How to Get into Sales
Look around you.
It doesn’t matter where you are on the planet, at this very moment, as you’re reading this, practically everything, and I mean EVERYTHING you see has been sold by someone. Your computer, your clothes, the chair you’re sitting on, mobile phone, wristwatch, coffee cup, the coffee inside the cup, the trees outside, the window you’re looking through to see the trees outside, the window cleaner solution used to keep the glass clean to see the trees outside, the plastic bottle used to spray the window that keeps the glass clean, so that you can see the trees outside, and so on, and so on, and so on.
As a matter of fact, it’s actually pretty difficult to see something within your view that hasn’t been sold by someone.
Now that we’ve realized sales is a pretty popular profession (15 million just in the US alone), how does one get started in a profession that has the opportunity to be so gratifying?
There are two routes into the field of sales. The first way is with a college degree in sales. Yes, hard to believe, but there are actually more than 60 Division 1 College Programs in the U.S. in which you can actually major in “Professional Selling”. There is even a National Sales Competition that awards the best school, and even a National Champion “Best Sales Professional.” Who knew! (P.S... you should see the list of companies lined up eagerly waiting to make these contestants a job offer on the spot!)
The second way is without a degree, or what many would consider “on the job” training, “school of hard knocks” or “real life” selling.
Luckily, we’ll tell you how to do both.
Method 1: Getting into Sales with a College Degree
A career in Sales can start in college even if you’re not attending one of the Marketing and Professional Sales Programs referenced above. (Review Kennesaw State’s Sales Program where the annual competition is held each year.). You can also pursue a degree in (but not limited to,) business administration, finance, marketing, economics, and accounting. Having a background in those fields will lay the groundwork of knowledge needed to succeed in this career path if you so choose to sell a service within your chosen specialty. According to The Balanced Careers, these degrees are also widely accepted and sought after in the sales industry.
Method 2: Getting into Sales WITHOUT a College Degree
Sales is a “go-getter” industry, where you don’t necessarily need a degree to start your career. If you’re willing to work hard and network, you’ll be on your way. Since you don’t have a degree (or a degree relevant to sales), you’ll have to work your way up. If you don’t know where to start, follow this guide to help you start laying down the groundwork.
5 Ways to Break into the Sales Industry
- Read Everything! When you were in school, you “had” to read. Now you “get” to read. There is definitely a learning curve that comes with breaking into the sales industry. Read books written by influential people in the industry, take a course in sales, or study the company you want to work for. You will be building your knowledge from scratch and it’s important to use your resources wisely. (And buy the book! There’s nothing more impressive than walking into someone’s office or home and seeing an array of hard copy books on the shelves. You might be surprised how many companies will ask you in an interview, “What are you reading?” Responding with “the newspaper” isn’t exactly demonstrating to the interviewee you’ve chosen to invest in yourself.
- Highlight your transferable skills on your resume. Transferable skills are skills that can be used across a variety of jobs and industries. In this case, you may heavily rely on your transferable skills to land a job within the industry. Good transferable skills in sales are: interacting with customers, oral and written communication, research and analytical skills, and leadership. Don’t be afraid to list all transferable skills related to the job you want. (And if you really want to stand out, reference those transferable “soft” skills such as confidence, candor, charisma, and conviction. These are critical skills that can make or break a great salesperson.)
- Learn from influential people in the industry. We define this as “success leaves tracks.” There are tons of people in this industry that you can learn from who have already figured it out. If you can emulate the lessons they’ve learned, you can shorten the distance to success. A great example of this is John Costigan. He specializes in sales training and development. His lessons are practical and easy to apply. You’ll not only leave his sessions more knowledgeable but more confident!
- Network! This is a very important step in starting your sales career. Networking allows you to connect with people, form relationships, and open yourself to new opportunities. Keith Ferrazzi’s book, Never Eat Alone, provides some great ways to grow your network, and fast! When you put your face out there, people will recognize you and be inclined to carry on a conversation. Networking can also introduce you to job leads.
- Don’t be afraid to start from the bottom. Starting your sales career without a degree or prior experience can be tough, but keep your eye on the prize or that dream job! You may get offered jobs that aren’t necessarily ideal or long-term. That’s okay! Just start selling anything! That being said, it’s ok to start at a low position. The sales industry is all about learning. We encourage you to learn as much as you can from any position you take. Think of it as “building your knowledge.” It’ll be worth it in the long run.
Whether you have a degree or not, it’s time to start looking for jobs. For beginners, we recommend entry-level jobs. You’ll gain experience, learn new skills, and have the opportunity to grow within that company.
It can be exciting jumping into the workforce but before you start sending off applications, there’s just one more thing. Make sure your resume is ready! Your resume is the bridge between you and the company you’re pursuing.
If you’re not sure your resume is ready, that’s ok. We’re here to help. Below are tips on having a great resume for a job in sales.
4 Tips for Having a Great Sales Resume
- Highlight your transferable skills. Transferable skills are skills that can be used across a variety of jobs and industries. (Ex: problem-solving, oral communication, drafting emails, etc.). Any skill that can be applied to multiple industries can be “transferable.” Good transferable skills in sales are: interacting with customers, oral and written communication, research and analytical skills, and leadership. The list goes on. Make sure to include all of your transferable skills in your resume.
- Highlight your sales experience. Although we’re focusing on entry-level and beginner jobs, if you have any experience, make sure it’s on that resume! Having some level of experience adds a curve and stands out to employers.
- Incorporate “Sales Lingo” in your resume. Using common words in the sales industry can catch employers’ eyes. Examples of “Sales Lingo” can be; business to business, lead generation, customer relations, cold calling, sales cycle, and quota. There are tons of other words you can use too! Just make sure when you’re incorporating these words, you’re using them in the right context.
- Mention any formal training. If you attended training, seminars, or earned a certificate, make sure you talk about it. This will show your devotion to sharpening your skills. There are training sessions you can attend online and earn a certificate of completion in the comfort of your own home. Don’t be afraid to search for them.
Your resume is looking better than ever! It’s time to search for your entry-level job in sales.
There are different ways to go about this, but an easy method is to use online job search websites. You can track the jobs you applied to, be updated about listings, and have access to a network of employers.
Once you find the site you want to use, make sure you’re tailoring the search engine to your requirements, such as this example using Indeed.com’s job search format.
Example: Entry-level jobs in Sales. Chicago, IL. Within 25 miles. Full-time. Salary estimate of $48,000.
You can also search for jobs with specific companies.
*Tip: If you don’t see any open positions on job search sites, go to the company’s direct site. There may be personal listings.
Once you apply to jobs, make sure you’re checking emails and phone calls for interview dates. We wish you luck in your job search!
Starting your career in the sales industry is an exciting time. You’re putting your face out there, networking, and connecting to potential employers. Whether you have a college degree or not, we encourage making sure your resume is ready and searching for entry-level jobs. We hope these tips were helpful and as always, we wish you luck in your job search.