Prepare for a Career in Sales

You’re attracted to the idea of a career in sales. Perhaps you have friends or relatives who are enjoying, and being successful in, a sales career. Perhaps you’ve heard of the fortunes that can be made in a sales job. Or maybe it’s just that you’re fed up with your own job, and you’re considering sales as one of a number of possible career options.

Whichever is the case, here are a number of issues to think about, and a few things you can do to prepare for your first interview for a sales position.

Why do you want a career in sales?

A career in sales

Develop a clear idea of why you want a career in sales before you start. Partly for your own benefit, and partly because you’re certain to be asked this question by an interviewer, and you’d better have a reasonable answer.

If you need help, look at the advice sheet ‘Why Sales?’

If you know anyone in sales, ask them why they like the job.

Hint! Sales interviewers value answers like ‘I want to earn a lot of money’  and ‘I’d like a job where I’d be paid what I’m worth’. They don’t like answers like ‘I like to meet people’ or ‘I like driving’. (It’s good that you do like these things if you’re going into sales, but they shouldn’t be your main motivation for doing so).

It’s quite a good idea to think about your long-term life plan, and actually write it down. What do you want to achieve in the short, medium and long term? Try to be specific and realistic. Avoid listing goals like ‘I want to be happy’ (everyone wants this!). Do you want to acquire material possessions (house, car, holiday home, yachts etc)? Do you want to rise to positions of power and responsibility? Do you want to do work that is complex and intellectually demanding? In a survey of 100 schoolchildren conducted some 25 years ago, each was asked their life goals. Only three had these ambitions written down. After twenty five years, the group was surveyed again. 97% of the accumulated wealth of the group was owned by the 3% that had written down their goals.

Interviewers will be most impressed if you have a clear and realistic idea of what you want to get out of life.

What do your brothers/sisters do?

If your siblings work in sales or business management in some shape or form, they’ll be able to give you a lot of help. Ask them what it’s like, and whether they think you have the aptitude to succeed in this demanding way of life. No one knows you as well as your close family, so value their opinion and advice.

Do you have any relations in sales?

Similarly, uncles, aunts, grandparents etc can all provide you with a wealth of information. Ask them the questions that you are likely to be asked in interview:

What do you think a sales job involves?

How do you find new customers?

How do you cope with rejection?

What character traits do you need to be successful in sales?

Do you have any friends in sales?

If any of your school or college fellows are involved in sales, talk to them! Ask them the same questions as above. Ask them how they prepared to enter sales, what interviews they went to, what questions they were asked and what answers they gave. If they have risen to a position where they themselves are interviewing trainee sales people, also ask what answers they like to hear when they ask these questions.

Have you ever shadowed a sales rep?

If you know anyone who is involved in sales, ask them if you can ‘shadow’ them for a day or two. They won’t be offended! In fact, they’ll appreciate your help in carrying their bags, and it will be nice to have someone to talk to during their travels. (Contrary to popular opinion, the life of a sales representative can be quite a lonely one). Offer to buy them lunch by way of thanks! While you’re out and about, ask them all the questions we’ve discussed.

If you don’t know anyone who is involved in sales, try to find one! Do you know anyone who is involved in buying, or who runs a business? They’ll almost certainly be visited by representatives from various firms. Perhaps they could ask them for a favour.

What vacation/weekend jobs have you done?

Sales interviewers will be looking for evidence of some/any form of commercial activity. It could be shop work, bar work. Even selling Big Issue! If you have never done any form of commercial work in your life, but you’re keen to start, well..there’s no time like the present. There is any number of shop jobs available in almost every area. Similarly bar jobs. These all get you used to the idea of customer relations, and the sales process. You could consider getting a commission-only job selling home improvements (double glazing etc). These jobs are relatively easy to come by, offer very good training in may cases, act as an excellent grounding for a sales career, and can in some instances earn you a lot of money (can be a very rewarding career in their own right!). Alternatively, most local newspapers need telephone canvassers to drum up advertising revenue and/or sales, and the work can be done part-time or in the evenings, so won’t interfere with your current work, and/or will allow you to hunt for jobs and attend interviews.

What sporting activities/achievements have you accomplished?

Sales is a high-energy, proactive (make-things-happen), goal-oriented form of work. Sales interviewers look for evidence in your past, that you are the sort of person who competes vigorously, and has ‘the winning instinct’. Be prepared to show that you have competed at any level, in any activity. To have won the Surrey tiddlywinks championship shows great dedication to a task, and focus on winning out. To have represented Britain at the Olympics would be better…! Whatever you’ve done that goes beyond the norm, tell the interviewer about it! Don’t be afraid to ‘sell yourself’.

What positions of responsibility have you held?

Interviewers hold in high regard candidates who have evidence of making things happen, or taking responsibility. Be prepared to mention any activity that demonstrates this. ‘I led a group of scouts across Siberia..’ ‘I organized the local church drama group Christmas pantomime..’

Have you traveled widely/’worked your way’ round the world?

As hinted at above, success in sales and business is all about surviving. By definition, if you survive, you’ve succeeded! If you can demonstrate that you have taken yourself out of your ‘comfort zone’ (Mum & Dad’s home!) and survived in the big bad world, for however short a time, then so much the better. Don’t take the photographs to the interview though!

Prepare a ‘brag file’ to show people at interviews.

This is a compilation about all your successes in life, including all your exam certificates, and any evidence of your success in life, in any field whatsoever. It could include letters of commendation, or thanks from grateful customers or other people, or cuttings from newspapers showing how you saved a dog from drowning, for example.

As a principle, you should maintain this throughout your working life, and add to it constantly. Whenever you do well, or obtain someone’s approval, ask them to put something in writing, so you can include it in your file.

What books have you read about sales?

Are you really interested in a career in sales? If so, you will almost certainly have read at least one book on the subject! OK, you’ve been busy. Well, start now! The local library has shelves full of useful books on the subject, so it won’t even cost you anything!


Register with Seltek Consultants. We specialize in placing sales and marketing personnel, and over the years we have helped many people get started on their career in sales. Phone 01279 657716 or email

Good Luck!