Career Choice: Sales Representatives

Career Choice: Sales Representatives
  • Opening Intro -

    Sales people are responsible for selling goods on behalf of wholesalers or manufacturers, or may also have experience with marketing technical and scientific products.


Among the greatest sales people of the past were Dale Carnegie and John H. Patterson, with more recent sales pros including Joe Girard (automobiles), Mary Kay Ash (personal beauty) and David Ogilvy (advertising) making a name for themselves as they shaped entire industries. A sales career is not for the introverted and today’s employers usually prefer individuals with a college education.


You don’t have to have the personality of Zig Ziglar to make a sale, but you do need to understand your customers and their needs. Every successful sales representative makes a point to anticipate a customer’s needs and to explain to them what they need even before they ask.

Sales reps are also a student of the industry they work in. Although it is possible to sell across industry lines, developing contacts and networking within a certain industry is critical to every rep’s success. Representatives must intelligently respond to customer questions and discuss product specifics including prices, availability and financing terms. Knowing their competitors’ products well can be essential to winning new customers. Sales reps attend trade shows, collaborate with colleagues and maintain customer databases.


Clearly, you may not need a college degree to work as a sales rep. Indeed, Kiplinger listed manufacturing sales reps as one of its “10 Best Jobs You Can Get Without a College Degree.” Typically, such candidates possess a high school diploma and are put through a one-year training program.

For sales jobs in technical and scientific fields, higher eduction is required. Kiplinger notes that at least an associate degree is needed with some employers requiring a bachelor’s degree. Students should take courses in their chosen sales field and complete a marketing or advertising program.


The median wage for sales representatives was $74,970 as of 2012, up slightly from the $74,800 average for 2011. Wage information provided here is for 2011 and is supplied by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Salaries for sales reps in the 10th percentile averaged $38,500 per year annually as of 2011, while those in the 25 percentile averaged $52,600 per year. For sales reps in the 75th percentile, the average wage was $106,300 per year. For the 90th percentile, that average was $146,400 per year.

As with any occupation salaries varied across the country, with wide differences from top to bottom. Sales reps in New Jersey and Wyoming topped the list, averaging $86,900 per year. In Massachusetts that salary average came in at $86,700 per year. In New York, Virginia, Connecticut and Oregon salary averages were $83,000 or more per year. On the bottom end of the spectrum, sales pros in Montana could expect to average $52,200 per year. Other states where salary averages were well below the national norm included North Dakota, Oklahoma and Maine.

Job Outlook

Star sales reps never seem to lack for work. If one door closes, an avalanche of new opportunities usually open. For everyone else, the pickings going forward look quite good with the BLS predicting a 16 percent rise in jobs from 2010 to 2020. That’s slightly ahead of the average for all jobs, but may be especially good in technical and scientific fields that continue to expand rapidly. Of course, being able to close the deal as well as Erica Feidner sells Steinway pianos can work to your advantage too.


O*Net OnLine: 41-4011.00 – Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing, Technical and Scientific Products

US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives

See AlsoHow to Build a Stellar Resume From Out of College


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Categories: Career Planning