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It used to be said that salespeople are born, not made, but that is far from 21st century reality. Selling is a profession in its own right, with vocational and academic qualifications available.

The level of knowledge and skill required of salespeople is very high, particularly in business-to-business sectors such as insurance companies selling to chemical manufacturers or medical equipment manufacturers selling to hospital trusts.

Desirable pre-degree qualifications

When employers are recruiting graduates for sales roles, which also includes account management and business development, the qualifications they value will vary by industry sector. You will need to be highly numerate, as you will be discussing costs and value with customers, so Maths at GCSE or A level will be helpful.

You be authoring substantial written proposals, so English at GCSE or A level is also desirable. In business-to-business sectors, a Science GCSE would be important and in global companies, a language would be valued.

Applicable to a variety of degree subjects

The type of degree that helps you to access selling roles will depend upon the industry you choose.
Engineering is helpful if you want to work for a manufacturer, biochemistry would be useful if you want to work in the life sciences sector. A business studies or marketing degree can also be a good starting point, as part of the role of a salesperson is to understand the customer’s business in depth.
If you have had the opportunity to do a selling, account management or sales management options during your degree or if you have done a placement in sales, these could really help your application along.

Vocational equivalents are usually welcome.

There is more flexibility in acceptable qualifications for sales roles compared to professions such as accountancy or human resource management.
Higher National Certificates or Diplomas or Foundations Degrees may be of interest to employers. Vocational qualifications from professional institutes such as the Institute of Sales and Marketing Management or Chartered Institute of Marketing will also have career value.

A people-oriented career

Knowledge is important for jobs in sales, but to manage business relationships at a senior level, you will need skills such as being able to make a presentation, being able to communicate well via social media, telephone and face-to-face, and being able to work with other people. If you have not done a sales option as part of your degree, you will be expected to undertake training for selling skills such as questioning techniques and ethical negotiation. Selling skills can be learned, and perfected with practice – it is highly unlikely that anyone came fresh into the world with them!

Personal challenge

Although a great deal can be learnt about selling, you should be aware that it can be a stressful job, involving tense situations and lots of travel. Although the rewards are high, you have to work hard for them, and you need to be resilient and calm when things are going wrong. High risk situations are exciting, and very fulfilling when you have succeeded!

About the Author

  • About Beth Rogers: Beth has an HNC in Business Studies, a BA Hons in Politics with International Studies and an MBA. She spent most of her career in the information technology sector in a variety of sales and marketing roles. She has also been a consultant. She joined PortPortsmouth Business School in 2004 to develop the sales specialism. Portsmouth Business School is the only UK business school listed by the University Sales Education Foundation.

Beth Rogers

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