The Ultimate Guide to Acing Graduate Sales Jobs

19 mins

Since the start of the 2020s, university leavers have faced an increasing challenge to stand...

By Pareto Team


Since the start of the 2020s, university leavers have faced an increasing challenge to stand out from the pack when it comes to applying for graduate sales jobs. Across all sectors, graduates have increased by 12% year-on-year, with business and management alumni topping the charts for the largest number of degrees earned over the 2021 and 2022 academic years. 

As a result of this situation, it’s more important than ever that you invest in the development of these crucial skills for sales roles. Sales training can certainly help you to begin thinking like a high-performing salesperson, but ultimately it will take perseverance and a commitment to learning and professional development to gain the confidence to exceed expectations in that sales graduate scheme or permanent position. 

In this guide, we’ll explore the top ten skills for sales that you can work on today, exploring how you can start to turn these weaknesses into strengths even before you’ve begun interviewing for graduate sales jobs. Alongside this, we’ll also give you some advice on demonstrating that you’ve invested in your professional development, highlighting to potential employers that you’re a forward-thinking and proactive candidate ready for the responsibilities and duties of a dynamic and fast-paced sales role. 

Our Top 10 Skills for Sales and How to Develop Them

Often, we see sales training as something we just need to “get through” to begin doing our jobs. Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet for achieving high performance in graduate sales jobs. It’ll require dedication, hard work, and a proactive attitude to start developing these in-demand skills for sales roles, and it’s all part of the journey of an early-career salesperson

Sales training is all about putting what you’ve studied into practice, meaning that as we work through our list, we’ll offer you some pragmatic advice on how to start developing strengths in these areas. A continuous approach to sales training can improve your net sales by an average of 50%, meaning you’re more likely to make high-value deals, win more business, and generate higher-quality leads with the more time you invest in your personal and professional development.

So, what are these top ten skills for sales roles, and what can you do to start working on them today, even if you’re not already enrolled on a sales graduate scheme? 

1. Negotiation

Sales negotiation training doesn’t require you to be hashing out million-pound deals every day to become an expert. Indeed, you can start to practice your negotiation skills in your everyday life, long before you’ve secured your place on a sales graduate scheme. 

By paying close attention to what others are saying during your conversations—in short, by actively listening to their needs and problems—you can align the conversation with your goals and achieve your desired outcome. 

Sales negotiation training is largely about learning how to encourage the other party to share their thoughts and concerns, which can highlight your interest in understanding their perspective and reaching a mutually beneficial solution, rather than solely aiming to win business for yourself. 

Here are our three essential tips on how you can practice and improve your negotiation skills, particularly if you’re taking part in a mock sales scenario: 

  • Prepare. Before practising negotiation, ensure an understanding of the topic and the other party’s needs. This aids in presenting a strong case and addressing objections. Try to practice anticipating concerns and prepare responses to common disagreements.

  • Benefit. Commit the value and benefits of your product or service to mind and practice articulating it clearly. By demonstrating how it can meet the other party's needs, you’ll be able to justify pricing, set expectations, and increase the likelihood of reaching a favourable agreement. 

  • Empathise. Negotiations can become tense or confrontational when you struggle to stay calm. Role-playing scenarios with colleagues or friends can help you to retain composure and practice actively listening to and understanding the other party’s perspective. This can help you to show empathy and build rapport.

2. Communication

Graduate sales jobs thrive on a salesperson’s ability to communicate clearly, effectively, and evocatively with an array of external and internal partners. From clients to your very own colleagues, line managers to the executive leadership team, you need to be able to inspire and motivate the people you speak to, especially if you’re selling something—whether that’s a product or yourself. 

Even requesting a raise for good performance requires you to communicate the value you’ve added to the business over a period of time. 

Picking up on nonverbal cues such as body language, pauses, changes in pitch, and the speed of conversation can help you to identify when people are getting excited or concerned, helping you to avoid assumptions and letting your conversation partner feel like they’re guiding the discussion. Whilst asking for clarification on a client’s worries or misunderstandings can be daunting, it’s crucial within graduate sales jobs, where you’ll need to be able to handle objections through effective discussion, as well as the ability to adapt your communication style to the sales prospect and their situation.

Here are our consultants’ three key tips on practising and improving your communication ability:  

  • Listen. Active listening is crucial to communication. As Truman Capote would comment, “a conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue”, so whenever you’re discussing a topic with another person—or practising your negotiation skills—ask clarifying questions, concentrate on the language used and how emphatic they become when discussing particular pain points. 

  • Problem-solve. Consultative sales conversations focus on finding solutions to prospects’ issues, so make sure that whenever you’re communicating with others, you understand the other party’s challenges and you’re providing solutions that meet their needs.

  • Write. Not all sales conversations will take place person-to-person, over the phone, or via video call. In many cases, you might need to email or otherwise communicate with prospects through writing, so make sure not to neglect practising pitching and communicating value via text channels. Fortunately, you’ll find it improves your overall communication ability as you begin to structure your writing to convince and convert.

3. Product Knowledge

Product knowledge is perhaps the most difficult skill to develop in the time between completing your university studies and beginning a sales graduate scheme. You likely won’t have access to that company’s product or service, unless they’re selling directly to consumers—however, there are some strategies you can use to prepare yourself for this crucial technical skill for sales roles, and ways that you can demonstrate to interviewers that you’ll embrace product knowledge quickly and effectively. 

If you have an organisation in mind that you’d like to work for, the first step is to take the initiative to research its product or service offering. Use the business’s official website, customer testimonials, press releases, and other sources to gather information and gain an understanding of what problem this product or service was developed to solve—and what their clients are saying about it. 

Here are our top three tips on practising and improving your product knowledge skills: 

  • Study. The first step to developing product knowledge is to study it thoroughly. Even if you’re not currently in a graduate sales role, you can practice it with an object that you admire. Understand how you can best articulate its features, benefits, and uses and how it compares to competitors.

  • Communicate. If you’re struggling to wrap your head around some aspect of a product or service, you should become comfortable communicating with the product manager. Ask questions—and attend training sessions if you’re already in a role—so you can gain expert insights and discover features that will address the needs of your leads.

  • Explain. The best way to develop product knowledge is to practice explaining things to others. If you’re particularly fond of a particular pair of sneakers or some other product, you can practice explaining the product to friends and family. This can help you to spot areas for improvement if you’re too long-winded, don’t offer enough detail, or can’t answer questions.

4. Collaboration

Collaboration skills are crucial within graduate sales jobs. Whilst negotiation, communication, and product knowledge all play an important role in collaboration, working well with others is a strength you can hone. Within most sales-focused organisations, you’ll be working closely with cross-functional teams and partners, so practising your skills within the context of being a team player is important to prepare you for a high-performance career.

If you can’t practice collaboration skills in your current workplace or role, try to volunteer some of your time to a community you’re engaged in or an online project. This can help you to develop experience of working with a multidisciplinary team, learn the role you’re most suited to as part of a team, and develop an ability to express yourself clearly and take feedback on board. 

Here are our three key tips for practising and improving your ability to collaborate with your colleagues: 

  • Respect. Collaboration requires an open mind, so always be willing to consider different perspectives and ideas. Avoid being dismissive of others’ opinions, and try not to be defensive when others offer constructive feedback on yours. By doing this, you’ll be able to build trust with your teammates. 

  • Volunteer. If there’s a group project going on in your current workplace or a community you’re involved in, offer your skills or time. This can give you crucial experience of working with others and building rapport with a multidisciplinary team.

  • Plan. Effective collaboration requires a team to establish clear roles and achievable goals for each member. This helps to avoid confusion, helps you to check in on progress and adjust as needed, and ensure everyone’s working to achieve the same objective.

5. Prospecting

Any professional sales training you receive as part of your role will likely focus on the practice of prospecting—that is, identifying customers and initiating effective communication with them—but there are some steps you can take to prepare for these duties in your everyday life that can help to set you apart from the competition at the interview stage. 

First, challenge yourself to initiate respectful, friendly, and supportive conversations with strangers—you could do this at social events or professional meetings. This practice is called “cold outreach”, and it’s important to develop a strategy that works for you as a salesperson to ensure you make a positive first impression. 

Similarly,  you can practice an elevator pitch with friends, family, current colleagues, and academic advisors. Knowing how to craft a compelling, concise, and professional introduction to yourself can give you the confidence to know you’re getting off on the right foot. 

Don’t be dismayed if you experience some rejection. Persistence and resilience are crucial skills for sales jobs, so learn to believe in your strengths and keep going even when facing challenges. 

Here are our three quick-fire tips for practising and improving your prospecting skills: 

  • Research. Before reaching out to a potential customer or individual, try to understand the industry they’re working within and the unique needs and priorities of that field. This helps you to tailor your message and increase the likelihood of building a rapport with them.

  • Help. Prospecting isn’t just about selling a product or service, it’s about building trust and establishing a professional relationship with a contact. Focus on developing your knowledge and customer service skills to ensure you become a valuable resource offering information, insights, and solutions. 

  • Reflect. Whether you’re making a phone call or having an in-person conversation, consider what went well and what could be improved with your prospecting technique. Seek feedback from colleagues or participants who can help you enhance your approach and improve over time.

6. Account Management

Another entry on our list of skills for sales jobs that could seem to be difficult to practice in our everyday lives, account management allows you to nurture and grow long-term, high-value relationships with your customers. 

Demonstrating that you understand the need for effective account management and that you’ve begun learning how to carry out this responsibility can help show that you’re proactive and prepared for a sales graduate scheme. 

Excellent account management is all about taking the time to build positive and mutually rewarding relationships with clients—taking the initiative in problem-solving by heading off challenges or conflicts before they arise, setting clear goals as part of a larger roadmap, and staying organised so you can confidently commit to your online and physical meetings. 

Here are our consultants’ top three tips for practising and improving your account management abilities: 

  • Concentrate. Listening is a critical skill for sales professionals to possess when they’re developing and maintaining a relationship with key accounts. You need to be able to concentrate on their needs to provide effective solutions, so ask questions and pick up on the needs and concerns that arise in conversation with them.

  • Respond. Customers will become loyal to you when they know that you’ll be responsive to their needs and go above and beyond to provide exceptional service. Make sure that you’re checking in with clients and anticipating their concerns, so you can become an indispensable resource for their business. 

  • Strategise. Account management is largely about planning, so make sure you are strategic and refine your ability to identify growth opportunities. By setting goals and developing achievable action plans, you can help your clients achieve their business objectives and demonstrate your value as a professional partner.

7. Data Manipulation and Analysis

The average salesperson generates volumes of useful data as part of their everyday tasks. From customer interactions to the speed at which customers have moved through the pipeline, businesses that ensure their strategies are backed by solid data are 23 times more likely to entice prospects to buy, and six times more likely to retain them, leading to increased profitability and productivity. 

The fact is that data has a significant and positive impact on sales performance, and by showing hiring managers that you’re comfortable working with the numbers, you’ll be proving that you’re an asset before you’ve even begun your sales graduate scheme. 

As with many technical aspects of the sales role, the best way to learn is to get stuck in with the practical aspects. Familiarise yourself with spreadsheet software such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, and start organising data and performing functions on an area of interest—a sports team’s performance or your spending habits is a good place to start collecting, tracking, and analysing data.

Here are three crucial tips for practising and improving your data analysis skills: 

  • Train. Many online and in-person courses are available to help professionals develop their data analysis skills, helping you to understand topics like visualisation, reporting, and statistical analysis. These can help you to see how to apply data analysis and manipulation techniques to sales roles, and the benefit they can bring. 

  • Refine. Once you’ve gained some basic skills in working with data, start looking for real-world examples to keep practising with. Everything from sales to market data can help you to understand the insights that can be gathered from your customer interactions. 

  • Collaborate. Ask for opportunities to work with colleagues or mentors that have a background in data analysis or statistics. This can provide you with expert insights and valuable feedback that can pinpoint areas for improvement or give you an idea of how to apply your skills.

8. Closing

Closing is one of the most crucial aspects of the sales process to get right. You need to be persistent—since salespeople who make 12 contact attempts have been shown to close deals 20% more often than those colleagues that stop at 8 attempts—and confident to ask for what you need to achieve your targets and goals, whilst also developing the resilience to bounce back from rejections. 

Of course, if you’re interviewing for graduate sales jobs, it might be the case that you’ve not had a chance to develop your closing technique—but this doesn’t mean you can’t practice and study the best practices in closing before you start the job. 

Roleplaying sales scenarios with friends, families, or academic advisors can allow you to experiment with different approaches to closing, since it’s often the pitch which creates a sense of urgency without sounding “pushy” that will win that client’s business. 

Here are three quick tips for practising and improving your closing skills for graduate sales jobs: 

  • Record. By recording your practice calls, you can identify areas for improvement in your closing techniques. Take note of what worked and what didn’t, and practice walking the line between persistence and pushiness. 

  • Analyse. Observe and learn from sales experts, and study their closing strategies. By understanding their approach and adapting it to your personal style, you can discover some useful tactics which can inform your closing techniques.

  • Tailor. A closing technique that works for one client might not work for another. Take the time to research your client’s goals and the roadblocks that stand in their way so that you can tailor your approach to their unique situation. Adapt your communication style to match that of the person you’re having a conversation with and you’ll find they’re much more receptive to your message.

9. Time Management

Many sales training providers will work with you to develop your time management skills, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start working on this crucial competency in your free time. Graduate sales jobs are naturally fast-paced, dynamic environments, so making sure you can juggle multiple tasks with changing priorities is one of the keys to long-term career success. 

Utilising techniques like time blocking, where you allocate specific periods of the day to different tasks and activities—often based on their priority or a deadline—and breaking larger projects into smaller, more manageable steps can make a fast-paced schedule easier to tackle and less overwhelming. 

One valuable ability to develop is delegation. Being able to share tasks with your colleagues, set boundaries and expectations, and focus on more critical activities is a core skill within any sales graduate scheme, and can be an especially impactful competency if you’re considering the move into a more senior or managerial position. 

Our consultants offer their top three tips for practising and improving your time management skills: 

  • Prioritise. Create a plan for your day or week and arrange tasks according to their importance and the urgency of their deadlines. This will help you stay focused and avoid wasting time on tasks that can be put off until later. 

  • Track. Use digital tools—or a diary—to understand how you spend your time, and identify areas where you can improve efficiency. This can help you prioritise tasks more effectively and eliminate distractions. 

  • Automate. If you’re spending too much time each week scheduling appointments or sending follow-up emails, automate those tasks. This will allow you to focus on what’s really important and avoid missing important meetings.

10. Networking

Coming to a sales graduate scheme with a baked-in ability to network will enable you to hit the ground running in your role, and networking well also allows you to practice every other skill for sales that’s been explored in this list—requiring you to communicate regularly with your contacts, sell yourself, keep track of who’s who and what makes them tick, and having the unique knowledge and perspectives that make you a valuable asset to have as part of their own network. 

If you want to network professionally within graduate sales jobs, you need to cultivate a reputation for being responsive and reliable in your everyday interactions. Keeping a detailed contact list that allows you to track information about the people you regularly communicate with can be a great start towards becoming more organised, giving you the ability to come to every meeting with the confidence that you know your stuff. 

Our top essential tips for practising and improving your networking abilities in preparation for a graduate sales job are: 

  • Connect. If you’ve met a peer or potential mentor at a networking event or industry conference, connect with them through LinkedIn or another social media channel. This can help you to discover a community where you can share insights and build professional relationships with experts in your industry. 

  • Adapt. You want to build rapport and establish trust with your prospect when you're networking. Pay attention to their tone and communication style, and adapt your own to help with establishing a connection. 

  • Describe. Prepare a concise and engaging elevator pitch which describes yourself, your work, or a project you’re currently involved in. Preparing and learning how to articulate an effective response to the question of “what do you do?” can help you to ace that memorable first impression in all the right ways.

Whilst these skills for sales will help you directly impact your productivity and profitability, it’s also worth bearing in mind that they’re sought-after skills within almost any sector or role. 

It’s important to reflect on each skill that you’ve practised to understand what went well and what could be improved in the future. Learning from experience in this way can enhance your self-awareness and allow you to highlight to managers any further needs, whether that’s developing a deeper product knowledge or undertaking more sales negotiation training.

If you’re looking to leverage a sales graduate scheme as a springboard into a role such as project or account management, being able to negotiate and set expectations with external and internal stakeholders—as well as exhibit in-depth technical product knowledge—can set you apart and mean that you’re able to delight your clients during every step of the process, inspiring trust and loyalty in yourself as a professional as well as your employer’s business.

If you’re interested in learning more about where graduate sales jobs can lead, see our guide on how to leverage these skills for sales to progress into management and other senior roles after reading this article.

Closing Remarks

Excelling in the competitive environment of graduate sales jobs requires honing these essential skills for sales. Gaining a competitive edge against the competition in the application and interview stage requires you to commit time to nurture your strengths and work on your weaknesses, with sales training allowing you to master the art of communication, prospecting, and closing deals. 

Likewise, developing proficiency in key areas such as technical product knowledge, collaboration, time management, and networking will prove instrumental in ensuring your long-term career success, especially if you’re beginning within the supportive environment of a sales graduate scheme. 

These skills for sales jobs not only enhance your productivity and profitability, but also hold relevance for a number of senior opportunities across all sectors and industries. 

By proactively investing in professional skills development, aspiring salespeople can pave the wave for a successful and rewarding career journey. 

Sales Training and Sales Graduate Scheme Experts

At Pareto, we’ve been supporting university leavers and helping them find exciting, challenging graduate sales jobs for over 25 years. Our consultants are specialists in sales negotiation training, as well as all other business-critical skills for sales jobs across all industries, placing over 2000 graduates into roles with market-leading firms each year. 

Contact us to learn more about how we can help you to find the role to kick-start your career today.

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