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A Guide to Jobs (and Careers) in Sales

How are your powers of persuasion? If you answered "excellent," then a sales job could be right for you. As a sales person, you will have to get people, corporations, or organizations to buy goods or services from the company you represent. You can set your sights on working in a variety of industries including manufacturing, retail, information technology, agricultural, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, financial services, transportation, hospitality, and professional services.

Sales professionals can peddle many different products. Among the goods and services they sell are clothing, cars, stocks and bonds, drugs, medical equipment, insurance, computer technology, electronics, farm equipment, advertising space or time, livestock, vacations, and real estate. A sales person typically specializes in one industry or type of product.

Basic Facts About Sales Jobs

  • As of 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates over 14.5 million people worked in sales and related occupations. This figure does not include self-employed workers.
  • The job outlook for this field is good. The BLS expects five percent job growth in this field between 2014 and 2024, which is just about as fast as the average for all occupations. This will result in approximately 778,000 new sales jobs.
  • Sales workers and those employed in related occupations earned a median annual wage of $26,590 in May 2016. The annual wage for all occupations was $37,040, making earnings in this field a bit lower than in others.
  • An individual's compensation often includes a base salary plus a commission, which is typically calculated as a percentage of the sales one makes.

Is a Sales Job Right for You?

A career in sales, like any other occupation, isn't a good choice for everyone. It may or may not be right for you. Before you move forward, you should determine whether you have what it takes to succeed in this field. As mentioned earlier, to succeed in sales, you must be persuasive. Excellent communication skills are essential. You must be a good listener, as well as have the ability to communicate well verbally. Exemplary interpersonal skills will allow you to connect with others.

A commitment to working hard and a lot of patience are also needed. It sometimes takes a great deal of effort to close a sale, and you may have to patiently wait while a customer makes up his or her mind. Rejection is common, so you must be thick-skinned as well.

Sales Careers

What are your options if you want to pursue a career in sales? Several occupational titles fall under the sales umbrella. They involve working in a plethora of environments including retail stores and offices. People who work in these settings are said to be in inside sales. Some individuals who are employed in sales jobs meet with customers in their homes or businesses by appointment. Others go door-to-door, making unannounced visits to potential customers. This is called outside sales.

How to Choose a Good Sales Job

With so many industries and products from which to choose, how can you decide what to sell?

There are several criteria you should look at when selecting a sales job. You should consider potential income, your interest in the product you are selling, and job security when making a decision.

While earnings are not strictly correlated with job satisfaction, you will, of course, need to make a living. Jobs selling securities and commodities; other investment instruments; financial services; and resin, synthetic rubber, and artificial synthetic fibers and filaments manufacturing offer the best earning potential according to the BLS.

Having said that, if you have little interest in those products, it will affect your motivation. Less motivation will lead to fewer sales, which will, in turn, cause you to have lower earnings if your compensation includes a commission or to lose your job if your employer is dissatisfied with your performance. As important as it is to make a living, you should also think about your interest in the product you are selling.

Finally, you need to know you will be able to find employment.

If you are interested in a particular industry or type of product, but there are few jobs available, you should look for another area in which to work. Typically, the higher the demand for the product, the greater the job security of the workers who sell it. The most secure jobs are in the healthcare and information technology industries.

Education and Training

Your preparation for a sales job depends on the product you are selling. You may need no more than a high school diploma to sell some products, but if you are looking for a job hawking scientific or technical products, for example, employers will only hire job candidates who have a college degree. To sell insurance, you will also need a degree. A bachelor's degree is optional for advertising sales representatives, but earning one will significantly improve your chances of getting a job.

You might need a professional license, depending on the product you want to sell. For example, individuals who sell investment instruments, financial products, and insurance must be licensed.

How to Get a Sales Job

Whether you are looking for an entry-level position or a better job than your current one, there are sales-job specific sites that could have just the position you are seeking You can also use general employment sites like Indeed.com. Employers post openings directly to Indeed, and the site also gathers job listings from other job search sites, professional organizations, and company websites. Alternatively, you can upload your resume and employers will be able to find you when they are looking for someone with your qualifications.

Your professional network is an excellent resource for learning about employment opportunities. Widen your network by using an online networking site. The most well-known one is LinkedIn. You will be able to connect with other sales professionals or members of your network who know people who work in this field.

When an employer is considering you for a position, you will have to secure it by excelling on a job interview. The sales manager will ask you questions about your sales skills. He or she will also want to know about your strengths and weaknesses. Through your responses, you will have to demonstrate your ability to follow through and think on your feet.

Additional Sources:

"Occupational Employment and Wage, May 2016: Sales and Related Occupations (Major Group)." Occupational Employment Statistics (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 31, 2017).

"Paid to Persuade: Careers in Sales" Career Outlook (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 2011).

"Sales Occupations." The Occupational Outlook Handbook 2016-2017 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 17, 2015).

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