a beat. He said "If you're talking personal protection, this is the way to go. It's portable, easy to use and will scare off even the toughest gang member.

No sale: my tiny hand gun fits into my pocket perfectly. This grenade will rip a hole in it.

The candidate offered her a free grenade holster.

He got the job.



Further Information

Related Careers

Last fully updated 2012