Do’s and Don’ts for Launching a Career in Sales

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by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.

Interested in a career in sales? Here are the rules and guidelines (key do’s and don’ts) that job-seekers should follow to successfully launch a career in sales.

  • Do close the sale, both in your cover letter and your interview for a sales position. Employers hiring sales reps want candidates who know how to close a sale. Thus, make sure that you “close the sale” in your cover letter by asking for the interview and telling the employer you will call to make an appointment (and then doing so). Learn more. Close the interview by asking for the job. Learn more in our article, Closing the Interview.
  • Don’t forget your transferable skills. If you have no direct experience in sales, think about all the sales-related things you’ve done that you can describe in an interview as transferable and applicable to sales. Have you done fund-raising? Given presentations? Solicited local businesses to participate in events? Demonstrated great people skills? Persuaded or convinced people to do things your way? Memorized food and drink orders as a restaurant server? These are just a few of the activities and traits that relate to sales. Coaching, teaching, playing on a sports team, and participating in student government all provide appropriate transferable skills for the field, according to 18-year pharmaceutical-sales vet Corey Nahman of
  • Do seek out employers who will invest in a solid and structured training program, and support your professional growth, especially if you are new in sales.
  • Don’t pass up opportunities to learn more about sales and network with those who can help advance your career, such as through ride-alongs, job-shadowing, and informational interviewing.
  • Don’t let rejection get to you. To be successful in sales, you can’t take rejection personally. You also need to be able to explain in a sales job interview how you will overcome the customer objections that can lead to rejection.
  • Do be persistent. If you have less sales experience than an employer seeks, you may be able to make up for it by being persistent. Persistence, after all, is one of the marks of a good salesperson.
  • Do seek out products and services to sell that you are already passionate about. Your enthusiasm in an interview will be much more convincing if you already believe in the employer’s offerings.
  • Don’t be negative. A positive, upbeat attitude is a must in sales. If you have difficulty breaking in right away, don’t start getting the blues. Keep your chin up and continue to show employers what an energetic, likable, confident person you are.
  • Do consider, if you’re a college student, making your target company a pet school project. Writing for Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News, Aissatou Sidime reported on Lanita Wiltshire, who pursued an MBA before hitting the job market but “focused all her individual class projects on then-emerging Merck Pharmaceuticals. She trotted out her presentations during an interview for an internship with Merck and landed the job.”
  • Do maintain a professional appearance. Many companies recruit sales reps at career fairs, says Gary M. Upah, president of, “because they want to see your appearance, what kind of a first impression you make, and how you handle yourself before they consider your qualifications.”
  • Don’t forget about networking. As resume writer Teena Rose writes, “Successful sales representatives are individuals who take an aggressive approach to expanding their client base and sales.” Your personal/professional network is no different, and your ability to network will demonstrate your skills in relationship-building.
  • Do find a mentor — an older, more experienced rep who can show you the ropes. Read more in our article, The Value of a Mentor.
  • Don’t abuse the perks of a sales career, such as your company car and expense account.
  • Do be prepared to work long hours, often by yourself or on the road.
  • Don’t forget the cardinal rule of sales and marketing: The customer always comes first.
  • Do get moral support by talking with others in sales or trying to break in.
  • And if you are specifically interested in pharmaceutical sales, do read our article, So You Want to Get Into Pharmaceutical Sales…

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

Katharine Hansen, PhD, Creative Director Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at) Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

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